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Hip to Be Square

[whitespace] The lowdown on square-dancing queens

By Millie

Allan P. Hurst, president of a successful computer networking company in Foster City, is serious about gay and lesbian square dancing. After three years of hard work and a lot of fun, he can dance at level A2, the more difficult subset of Advanced Square Dancing and just one rung below Challenge, the uppermost square-dance level. Hurst is also a beginning caller--one of those guys you've seen standing on a hay bale calling out complex choreography like an auctioneer.

"I went to calling school at this year's recent gay and lesbian square-dance convention in Portland," Hurst says. "It's like spontaneous performance art."

With no fewer than five clubs (three in San Francisco, one in Pleasant Hill, one in Palo Alto), the Bay Area has, not unexpectedly, become a hub for gay and lesbian square dancing. Hurst dances with all five clubs, but he considers the El Camino Reelers in Palo Alto his home club. "It's filled with a lot of computer geeks, and being in that industry, I fit right in," he says.

When asked how one becomes involved in gay and lesbian square dancing, Hurst admits, "Jesse Helms is quite right--we recruit." Hurst himself was recruited by a friend at a San Jose gay pride event three years ago. At first, he couldn't imagine himself twirling and jigging and dos-á-dos-ing around a school cafeteria with a bunch of strangers. Today, Hurst square-dances at least two or three nights a week and attends the yearly four-day convention of the National Gay and Lesbian Square Dance Association (next year in L.A.). As for strangers, Hurst has enjoyed the social aspects of gay square dancing. "I can walk into any gay square-dance club along the West Coast--even in Vancouver--and be welcomed with open arms."

As far as the actual choreography goes, gay square dancing is hard to differentiate from good old American heterosexual square dancing. Gay square dancing is typically faster. The stylings, or nonessential choreography, are a little more florid, with lots of body contact and hand-holding. It's the culture of gay square dancing that can be downright subversive. Gay square dancing is simply less--well--square.

For example, the dress code for heterosexual squares is fairly rigid--gingham dresses with crinolines for women, polyester Sans-a-belt slacks and western shirts for the men--like something out of Hee Haw. The dress code for gay squares, on the other hand, is more relaxed--jeans, shorts, tank tops, Birkenstocks, a healthy smattering of leather--appropriate attire for any gay and lesbian community event.

Gay squares tend to be younger as well. At the USA West National Square Dance Convention that took over the Moscone Center July 24-26, more than 6,000 square dancers from around the country participated. The average age was between 45 and 50.

Gay and lesbian square dancing has positioned itself as an alternative to the dance/bar scene that dominates queer social interaction. Held in churches, community centers and school cafeterias, gay square dancing is the perfect clean and sober alternative for SOMA refugees. As young people flock to gay and lesbian square-dancing clubs, the scene is growing exponentially throughout the country and even internationally. (Clubs are very active in Australia and Japan.) The scene even has its own bible, the glossy, but irregular, Square Up Magazine out of Albuquerque, N.M.

Hurst is philosophical about finding a partner through gay square dancing. "I've had good and bad experiences dating other square dancers," he says. "Currently I'm dating a guy who doesn't square dance, and that's OK. It's good to have something that makes you unique."

For more information, call the Foggy City Dancers at 415/905-4546.

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From the August 10-23, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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