Last week I saw Strike a Pose, the documentary about Madonna’s backup dancers for her Vogue video and 1990 Blonde Ambition tour.
Madonna has always played a supporting role in the soap opera that is my big queer life. Into the Groove was the first song I danced to in a gay bar; Ray of Light got me through one of my darkest periods; and Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was playing when I learned my dad died.
More than anything, Strike a Pose, was an opportunity to reflect on who I was 25 years ago. To be honest, I feel a bit of solidarity with Madonna’s former dancers; like them I lived to tell (pun intended) the story of the AIDS crisis with my wits intact.
I was 25 when Madonna released Vogue. I couldn’t wait to dance to that song at The Odyssey. Then Truth or Dare hit the theatres ushering a sense of much needed optimism after 10 years of the AIDS crisis. Being gay suddenly wasn’t a death sentence; Madonna and her dancers were the guiding light.
Naturally, the film addresses the gay kiss in Truth or Dare, the law suit filed by three of the dancers, as well as Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Camacho’s attempt at a singing career. As far as documentaries go, the film meandered a bit and was short on details about the dancers’ lives. I was in tears throughout the whole movie nonetheless.
What struck me was how the dancer’s journeys reminded me of so many gay men I knew in the 90’s. Their lives were like a template for a generation of queer men who didn’t know if they were going to live to see 30, so they partied their asses off. When they didn’t die, they faced the music and made the most of it.
Another revelation in the film is that the Vogue video is actually a portrait of HIV positive men. At least three of Madonna’s dancers were HIV and hiding it from each other. Instead of supporting one another, they lived in constant fear of being found out. Yet when you watch the Vogue video, it reenforces images of Hollywood glamour, beauty, and fame.
During the Q&A after the film, Kevin Stea said the biggest lesson he learned from making the documentary was how to finally accept all the compliments paid to him while he was young. “I think I might actually die happy,” he said.
It’s a valuable lesson. One a lot of gay men my age need to learn.