The Chi-Town Squares show you how to spin your same-sex partner round and round.
At 33, I feel like I’m in tip-top shape. But when elderly lesbians start dancing circles around me, as they did several Saturdays ago at a square dancing lesson, it makes me rethink that assumption.
The Chi-Town Squares, Chicago’s only LGBT square-dancing club, have been do-si-do-ing out for more than 20 years. In operation since 1987, the 120-member organization serves as an all-inclusive opportunity for queer people to meet and socialize in an alcohol-free zone. My own memories of square dancing include a few socially awkward grade-school experiences, so on a recent weekend I decided to take advantage of free lessons offered by the club.
Before my visit, I surfed the Internet and uncovered a few fun facts off dosado.com. Square dancing began in 17th-century England, where it was practiced as a folk dance. While we tend to think of it as a country-western phenomenon, it was first practiced stateside by colonists as a way to bring emerging communities together. It’s also the official dance in many U.S. states, including Illinois, Oregon and Idaho—but not Kentucky, whose state dance is clogging (go figure).
I have to admit, when I arrived at the church for the two and a-half hour lesson, I was feeling a little, well, square. Visions of early pioneers in New England curtsying to one another after a hard week of carving land out of rugged forest (for the eventual placement of a Starbucks) sparked little interest for me. But onward I marched.
The sexes, I noticed upon arrival, enjoy square dancing in equal numbers. The overall ratio of women to men (not that it matters in the case of same-sex partnering) was about even, but it was interesting to watch the boys and girls huddle together in separate groups, much like at a junior-high dance.
There were plenty of newbies in attendance (score one for the marketing team), and the organizers bombarded each of us with the kind of zeal that, had it not been so earnest, I might’ve deemed inappropriate outside of a late-night infomercial. Mixing and mingling with the other first-timers over light snacks, I remembered this was a booze-free zone, but who needs hooch when there are Jewel cookies? I worried who my partner might be and glommed onto a young law student named Paul. He was the cutest one in the room, but mostly I liked him because he seemed every bit the healthy skeptic that I was.
As we grouped off in circles of eight (four couples facing each other)—and our caller guided us through basic dance moves like the do-si-do (the most common move, in which partners circumnavigate each other), circle (everyone joins hands and walks in a direction specified by the caller) and allemande (in which dancers make their way around the circle by clasping the hands of the alternating partners)—the grade-school cobwebs slowly started falling away.
As our caller shouted out dance moves and hummed Billy Joel songs, I found myself caught up in the spirit of it all. Squares volunteer Marshall, a kindly teady bear of a man who I also partnered with at one point, was kind enough to show me the basics, and although I crashed into a few lesbians at various points, no one seemed to take it personally.
A surprising amount of touching happens in square dancing (and I’m guessing the Mike Huckabees of the colonial era demonized this benevolent recreation’s practitioners as the devil’s children), but this kind of physical intimacy eases comfort zones in a nonthreatening atmosphere. Our community, I realized, could really stand to benefit from more activities like this.
Still, I probably won’t go back. While I honor the organizers for lifting me off of my couch on an otherwise chilly Saturday, I don’t see myself cramming square dancing into my hectic week. But in the spirit of the new Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman buddy flick, I promptly checked gay square dancing off my bucket list.
Registered classes begin Saturday 26.