07 Jun

Nice article on gay square dancing

Here’s a nice article from the Columbia News Service on gay square dancing. The reporter clearly did a lot of research. BTW, I know most of the people mentioned.

Here’s the news service link: Square dancing for gays and lesbians.

Here’s a link to the article in the Arizona Republic: Gays and lesbians foster the art of square dancing.

And here’s the whole article, just in case these links disappear after a while:

Gays and lesbians foster the art of square dancing

Sharene Azimi
Columbia News Service
May. 10, 2005 12:00 AM

NEW YORK — As a young man, Alain Buzzard-Bunny made a custom of bewildering his family. At 21 he left his Texas home for New York City. Later he studied the obscure field of psycholinguistics and became an academic. After getting married and having children, he came out as a gay man at age 35.

Many years later he finally did something that made sense to his family: He became a square dancer.

“It was one of the things that made my father most proud,” said Buzzard-Bunny, a tall, bearded man of 75. “He felt like I was identifying with my roots.”

Over the last 25 years, square-dancing clubs started by and for gays and lesbians have sprouted in major cities around the country and around the world. Many participants do not have a background in dance, much less the intricacies of square dancing, and some are not homosexual. They are drawn to the clubs by a friendly social environment, the opportunity to learn something new and the sheer fun of “peeling the top” and “cutting the diamond.”

“For the gay community, square dancing is more than simply the activity of dancing,” said Karl Jaeckel, a former board member of the International Association of Gay Square Dancing Clubs in Denver. “Square dancing gives us the opportunity to feel confident about our sexual orientation in a social environment.”

Square dancing is a uniquely American art form that originated from a hodgepodge of folk dances that early New England settlers brought with them from Europe. As nationalities mixed and the repertoire expanded, it became necessary to have someone — a caller –cue the dancers. Over time these cues became standardized and categorized according to level of complexity. Today these standards are maintained by Callerlab, an international association of square-dance callers.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the AIDS crisis that square dancing grew in popularity within the gay community. Same-sex square dancing was an offshoot of the gay rodeo circuit, which had started as an alternative to traditional rodeos, where homosexual cowboys were not welcomed. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as gay men saw their friends become infected with HIV, some sought social scenes that were not oriented around alcohol and sex. Those who were drawn to the communal aspect of square dancing sometimes encountered straight people who did not wish to dance with them, whether out of simple prejudice or for fear of contracting AIDS.

And so gay dancers created their own groups in Albuquerque, N.M.; Houston; Sacramento, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Washington; and other cities. In 1983, 10 clubs joined to form the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs, which now has 60 member clubs and half a dozen affiliates in the United States and Canada, as well as Japan and Denmark. Today, gay and straight dancers mingle at big events. For example, members of the only gay square-dancing club in St. Louis, the Gateway Squares, recently attended a jamboree hosted by the city’s large straight square-dancing community.

In contrast to straight square-dancing groups, gay groups tend to be less formal, said Pauline Plummer, 55, who grew up learning international folk dances in her native Jamaica before moving to Mt. Vernon, N.Y. In most traditional groups, women must wear skirts and crinolines, while men must wear long-sleeved shirts. Also, everyone is expected to have a partner, which has left Plummer, who is straight and does not have a regular partner, dancing with whoever was available.

The problem, Plummer said, is that at traditional dances men assume that she is interested in them because of the way she dances.

“It’s a flirting dance,” she said, describing the way she looks her partner in the eye and swishes her skirt “the way it’s supposed to be.” But if the men assume she is flirting with them in particular, things can get awkward.

With gay men and lesbians, on the other hand, Plummer can enjoy dancing without worrying about the effect of her dance style and sometimes even fills in the “boy” part with another woman. “I feel free,” she said.

Although callers still use the terms “boy” and “girl” to signal who should make which move, at gay dances participants choose their own parts.

“We’re better dancers because we dance both parts,” said George Voorhis, 41, a computer systems specialist and active member of the Times Squares dance group in Manhattan. “I dance girl, I dance boy,” he said, adding that this ability is called “bidansual.”

While gay clubs are more casual regarding attire and roles, they hold dancers to the standards set forth by Callerlab for Modern Western square dancing. Aspiring dancers typically spend several months learning the basic steps of the “mainstream” program before graduating to “plus” and “advanced” classes. This training allows people who enjoy dancing but don’t feel comfortable making up their own moves to do-si-do with the best of them.

“The caller is the choreographer,” said Carol Kassel, who at 35 is on the young side for a square dancer. “They can make it interesting by putting you in positions that are unusual or by calling them left-handed or by calling them fast.”

After Kassel was introduced to the Times Squares by a woman she was dating, she found that she liked the exercise and the people. Kassel married her dancing partner, Sheri, in 2002, and at the ceremony both the brides wore white. But the wedding was conditioned on an unofficial prenuptial agreement.

“If we ever split up,” Kassel said, “she gets square dancing.”

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