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An Abbreviated History of Gay Square Dancing

According to the America’s Library, Square Dancing is one of the oldest forms of American folk dancing, and evolved from several different Old World group dances, mainly the English country, or contra dance, and the French quadrille. In the traditional American version of square dancing, four couples form a square and dance to music from an accordion, banjo, fiddle, and guitar.

The caller—someone who calls out the dance steps in time to the music—was a completely American invention. At first dancers memorized all the steps for a particular dance, but eventually the dances became so complicated that it was necessary to have someone yell out cues so that dancers didn’t have to remember so many steps.

Modern Square Dancing, the form of square dancing that we do at Puddletown, evolved out of the traditional square dance or hoedown. In traditional square dancing, the caller directs the lead couple to “visit” each of the other couples in turn to perform various dance movements. Modern Square Dancing was born when callers began to devise ways for all four couples to be in motion at once.

Gay Square dancing originated in the mid to late 1970’s. At a 1983 “fly-in” in South Florida the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs (IAGSDC) was formed. In attendance at the Fly-in hosted by The South Florida Mustangs, were the Western Star Dancers of San Francisco, Mile High Squares of Denver and Puddletown Squares from Seattle. Unifying principles of the Association were adopted at this meeting.

The first draft of proposed by-laws was presented to participating clubs at the Reno Rodeo later that year. Seattle Washington was selected to host the first Convention and Harlan Kerr of (at that time) Seattle was chosen as the Association’s interim Chair Person. There were 11 clubs, including Squares Across the Border in Vancouver Canada, who signed onto the charter, making the IAGSDC a truly international organization.

Since 1983 the IAGSDC has grown to about 60 full member clubs and half a dozen affiliate members in 4 countries. With the addition of Japan and Denmark the IAGSDC became not only more international but truly worldwide.

The IAGSDC continues to grow. Each year a host club holds the annual convention, usually in the U.S. or Canada. In recent years, conventions have attracted over 1,000 square dancers for a weekend celebration of dance and related activities. Throughout the year, regional events hosted by local clubs attract hundreds of attendees.

Gay square dancing continues to grow even as Modern Square Dancing in general sees a decline in numbers. Many people feel that the casual clothing, men and women being free to dance either traditional role, and the high energy music are the direction Square Dancing is headed in the future.

—Troy Johnson