I finally watched Strike a Pose, the documentary which takes a look at where the dancers from Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour wound up, and what happened to them. That tour was also documented in another documentary, Truth or Dare, which was also extremely controversial at the time of its release.
It was ironic, as I reflected on watching Strike a Pose and how it affected me; what it made me think, and what I wanted to say about it on here, that I checked Twitter and saw a tweet from one of my friends:
A gentle reminder that using “it’s so much better than it was” when queerfolk are talking about their daily life is a dick move, “allies.”
The Blond Ambition tour was in support of Madonna’s fourth album, Like a Prayer (which is one of my favorite albums of hers; I’ve never tired of the title song or the second single, “Express Yourself”), which was enormously controversial when it was released…of course, back then almost everything about Madonna was controversial. She’d signed a mega-million endorsement deal with Pepsi, which was also geared to promote the album. When the video for “Like a Prayer” was released, people got up in arms about it and Pepsi cancelled the endorsement deal–Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Pepsi commercial never aired–which only got her more publicity. (In an aside, I’ve never understood the issues with the “Like a Prayer” video; it was all about racism, and finding the strength through prayer to stand up to it–but everyone, as usual, got caught up in images from it without the proper context.)
I didn’t go see Truth or Dare in the theater; I rented it from Blockbuster when it came out on video. I had an enormous crush on the dancer Salim–he was just so handsome in the “Vogue” video–and as a Madonna fan, I was curious to see what it was like backstage on one of these massive tours. I was also–and remain–grateful to Madonna for all she did for the LGBT community, as well as bringing attention to HIV/AIDS, and being one of the first celebrities to do so. It was quite an unusual experience to see all these gay men in the film, so openly and brazenly gay and unashamed and just being themselves. The 1980’s was an incredibly difficult decade for me, personally–I’ve still not unpacked my twenties completely, maybe I never will–and the 1990’s didn’t start off much better for me. But at the time I watched Truth or Dare I had already started down a path to make a better life for myself, coming to terms with myself and who I was, and who I wanted to become, the kind of life I wanted. So the documentary resonated for me a bit; these were gay men who’d followed their dreams, and despite everything, despite all the hate and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry, made those dreams came true.
That was kind of aspirational, if not inspirational.
Seeing where the dancers ended up afterwards, some twenty-five years or so later, in Strike a Pose was kind of sad in some ways, but good in others. Being a ‘Madonna dancer’ was both a blessing in some ways and a curse in others, but they all seem to be doing well now, and it was fun seeing them all together–the ones who are left; one died from AIDS complications–again; it was also painful to listen, and see, them talking about their own personal struggles with HIV, the stigma and the shame–another legacy from that time.
Recently I was given the opportunity to talk to a retirement specialist, to help me come up with a plan for my retirement, and she was a little nonplussed about how “unprepared” I was for my looming retirement. “You should have started in your twenties,” she gently chided me.
I replied, “When I was in my twenties I thought I would be dead before I was forty.”
My reply made her feel uncomfortable, and bad–which wasn’t my intent. I knew she wasn’t being insensitive…but I wasn’t trying to make her feel bad, either. I was merely stating the truth, awful as it might seem now.
We all thought–no, believed, we were going to die young.
So, yes, it is very true that things aren’t as bad as they used to be, that things have gotten better in our society and in our world and in our culture.
But for fuck’s sake, that’s a pretty goddamned low bar–and progress doesn’t mean we’ve overcome everything, either.
Now I’d like to see Truth or Dare again. Strike a Pose struck a chord in me, obviously, and I do think it’s an important film…I’m glad I saw it.
NOTE: The Blond Ambition tour was also supporting Madonna’s album I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture Dick Tracy. It was that album that contained “Vogue,” which is a timeless classic.