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Salim Gauwloos: Slam I Am
by Andrew Davis
2008-01-01

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In 1990, Belgian Salim Gauwloos ( a.k.a. Slam ) was an esteemed dancer with New York City's acclaimed Steps Dance School when he was suddenly thrust into the limelight as a background dancer on Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour. Not only did he travel around the world, but the handsome dancer was featured in her videos ( notably, Vogue ) and her documentary, Truth or Dare.

Now, almost two decades later, Gauwloos has found his niche teaching his favorite passion, dancing. He talked with Windy City Times about choreography, Madonna—and Jennifer Lopez's butt.

Windy City Times: Now you've been to Chicago, right?

Salim Gauwloos: Oh, yes. It's such a cold city in January—oh my God. It's really funny. Before I went on tour with Madonna, I was actually supposed to move to Chicago ( in '89 ) . I auditioned with Hubbard Street Dance, and the director at the time was Lou Conti. I was going to live there for a few years. But the city is nice—it's like a clean New York.

WCT: How did you become interested in dance?

SG: At first, I wanted to be a gymnast; I started training at 12 and did it for about three years. But then, I wanted to do the girls' stuff; guy's gymnastics have no music, and I wasn't interested in that.

I then decided to give dancing a shot. It was a way of expressing myself through music and movement. I did classical dance ( ballet ) in Antwerp, Belgium, where I grew up.

Then I auditioned for Steps in Belgium. My friend and I both auditioned, and we both won it; that's how we ended up in New York City.

WCT: And then there was auditioning for Madonna.

SG: Actually, my first job in America was Star Search! It was me and two girls in a group called In Effect. We lost in the finals.

Jennifer Lopez auditioned for our group—but her butt was too big! [ Laughs ] Everybody else's butt was so small that it didn't work out. But look at her now.

The whole Madonna thing was very simple. There was an ad—"Madonna is looking for dancers." I went, and it was crazy. I liked a few of her songs, but I was never a diehard fan. I never thought it would be such a big deal. She was there from the beginning to the end—with her little self.

WCT: Would you say that Truth or Dare [ accurately portrayed ] you and her?

SG: I mean...yeah. I guess so. With me, I was young, gay and in a big city. But she was the editor at the end of the day, and there were six months of footage. I didn't agree with what they put in the movie, but you have to take it all with a grain of salt.

WCT: The movie made [ the other dancers ] look like you were picking on [ fellow dancer ] Oliver.

SG: Yeah, but he wasn't the easiest to get along with. People don't always get along; at work, there's always somebody who annoys you, right? [ Laughs ] I don't think he was homophobic; he just seemed to have little homo moments himself. ... When I look back, it just seems cute.

WCT: When was the last time you talked with Madonna?

SG: Oh, I haven't talked with her for about 15 years. We kind of drifted apart. Maybe our paths will cross again; I'm a choreographer now.

WCT: Let's talk about you being a choreographer. What have you done?

SG: People ask what my dance style is; a woman wrote about me and described it as "dance nouveau," so I [ took ] that.

For two years, I did Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida on Broadway; I worked with Toni Braxton, Michelle Williams from Destiny's Child and Deborah Cox. What a voice, that lady. I choreographed Aida for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, and the response was out of this world; I won a "Gypsy of the Year" award for doing that. That was when I said, "Oh, my God. This is what I want to do."

People ask me why I left the commercial world. I left it a little but it just wasn't feeding me anymore. I'm a little sick of it. Today's music seems to have no soul. I just want to work with different companies.

I then worked with Fernando Bujones, a really big deal in the ballet-dance world. He was the artistic director of the Orlando Ballet and that's how I got involved with [ that troupe ] .

WCT: So where do you work now?

SG: I'm located in New York but I fly around the country, teaching [ dance ] workshops. I just came back from Texas [ said with a twang ] .

WCT: And how was that?

SG: It was good. It's very redneck-y. I took my partner with me, and we rode out to the airport. We went to the bathroom and we heard these two rednecks say, "Now we just have to get rid of these gay parasites." But I just have to laugh at it.

WCT: Who are your favorite dancers/choreographers?

SG: Martha Graham—oh, my God. What a brilliant woman. Even Madonna [ shows some influences of ] Graham. What was that video in the desert—Frozen! Even now, Graham is influencing people. I also like Jiri Killian and William Forsythe.

WCT: What does dance mean to you?

SG: Dance is everything to me. If I didn't have dance, I would've lost my mind.

See www.SalimGauwloos.com for more info.


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