Gabriel Trupin was a gifted San Francisco dancer who performed on Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition Tour and, along with two other dancers, later sued her for not getting their permission or paying them for appearing in her 1991 backstage documentary, “Truth or Dare.”
Trupin, who pleaded with Madonna not to use the now-famous footage of him kissing fellow dancer Salim Gauwloos (mainly because he didn’t want his boyfriend to see it) received a settlement from the singer that allowed him to live well until he died of AIDS in 1995 at age 26. His mother, Sue Trupin, speaks for him in the new Dutch documentary “Strike a Pose,” which screens Saturday, June 25, at the Castro Theatre as part of the LGBTQ Film Festival.
“What’s lovely about this movie is that it’s not at all about Madonna, it’s about what happened to these guys,” says Trupin, a retired nurse who worked at San Francisco General Hospital’s infection disease clinic for years and now teaches smoking cessation at UCSF. She was married to the late, great drummer and composer Eddie Marshall, who wrote a tune called “Genius Sue.”
Trupin was always bored by “Truth or Dare,” a film her son clearly didn’t relish participating in but to which he could hardly say no, given the plum job with Madonna. She never knew until she attended the recent Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Strike a Pose” just how important “Truth or Dare” had been to gay men’s self-acceptance and validation.
“Gabriel didn’t want to be known for that kiss. He wanted to be known for his dancing,” says Trupin, who said she loved the way filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan wove the stories of the surviving six male Blond Ambition dancers (Oliver Crumes, the only straight and not-classically-trained one, is now a waiter and hip-hop dance teacher in Las Vegas).
Working with Madonna was a great gig “but wasn’t supposed to be the pinnacle of his career. … He wanted to live and be a dancer; doing ‘Truth or Dare’ was her agenda. But that kiss ended up being very important. People hadn’t seen that onscreen before.”
Gabriel Trupin, who didn’t play to the camera like some of his associates, “didn’t want to carry a flag or be an advocate. That’s not who he was at 20,” Sue Trupin says. “He wasn’t there yet. He just wanted to get paid. But I’m positive that if Gabriel had lived, he would have come to be extremely proud of the role that film played in helping gay men around the world. It’s ironic that this kiss he didn’t want to be known for ended up being an incredibly noble legacy, in a way.”
Trupin couldn’t believe the reception she and the remaining six dancers got when they came onstage after a New York screening of “Strike a Pose.” People were standing and shouting, “Thank you!”
The dancers are now approaching 50, and “they’re a lot more interesting now than they were in ‘Truth or Dare,’ when they had nothing to say,” Sue Trupin says. “What happens when you have that fame at 20 and then it starts to fade? It’s a very moving story, and very well told.”
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