By Kian Lam Kho
It is a cool beautiful spring evening in the Village and the main door of P.S. 3 on Hudson Street is slightly ajar. You can hear music wafting through the gap and recognize Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon. But over the music a firm sing-song voice is calling out “dosado” and “allemande left.” Betsy Gotta, a square dance caller, is giving instructions for dancers to follow using an unconventional choice of music. This is a regular square dancing event hosted by Times Squares Square Dance Club.
Commonly known as Times Squares, the group is the only LGBTQ+ square dance club in New York. As a member club of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs (IAGSDC), it is a welcoming organization that brings together square dancers of all sexual orientations and genders in a friendly and convivial environment. Under the umbrella organization, there are more than fifty square dance clubs throughout the U.S., Canada, and Japan offering opportunities for members of the LGBTQ+ community to meet and dance in a safe social setting.
In New York, Times Squares has been holding dances at P.S. 3 since shortly after the club’s founding thirty-five years ago. Its members hail from all over metropolitan New York City. Kim Norland, a member of the club since 2003, started dancing with the club to rejoin an activity that he has loved since his youth. Growing up in Detroit, he regularly square danced with friends and family. But when he came out to a good high school friend, who was also a square dancer, he was spurned. After moving to New York City, Kim joined Times Squares, which gives him a safe haven to continue square dancing.
As a club, Times Squares is not just a social dancing organization, it also provides instruction for new square dancers. Modern Western square dancing, which is the type of square dance followed by the club, has formal dance levels that can be mastered by dancers. Times Squares offers beginning-level classes usually starting in October and January every year.
Cindy and Jonathan Uejio, a couple from Brooklyn, joined the beginning class in the fall of 2014. As Cindy put it, “Jonathan was initially not interested, and I dragged him to the class reluctantly.” But as the class continued, he fell in love with the activity and has not stopped square dancing since. The Uejio’s joined Times Squares the year after completing the class and have continued to progress to higher levels of dancing. Last year Jonathan became a member of the club’s board of directors and is helping to advance the club’s mission of spreading the joy of square dancing to all.
In June this year, the world will be coming to New York City to celebrate one of the most important milestones in the modern history of the LGBTQ+ community. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, New York City not only will stage the Stonewall 50 March but will also host World Pride 2019. Times Squares plans to participate in the celebration by hosting a Pride Square Dance 2019 event on Friday, June 28th, and organize a group representing IAGSDC to partake in the March on Sunday, June 30th.
The Pride Square Dance 2019 event will be held at the gym of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Midtown Manhattan at 7:00pm. Anne Uebelacker, an internationally renowned caller, will call at the dance. She will also teach basic square dance calls to beginning dancers during the first hour. New dancers are welcomed to join in the fun for free.
During the Stonewall 50 March, Times Squares is organizing a contingent of IAGSDC member dancers to join in. Dancers will march down the route with opportunities to stop and square dance to Howard Richman, a popular local square dance caller. “We will show the world how much fun square dancing can still be for everyone, whether you’re straight, gay, trans, or whatever,” says Jim Babcock, president of Times Squares.
Square Up at Stonewall 50—