Sydney Film Festival: Strike a Pose

Kate Young
12th Jun 2016

Growing up, I adored Madonna. Every Christmas up until the age of 16 I received one of her albums as a Christmas present. It was when I was ten, though, that my relationship with Madonna changed; no longer was it about lace gloves and being virginal. It was 1990 and it was all about freedom - freedom to be whom you are, freedom to stand up for what you believe in, and freedom to Express Yourself.

It was on Madonna's Blond Ambition tour that the documentary Truth or Dare came to life capturing the behind the scenes life of Madonna and her dancers. It was here that audiences were introduced to Kevin, Oliver, Luis, Carlton, Jose, Gabriel and Salim: a diverse, impressionable group of baby-faced dancers whose lives where about to be forever changed. They were more than just back up dancers; They were the sleek, talented (most were professionally trained) and gorgeous machine engine that helped power one of the most loved and controversial artists in music history.

The new documentary Strike a Pose picks up twenty-five years later and revisits the Blond Ambition dancers and allows us for the first time take a peek behind the curtain and witness what was really taking place backstage when the cameras stopped filming. Most these young men at the time where forced into the spotlight and even though many were out and proud, many were also not ready for the responsibilities that went along with being the voice for a sexual revolution and for a community that they weren’t ready to be part of.

The film also takes look at fame. The wealth, the parties, the drugs and the people who claim to adore you, but what happens when that fame is gone, when the ride is over and the family unit that protected you then abandons you. It's either fight or flight and for many they plummeted. What was left in the aftermath was diagnoses of HIV, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness and even lawsuits.

Strike a Pose is a frank look at the dancers and their individual struggles. The film uses footage from Alek Keshishian’s original feature to cut between the protagonists now and then. Another nice touch was having interviews with the dancer's mothers and how they dealt with their children’s newfound fame (ill-famed) at the time. Throughout the film there are also snippets of the dancers and their crafts now. Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaaan have been able to capture, beautiful, intimate and even sorrowful dance sequences, capturing that electricity and life that fills these men when they dance, reminding us and them what it was really about it the first place. Dance.

Truth or Dare may have been ahead of its time, especially when the people that where meant to inspire were hiding behind lies and faking who they were. Strike a Pose closes with the earlier film's titular game, a catalyst for the most controversial scenes, and for most the men a first introduction to homosexuality. It ties the two films together beautifully.

When asked what they learned most from the experience they all answered: to be honest and not to judge, that everyone is someone. That message was always there with these men, sadly it took then a long hard 25 years to learn what was already known.

Strike a Pose screened as part of the 2016 Sydney Film Festival.