Kevin Stea has proved he has staying power. He’s probably most well-known for his spot on Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour, as one of seven dancers, in 1990. We were fortunate to catch Kevin for a quick interview while he has been jetting all over the world promoting a new documentary, Strike A Pose, that goes deep into the lives of those now famous seven dancers. Though Kevin got his start with Madonna, his career has also seen him on stage with singers like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Prince, before the lenses of photographers like Herb Ritts and on the runway for designers like Gaultier, Mugler, Fendi and Calvin Klein.
Where would you be if you hadn’t been on The Blond Ambition Tour with Madonna? Was she a catalyst in your dance career?
My original intention was to finish USC Business and Film school, so I may have continued pursuing that. I actually was still at USC while in rehearsal, going to classes in the morning and doing my essays at night. I dropped out when it seemed unreasonable to study for my exams while on tour. I was working so much at that point though, it was probably just a matter of time before I danced full time. I like to think I would have found my way to Michael Jackson’s tour or Janet Jackson’s tour. Those were really where I had wanted to be. If she hadn’t added me as a dancer, and just kept me as associate choreographer, I really would have just become a choreographer.
There’s a new film out about all of the blond ambition dancers, Strike A Pose, how did that come about? Why do you think the film is being well received?
Two incredible Dutch filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan approached me with the idea of doing a film about us in 2013. I was suspicious of what it would be but I immediately said yes anyways. Besides their amazing energy and integrity, I really wanted to share our stories and I was tired of staying quiet all these years. They came to us to see if there actually was a story to tell, and they left realizing we had more stories to tell than they could possibly show in one movie. I think meeting us steeled their resolve to make this film. With financing they had to fight to keep the movie just about us, the male dancers, because everyone thought the movie had to involve Madonna. That movie was already made though, and it was called Truth or Dare. This one stands on its own quite well I think, as we do.
You’ve worked with some amazing performers over the years in addition to Madonna, what’s something you learned from watching them that you took with you as you became That Rogue Romeo?
I learned that how much attitude and gratitude that you have is completely a choice. I learned that you can have fun, be gracious and successful at the same time. I also learned that if you don’t micromanage your image, sound and career, your musical persona quickly mismatches the person or artist you want to be. I learned that even the tiniest things you notice in your music that bug you now, will irritate you 100 times more in the future, so don’t let other people tell you it’s not worth it or that it doesn’t matter, because it does. I learned that money can make a star as easily as talent, but that talent won’t run out, but the money might, and that without money even the talented can run out of the drive to continue. Those that succeed are often not the most talented, but the most driven.
With all of these reality shows focusing on singing and dancing talent, what are the biggest challenges these young people face to actually “make it” in either field? Do you think these shows misrepresent how hard it really is?
The biggest challenge to young artists trying to ‘make it’ is visibility and competition. The sheer numbers of talent out there is insane, and everyone has access to everything now. Artists used to be this unique little amalgamation of who and what they happened to get exposed to. Now it is extremely difficult to be unique or exceptionally skilled or talented, because the talent pool is worldwide, but the media outlets and venues to be seen are monopolized and controlled. On one hand grass roots campaigns for fans and support are possible with social media, but at the same time any label or corporation that wants to ‘make’ someone or something can basically pay for it.
Young people must balance their expectations with an understanding of what ‘making it’ is. Having a record deal doesn’t mean your record will ever be released, or that you will like it, or that you will be happy with it, or that you will make money from it. Being on a dance reality show doesn’t mean you will ever work in the industry and sometimes young artists don’t want dancers on stage with them who are more well-known than they are. Reality shows build up the egos of young dancers and singers and give them a full PR machine behind them. The smart ones know that its temporary and parlay that into a teaching career or jump into choreography. The interesting flip side to these dance shows is that if you win, you basically should jump into choreography, because you go back to square one if you enter the commercial dance field. What the shows give you is visibility, but that only lasts as long as the show and performers have to realize that value and use it to their advantage, to understand but not buy into their own hype.
Do these show portray these fields as easy or difficult? I’m not sure of either. Clearly the work put into dancing and singing is there and difficult, but they don’t address the industry per se, just what it takes to make these shows and numbers. They are a wonderful proving ground though. If you can survive and succeed in a performing reality show, you are ready for more than just the dregs of commercial dance. I find it similar to what we went through on the Blonde Ambition tour, a several month long boot camp in performance and theme game.
For more information on Strike a Pose, please visit: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/strike-a-pose-2016
For more information on Kevin Stea, please visit: www.kevinstea.com