Film Review: Strike a Pose

Tuesday 2 May 2017 by

Strike a Pose, Film, Documentary, Madonna, Vogue

I’m really in to documentaries at the moment, and Netflix has a pretty good selection. Strike a Pose tells the story of Madonna’s dancers from her Blond Ambition tour, who also starred in the backstage documentary Truth or Dare. But more importantly, it tells the story of the aftermath, and how the dancers struggled to cope with the fallout.

The Blond Ambition tour was full of controversy, something courted by Madonna and used to inflame the publicity, and the backstage documentary even more so. The seven dancers involved soon discovered what it meant to be under the ever-critical public eye, particularly during the AIDS epidemic (six of the seven dancers were gay).

Judge me as you will, but I’m not the biggest fan of Madonna as a person. Her music is incredible and genre-defining, but as a person I don’t really like her. Although the documentary aims to remain impartial, Madonna often doesn’t come out of it in a good light. Her ambitions throw the young and inexperienced dancers in to a spotlight that they are ill-equipped to cope with, and then leaves them there with very little support.

The documentary itself follows several of the dancers as they talk about their experiences on the tour and what happens thereafter. It is frightening and exposing. But the most telling part is the discussion they have around the AIDS epidemic and their experiences of being gay during a time when it was not only discriminated against but even considered a death sentence. The secrecy, shame and emotion around it is still felt even all these years on – something shown when the dancers meet up again after decades.

Strike a Pose is intense. It is full of emotion – the incredible beauty of Vogue, the bold Blond Ambition tour, the terrifying reality of AIDS. There is sadness and anger but also empowerment. The dancers – still dancing now – show their strength and determination. But there is also loss. For me, it was Carlton Wilborn’s story that struck the most deeply with me. Diagnosed with HIV, he felt shame throughout the tour, and despite Madonna’s loud statements of support, he couldn’t bring himself to say that he was ill. He continues to talk about his survival after the tour, and what both dancing and HIV has meant for him.

The story ends on a hopeful note, but there is still a sense of loss throughout. Loss of the magic of Madonna’s tour, loss of friends and family, loss of self. It is heartbreaking as well as uplifting, and the strongest thread of all is the dance. These dancers are astoundingly beautiful – the movement and passion within is deeply evocative. They are all still dancing in their own ways, and it is the dancing that connects them all.

You don’t have to like Madonna, or even Voguing, to enjoy this documentary. It is a story about a particular time in history that devastated the world, and some of the people unwittingly thrown to the forefront. It is about dancers who became iconic.

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