For many Madonna fans the peak of the musical career for the diva and superstar was in the 1990’s about the time when she was traveling the globe with her Blond Ambition World Tour which thrilled the audiences crammed packed into stadiums with the same vehement passion that it was also condemned by The Catholic Church. On this tour she was accompanied by her fabulous troupe of male dancers whom she had literally picked from Harlem ballrooms where they were masters of the hot new trend of voguing. They formed a tight-knit clique with Madonna recognizing that for them this was the biggest career break of their young lives, but they in turn were adding this whole layer of incredible sexiness and street credibility that helped take Madonna’s performance up to a whole new level.
Now 25 years later the remaining boys …. now in their mid 40’s ….. look back with great affection and nostalgia at this one exciting year in their lives even though, despite being regarded as Madonna’s ‘family’ at the time, it still ended badly. They are without doubt a disarmingly charming and very tight-knit crew and in this refreshing new documentary from first-time Dutch filmmaker Reijer Zwaan and his co-director Ester Gould, they recount how they were initially bowled over when they were picked for the ‘Vogue’ music video (directed by David Fincher) and then the Tour. All bar one were classically trained : Luis Camacho and Jose Gutierez were members of the House of Xtravaganza ; Slam had just migrated from Belgium and was looking for a job that would keep him in the US; Kevin Stea was so relieved as he had been going through a dry spell work-wise and was broke “I had no money to eat and I had a terrible highlighted mullet” he said. The hip-hopper Oliver Crumes who came from the New Orleans projects was not only the one untrained dancer but he was also the only straight member of the group, so he was very quickly persuaded to ditch any trace of homophobia he had by the others.
The movie deftly blends archival footage of the Tour with Madonna acting as the boys surrogate mother and encouraging them all to really dig deep into their psyche and adopt her mantra of ‘express yourself‘. All this is mixed with present-day conversations to discover where their lives have led them now. There are exceptions as the early 90’s was also the height of the AIDS pandemic, and one of the dancers Gabriel Trupin was the first to succumb. His place in the movie is taken by his mother Sue which makes for some of the most poignant scenes as she recounts not just her son’s excitement of being part of the group but also of his bitterness at being betrayed when he was prematurely ‘outed’ by the release of the ‘In Bed with Madonna’ movie that featured him kissing a man in a ‘truth or dare’ game. It was the reason why Gabriel and some of the others ended up suing Madonna for damages.
The court case never resolved anything and although none of the dancers ever reconciled with Madonna, refreshingly none of them had a single bad word to say about her then or now, in fact Kevin reminisces how nice it would have been to know her now as an adult. Slam is coming to terms with his own HIV diagnosis, two of the others confess to having had major addiction problems as a result of their moment in the limelight, and all of them recounted that being known as an ex ‘Madonna Dancer’ was a mixed blessing as it had both opened and shut doors for them professionally over the last 25 years.
It is this combination of seeing them them so young with their killer attitudes and the epitome of style dripping with sensuality and being treated as royalty by this iconic superstar, to how they are now as older and wiser resilient men most of them now teaching dance but still with such a great zest for life and such a joie de vivre, and not a single ounce of regret. It’s a wee gem of a movie is both tender and touching and will especially resound with people who can still remember how important it was back then to really strike a pose, and survive.