Friday’s edition of The Washington Post carried a great, very positive article in the Style section about DC Lambda Squares, the gay squaredance club with which I used to dance regularly. The first few paragraphs of the article are included below:
The gay square dancers are group-hugging again.
This time, it’s to the last notes of a honky-tonkified version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” blaring on the borrowed stereo system, and they’re sweaty and happy and filled to the brim with Chips Ahoys and diet soda. But the truth is, they’ve been hugging all night, and when the music stops in the blue-green basement rec room, they go on hugging and clapping and promenading in the silence.
Which makes you think this is about therapy or unity or something more profound than the shared love of square dancing.
But it’s not.
It really is just about the love of square dancing.
They come to Christ United Methodist Church in Southwest Washington every Wednesday night, and usually the crowd is much bigger than this one, they say. Having finally broken out of formation, the dozen or so middle-age men and women are sitting in kid-size plastic chairs arranged for tomorrow’s Bible study and talking about square dance steps. And square dance picnics. And last weekend’s International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs convention in San Diego.
These are the DC Lambda Squares, by their account the world’s oldest gay square dance club, and this is a rare moment of youth and vigor for a centuries-old pastime feeling the strains of age. Over the past 20 years, straight square dancing has been in steady decline, and the new square dance–the Lambda Squares dance–was born in Washington and has been growing up gay.
That last paragraph does include an obvious mistake: I don’t believe that DC Lambda Squares is self-described as the “world’s oldest gay squaredance clubs,” though it’s certainly one of the oldest; what the club members may have told the reporter, rather, is that it’s the only squaredance club of any kind, gay or straight, within the District (just as the Times Squares, a sister gay squaredance club, is the only squaredance club within Manhattan).
The article does a very nice job, however, of describing some of the differences between squaredancing in the straight community–where the number of dancers is steadily dropping as the population ages and they do a poor job of attracting new dancers–and in the gay and lesbian community, where the activity seems to be at least holding its own. One explanation, as my friend Karl Jaeckel from the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs is quoted: “For the gay square dance community, in addition to just enjoying square dancing, we come together to celebrate who we are as a community,” Jaeckel says. “That aspect isn’t present for the straight square dancers.”
Having noted earlier that “[Squaredancing] is not hip. It is the opposite of hip. It is anti-hip,” the article concludes, “‘See, it’s not easy being a square dancer,’ [Lambda Squares co-founder Samuel] Johnson says. And it’s not. But it’s novel. It’s goofy and homey, uncomplicated, awkward and surprisingly jumpy for its age and reputation. It’s a favorite tin lunchbox, a new pair of gym shoes, something happy and frilly and fun to do on a Wednesday afternoon.”
It is. And it’s also a great way to meet really wonderful, truly friendly people from around the world (I even met several boyfriends through the activity). What the article omits, especially as it specifically says squaredancing is an “uncomplicated” activity, is the mental challenge that squaredancing provides at the higher levels of the activity, when you’ve learned not only several hundred calls, but dozens of additional formations and call-modifying “concepts.” At the highest levels of Challenge squaredancing (squaredancing starts at the Basic and Mainstream levels, then proceeds through Plus, two levels of Advanced, and four levels of Challenge), the activity is less a physical or even purely social one, but more of an intellectual one; in fact, many of the other Challenge-level dancers I know come from a mathematics or computer background.