Break out your cone bras, ladies and gentlemen. It's time to express yourself!
Madonna’s most memorable troupe of dancers are back, and they are ready to continue their legacy by inspiring yet another generation of LGBTQ moviegoers. “Strike a Pose“ has been tearing up the film festival circuit over the past year and for good reason. The critically acclaimed documentary will give you all the feels as it picks up with Madge’s “Blond Ambition” dancers after more than 20 years. The film, which reveals the truth about life during and after that iconic tour, is an ode to expressing yourself and finding self-worth.
I caught up with Salim “Slam” Gauwloos and Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and talked about everything from the resurgence of Vogue, right down to unknowingly inspiring an entire LGBTQ generation to express themselves.
“Strike a Pose” is available to watch On Demand with Netflix on X1.
Scott Conant: How are you guys?
Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza: Pretty good. It’s been crazy, but good. I just got back from Mexico yesterday, doing some promotion for the film at a film festival there. I arrived late last night, so it’s been a hectic morning.
Salim ‘Slam’ Gauwloos: I’m doing good. How are you doing?
SC: Fantastic. Super excited to speak with you!
SG: Good, good. Me too. Scott, my nephew just had a baby. And I am his Godfather and his name is Scott. So that is a good sign.
SC: Aww fantastic! It’s a good name.
SG: It's a great name. First time being a Godfather. I don't know what I have to do yet but I'll figure it out.
SC: I’ve never been one before but I’m sure you’ll do fine.
SG: Yea, it's the first time I get asked and I'm like "Oh my God!" At least I said yes immediately. I didn't do like Madonna in "Truth in Dare" like, "Oh I gotta get back to you!"
SC: Right, exactly! So let's just jump right in. Going into this film, I was totally not expecting to kind of walk away from it so moved. I was caught a bit off-guard by all the emotion and some of the topics covered to be quite honest with you. Do you think that was always intended to be the structure for the film, where you were covering things like living with HIV? Or was that something that just kind of happened organically?
JX: What did you expect? You thought it was going to be about Madonna. I doubt that was the structure of the film for any of us to bring topics of such personal situation for people to see like that. I don't think any of us decided going into it, but that's what the storyboard brought that moment that we all united for the first time. I didn't know any of those stories. I couldn't believe it. It was such an emotional time at that dinner time. I couldn't believe it. So no, it was not premeditated at all.
SG: I mean, I don't think Reijer Zwaan and Ester Gould knew what they were up for. Because they sent us all separate emails. We all met with them at separate times. I think they were just going to get more of a dance story, I think. I don't think they were ready for such an emotional rollercoaster. And I remember, I was pretty much the first one onboard, because I don't know, I just had a good feeling about it. And I met Reijer in Austria, where I was doing a job at the time. And even at that time, he comes to my apartment. We talked but I'm still like, "Ok, am I going to spill the beans here about my HIV status." But then this part of me came out, and I'm sure that was one of the stories that they weren't ready for. Yea, so I don't think the formula was exactly choreographed or structured before… I think they just kind of went through the flow and heard everybody's story and I think they just took it from there. But you're right. A lot of people think it's just going to be a tell-all and we are just going to talk about Madonna. But you know, it's very little that we go back there. But of course, she is the one that still brought all of us together. And a lot of people ask too, why she's not in the movie? We get asked that at Q&A's still to this day. But you know, if she would be in the movie, it would be all about her. I think that's what's great about this film.
SC: For me personally, I was surprised but I was actually really happy the way the film and the content were handled. I felt like I walked away having seen something of substance and that it was important.
SG: I'm so happy. I'm more happy with "Strike A Pose" than I am with "Truth or Dare" because I just think it's a little less egocentrical. It's more human. I think people can relate to it more, you know. But I'm proud of that.
SC: I can't imagine how difficult it would be to open yourself up to the world for a documentary like this. Now that it is out there and you can look back on the experience, what was the most rewarding part for you?
JX: Apart from the fact that I didn't want to participate in the beginning? I felt like, why do I even want to meet up with these guys. It's been so long. What do I have to say to them after 27 years? Do I even want to say anything to them? Do I even want to see them? Do I look okay? Are they going to look like me? Did I get old? Did they get old? All those things came into play. But in the end I'm so glad that I did it and I am part of it. I'm also very happy that it's given me the opportunity to connect with so many people that were touched by us and moved and felt so many things for us. We were their heroes, unbeknownst to us. We were so young. It was before the internet, so there was no way of connecting and knowing this stuff. So I'm glad for those reasons today. Never mind reuniting with them, being back in contact, it's like I never left them. That's a great feeling to be able to live that again with these guys. It's like we're on tour all over again. Everyone has been so great that has followed us in our careers or just know us from that moment in pop culture history. So to be able to be here, living a kind of history … my history … our history and seeing it, it's a blessing. I've got so much.
