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Dancers remember Madonna's tour that shook pop world

LOS ANGELES, April 10, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - Music, dance, homosexuality, celebrity, masturbation, religion -- the explosive combination infused Madonna's "Blond Ambition" tour with a revolutionary feel in 1990.

"Blond Ambition" was a tour like none other with a fast-paced mix of choreography, fashion and controversy that set a new bar for pop music tours.

Provocatively incorporating Christian imagery, the tour was denounced by the Vatican as sinful.

Dancers appeared to masturbate Madonna on stage as she sang of religious experience in "Like a Prayer," the title track of the album she was supporting, leading to threats to arrest her at her Toronto show.

Almost 30 years later, a documentary traces the trajectories of the seven dancers of the tour -- one of whom described their lives as chapters before, during and after Madonna.

Of the dancers, six of them were gay at a time when homosexuality was much more taboo and associated by many straight people with illness.

Building on pop music trends in the 1980s, dancers took on roles nearly as central as the main performer.

"Blond Ambition" which traveled across North America, Europe and Japan and in 1991 became the basis for a documentary, "Truth or Dare," which was even more controversial.

In that film, the dancers showed the two sides of Madonna -- the "sex goddess" with her racy music and dancing, and the maternal figure who dispensed intimate advice to her "babies."

"Who wouldn't let Madonna call you 'baby?'" asked Luis Camacho, one of the young dancers catapulted into the spotlight by the diva.

"She was really a mentor," the now 48-year-old told AFP.

"I really looked to her for not only guidance, but how to act in different situations, and I really matured, became a man."

- The hidden lives of dancers -

"Truth or Dare" was far more than a film about a singer. In an unusual scene for a widely distributed film of the era, it showed two men kissing on the mouth joyfully.

But much was also hidden. Three of the dancers -- Salim Gauwloos, Carlton Wilborn and Gabriel Trupin -- were HIV positive and kept it secret at a time that the virus leading to AIDS was causing a public panic.

"Strike a Pose," a Belgian-Dutch production by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, catches up with the dancers and, in often heartbreaking passages, sees how their lives have changed.

The film, which premiered last year and recently came to the LGBT-oriented cable channel Logo, finds that some of them have struggled.

Camacho, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, wrestled with addiction to drugs and alcohol linked to fame.

Dominican American dancer Jose Gutierrez tries to keep a smile as his mother reproaches him, all but calling his life a failure.

Camacho said he last saw Madonna 10 or 15 years ago, but he is sure she would still recognize him.

"I'm sure she'd be pleasant, say hi," he said.

- 'There is life after Madonna' -

After the success of the 57-date "Blond Ambition" tour, Camacho worked with Madonna for another two years before launching a side career that ended without success.

"There's life after Madonna," he said with his contagious smile.

When Camacho and Gutierrez recorded an album together, Madonna contributed backing vocals -- a gesture he called generous.

But it was at that time that his life spiraled out of control with partying, drugs and alcohol -- and the dancers' relationships with Madonna cooled.

Trupin, who was involved in the kiss on "Truth or Dare," sued Madonna for revealing his homosexuality.

"He wasn't ready," the mother of the dancer, who died in 1995 after a secret battle with AIDS, said in "Strike a Pose."

Two other dancers, Oliver Crumes and Kevin Stea, sued to seek additional compensation for "Truth or Dare." All of the dancers' disputes were settled out of court.

The living dancers are now largely anonymous. Most of them teach dance courses including Camacho, who said he also had a "9-to-5 job" that he did not want to reveal.

Camacho has been to more recent Madonna concerts -- as a spectator. Madonna, 58, has maintained a grueling schedule with her latest "Rebel Heart" tour involving a whirling sequence of costumes and edgy choreography.

Camacho said he can still remember the moves from the "Blond Ambition" tour. But he added with a laugh: "Don't ask me to do them."