(This article was published on 5 June 2016 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper published by Independent Media in Cape Town, Western Cape province.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
When singing superstar Madonna asked Carlton Wilborn to be one of the seven male dancers on her Blonde Ambition tour he had no idea it would be an “evergreen” experience.
That was back in the 1990s when Madonna was seen as leading a revolution, challenging stereotypes and encouraging fans to express themselves.
Los Angeles-based Wilborn’s career as a dancer has expanded to acting in films, TV show presenting, writing an autobiography and working as a life coach.
He was in Cape Town this week for the premiere of a documentary film, Strike A Pose, about the seven Blonde Ambition dancers.
The film has been screened at film festivals worldwide since its launch earlier this year.
Its South African debut this week was at the Encounters documentary film festival running in Cape Town and Johannesburg until June 12.
Strike A Pose is not the first time that Wilborn and the other dancers have been scrutinised by camera lenses though.
Madonna made a documentary film, Truth Or Dare, a provocative behind-the-scenes insight of the Blonde Ambition tour.
Apart from dissecting Madonna’s intense relationship with her dancers and other staff, it also showed the superstar’s friends visiting her backstage.
“I was very clear at the time that Blonde Ambition was going to be a game changer. I worked with this big artist around the world. We traveled on private jets and had two chefs traveling with us,” recalls Wilborn.
“Little did I know it would be an evergreen experience. It has lived on. Twenty-five years later we get to expand that conversation.
“It is very amazing and I owe so much to Blonde Ambition and being chosen for it. After that, when I talk about the calendar of my experience, it’s been a great ride.”
Wilborn has worked on more than one tour though with Madonna. He says while she may have been perceived as a control freak she was the opposite of that.
“That’s not how she is when you work with her. The way that she deals with you is, ‘Give me more of you’,” he says.
“I have worked with Janet (Jackson), Michael (Jackson) and other A-list artists. They don’t give their dancers the liberty to shine hard with them on the stage.
“Madonna created an eight-minute dance piece for me and she wasn’t even on stage. She’s not as controlling as the persona reads.
“She is very specific about what she likes. She is smart and she has a great eye. I was never intimidated by that.”
Strike A Pose is less of a rollercoaster as it is a more reflective film. Wilborn says it “gets to tell the full embodiment of who we are”.
“I am so grateful for this film and the way that it was done. It gives an authentic, rich scope of how powerful the dancers are,” says Wilborn.
“It reaffirms why Madonna wanted us in the first place. These guys lived and worked from a powerful place. I did not give enough credit to how much of a bond I had with them.”
Wilborn says Strike A Pose “speaks to the power of dance”.
“It’s about what dance does to a soul and how it causes one to see something about themselves through that expression,” says Wilborn.
“It is about the emotional component of dance and how it heals people. Witnessing dance when it is done the right way is a shape shifter.”
The American dancer will soon work between Los Angeles and Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where he will soon start working on another TV show.
“My world is full. I’m still largely a performer,” says Wilborn.
“Over the last ten years I’ve made most of my money and bought my house as an actor and doing TV shows. I am also a life coach. I’m published twice.
“I’m never in a creative drought. You could put up your jacket and I would probably have a concept about it.”
Wilborn adds: “God will give you one gift. And if you nurture that one gift it will spin out other opportunities. Dance has been a catalyst that has served me.
“Every time I lean into dancing something magical happens. I’ve gotten to meet incredible people because of my dance.”
Strike A Pose will screened at The Labia on June 10 at 8pm and at Ster Kinekor V&A Waterfront on June 10 at 6:30pm.