SG: After all that, people still after 27 years want to know what we are doing and everything, they love the documentary, they connect on social media. Because in 1990, we did all those things that we were not even aware that they were political, that they were groundbreaking, because there was no social media at that time. Now we are starting to realize more and more, especially after this new documentary, how we changed people's lives. Now we are doing the same again, but we are more conscious about it. And I think it's more on a human level too. I really like that. We're all really survivors. Like every person is on this earth.
SC: It seems like you've had quite an impact on many people. Just looking online, people cite you as the reason they came out or the reason that they've dared to be themselves. For example, when I told one of my best friends that I was going to be interviewing you guys, he basically said, "I wanted to be these guys when I was 8 years old." And he's from Australia, so it had that sort of reach.
SG: It was all over the world, I know!
JX: We never set out to do that. We never set out to move people. Like how could you? It's not like I set out like, "Okay, today I am going to touch everyone!" When you leave yourself open to judgement, you show your inner-emotions sometimes it can be hard and not received in the best way. So to be able to do something so many years ago and be looked upon as a hero to some and now all these years later, to still remain that after showing a side of us, a side of me, that no one really knew, this kid that everyone looked up to went through this and to still be looked upon as courageous and still that same hero is priceless. So, I'll take it.
SC: You mentioned that you didn’t realize that you had that sort of impact at the time.
SG: No, no. Of course not. I wish I would've known. We didn't know. We all were just innocent, hungry, talented dancers. And we were being ourselves. We didn't know there were any rules. And the kiss between Gabel and myself, it was just an innocent kiss. And passionate. We didn't do it to say, "Look we're two guys and can kiss." Also, it was not cool to be gay in 1990. Now, everybody is gay. It's like the thing to do … Everybody is gay all of the sudden! But none of us had any idea what an impact it would have. And I didn't even realize until years later. Like 2000 or the end of 1999, that's when we started realizing, "Oh my God, we did make a difference." But I think it was so innocent. And I think that's why it has more power.
JX: It's amazing man, it really is. Like who does that? I can't be more rich in that. People always say, "You know, they sued her. Did she pay you?" It wasn't even about that, to be honest. I got the chance to express my artistry and create. But the fact that I've touched and moved so many people with just my being and my art and my talent and still to be respected for it today … Wow! That's rich. I'm so rich in that. It's been great. It really has.
SC: So do you have a message for the people that you’ve inspired through both this film and also “Truth or Dare”?
JX: I want to say that, now that I am aware that I've touched so many and inspired so many, I feel like I am so inspired. It inspires me to want to do more and continue. It lets me know that what I am doing was right from the beginning. I want people to know that everyone is someone. And everyone matters. And we're all the same. Fight for what you believe in. I did and I was being myself and my dreams came true being myself. Don't feel like you have to be something that you're not in order to be adulated and loved and looked upon and respected for whatever you do. You matter. No matter what color, what sex, what age. We all matter. It's special to be different. I want everybody to take that too when they see "Strike a Pose" and when they remember us.
SC: How about you, Salim? What do you hope people will take away from “Strike a Pose”?
SG: Just to always keep believing and always keep fighting for what you stand up for. Believe in yourself and listen to other people's advice. But at the end of the day, I've always listened to my own advice and be a nice person. That would be my advice. I don't know if anybody wants to hear that. And with the whole HIV thing, I didn't come out and tell my whole story because I want other people to come out. Some people will never come out and that's fine. It's their thing. But I just did it to tell my story, like look I was HIV+, I was illegal in this country, I didn't have a place to live … I don't think it could have come any darker. But at the end of the tunnel, there's always a light and if you hold on to that, things always get better at the end. You think they never do. But at the end, they always do.
SC: So what have you been up to since filming has ended?
JX: Wow, it's been crazy. I worked on "The Get Down" for two seasons. I'm in my second season with Baz Luhrmann and Jayden Smith. So that's been amazing. I'm teaching and working with some modeling agencies in New York as a movement coach. It's a vogue coach really. Preparing them for photoshoots and their runway or if they are doing some kind of editorial. But I'm still teaching dance as well. I travel abroad to other schools and teach dance. I just came back from teaching in Mexico. It's been really great. The film has been a major tool in putting me out there.
SG: I'm writing a bit. That I started a while ago. For people with HIV, it's so important to exercise, to eat healthy, to meditate, all of these things. That wasn't touched upon in the movie, because then the movie would just be about me. It's so long! But that is why I'm writing my book. To tell people to just dance. You don't even have to be a good dancer. Dancing is not about being a good dancer, it's just about expressing yourself, connecting yourself to something and I think dance heals everything.
SC: Both "Truth or Dare" and "Strike A Pose," at their core, were very much about expressing yourself. As being gay becomes increasingly more accepted, many of the younger generation no longer feel the need to self-identify or perhaps see the relevance in coming out and sharing those stories. What is your take on that?
SG: It's different times. Now, there are much more outlets for young kids. It's a whole different time. But there's still a lot of discrimination going on. It always will. But again, we will prevail. We will fight whatever we have to fight as a gay community. I think it's easier to really talk about it [now] than back in the 80s or 90s, especially being an artist. I mean, even as an artist in the 90s a lot of times you couldn't say "I'm gay" because nobody wanted a gay dancer or a gay model for their cologne ad. It was different times. But I think everything is opening up more. For example, in one of the dance schools where I teach, they have an all-gender bathroom - so girls, guys, transgender people don't go separate anymore. I would never have thought that I would see that in my life, so things are changing. For the best too! But we can't take it for granted, I always say that. As a minority, as a gay community, we can never take our rights for granted because they can be taken away so quickly. At the rate they were given to us, they can be taken away like that. So I think we need to stay awake and stay on top of things.
SC: 100% agree with that. So, has Madonna herself reached out to you since the film?
JX: No, not yet. I think she's seen it. She sees everything. We had to get certain approvals for images and footage that we used so I know that she is aware of it. Of course she is. How could you not be?
SC: Let's switch it up and talk about dance for a little bit. What does dance mean to you?
SG: Dance is like going to church for me. Dance is everything. I'm on regular faculty at Broadway Dance Center, it's one of the biggest dance schools here in NYC and I've travelled the world teaching classes. I do a lot of productions. Dance is everything for me.
SC: There is lots of talk these days about voguing as an art form, with “Strike a Pose,” “Kiki” and Ryan Murphy is working on a new project as well. How do you feel about voguing coming back as an art form?
SG: I think it's great. Now it is recognized as a form of dance. Like it should be. It's nice to see it coming back. I mean, everybody is voguing. It's amazing. It's an art form and it's a dance form. It's nice to see that it's really everywhere. It feels nice that people are still voguing and dancing. They did vogue a lot in the 90s. I wish they would've vogued more in 2000 or something.
SC: For people learning to vogue for the first time, what sort of advice would you give them?
SG: Go in like an empty vessel. Absorb. It gets very confusing now with the dance community. If voguing is new to you, don't go to a voguing intermediate class. Go to a basic voguing class or a beginner voguing class. If you want to learn to vogue, start all the way from the beginning. So you know all the fundamentals of Vogue, what it's all about. Don't immediately go to an advanced class because you'll be very discouraged. And google it too. There's so much information on the internet about that.
SC: Well, I’ll have to call on you next time I’m in New York to get some lessons.
SG: Yes! Yes!
JX: Yea! You have to come. I'll teach you the "Vogue" routine step-by-step.
SC: Oh my God! That would be amazing. Right. Cross Examination Time! Cone Bra or Kimono?
SG: Cone Bra!
JX: Cone Bra with the Kimono. How about that? I love both. I think both of them, the visual of both them was so amazing. Such an emblem artistically.
SC: “Express Yourself” or “Human Nature”?
SG: Express Yourself
SC: Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire?
SG: Gene Kelly… That’s a hard one though!
SC: Nikki or Donna?
SC: “Desperately Seeking Susan” or “Who’s That Girl”?
SG: “Desperately Seeking Susan”
SC: Ladies with an attitude or fellas that were in the mood?
SG: Fellas that were in the mood!
JX: Fellas that were in the mood… with a bit of attitude!
SC: Good choice! “Die Another Day” or “This Used to be my Playground”?
SG: "This Used to be my Playground." I used to love that song. Can you believe it? It was really good.
SC: Me too. It was so sad.
SG: Yea, it was so sad, right? I used to put it on and go through it. Yes! That used to be my playground!
SC: I have to go listen that now. Okay, I've got two more for you. "Like a Prayer" or "Like a Virgin"?
SG: “Like a Prayer”
JX: Oh wow! "Like a Virgin." I was proud of that. Putting that together. That was another thing that I was able create, that whole thing. As a dancer and a choreographer, that's the kind of thing you can only dream of … putting such good work out. Putting such good material that's going to be remembered. I'd say "Like a Virgin," I choreographed that. I'm proud of that.
SC: Truth or Dare?
SC: Good choice! My last question for you is more of a "where are they now?" question. What happened to the bottle that Madonna serviced in "Truth or Dare"?
SG: Oh! Kevin probably has it. I don't know what happened to that bottle. That's a good question. I don't know. If it was in these times, somebody would've taken it and it would be on sale on some auction website. I don't know actually… but I'm sure Kevin has it.
SC: We’ll have to check on that one.
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