August 4, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 31
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Monday, Sep 21, 2020



Dancing at the Gay Games: A personal account
Dancing at the Gay Games: A personal account
by Marian Michener - SGN Contributing Writer

Back in the early eighties, the Double Header used to have an oompah band called Five Alive that played polkas, waltzes and two steps, some weekends. It was fun to find other dykes and Gay men who liked partner dancing, there. But the dance floor was the size of a phone booth. I remember saying to one of the other dancers that I had a fantasy of being in a big room filled with Lesbians waltzing.

A few weeks later, that friend took me to the newly open Timberline. The large alpine lodge shaped space was fragrant with Christmas greenery. There, my fantasy of a room full of Queers waltzing came true. The T gave us about eighteen years of getting people out on the age-weathered wooden dance floor, before it closed. I loved watching all the combinations of bodies, moving in different ways to the same music. A lot of the country and western folks that used to meet there, goes to the Cuff, now, on Fridays and odd Wednesdays.

In the mean time, Hallie Kuperman opened the forties-inspired Century Ballroom, which is a supportive place for same sex couples to do all kinds of partner dancing. The ballroom also draws a lot of straight people, so you have to bring your own crowd with you, or go on the two nights a month Hallie sets aside for Gay folks. Her dancing is as polished as her dance floor, and her teaching gives people the confidence to try new moves.

About ten years ago, I found out that I have Huntington's disease (HD), an inherited progressive neurological disease. When HD put my priorities in order, dancing was one of the main things on my list. I realized it was time to stop putting off things like learning to salsa.

My HD gives me chorea, unpredictable arm and leg movements, that can make it harder for people to dance with me. So, I really appreciate my partner and dance community for adapting to that. It doesn't feel the disease is slowing me down, much. And I think the aerobics and mental challenge of dancing helps me stave it off.

A few years ago, a friend told me a couple she had met was going to do ballroom dance at the Sidney Gay Games. She said she had seen them do their swing routine, and their dancing wasn't any better than ours. That inspired me to look up the details. But, I found out competing would require learning some dances that are rarely taught, like the quickstep (a cross between the foxtrot and the charleston) and the ballroom tango (more march-like than the Argentine tango done socially). So, dancing at the games remained a dream for that round.

Chicago's games are much closer than Sidney. I looked at their web site, and found out that country and western dancing was going to be an event, there. Now, that involves dances that are already in my bones, like the waltz and the two step.

My friend Marcella agreed that she would be my dance partner there. We share an attitude of wanting to play hard in our dancing. So, we started practicing those dances, and the slinky west coast swing, until our feet ached. The country and western dance rules require both dancers to wear boots, so we had to break those in. The lead has to wear a hat. That added height challenges and sweat to our practice sessions.

We noticed that line dancing was going to be an event, so we checked out the choreography for those, since there are local variations. We had to stop doing "Slap Leather," at the Cuff, for the duration, because the version done at the games starts with an extra pigeon toe move we don't do. It was hard enough to remember to add the extra steps, without confusing ourselves by doing it here.

Since one of the dances, "Newcomer Cha," isn't done, in town, we had to learn it from step descriptions, which led to the riddle, "How many Lesbians does it take to learn a line dance?" One of the line dances has the great name, "Waltz Across Texas." I had learned it, in the old Timberline days, but not done for years. So, I reconstructed it from the step sheet, and practiced it on the cement floor at Lowe's, while my partner was picking out a new carpet for our living room. That gave me patience with her long color comparing process, and hardly drew any stares at all.

We scheduled some lessons from teachers who helped us work some Cajun flavor and some jitterbug moves into our western dances, and gave us some tips about line dance competitions. These coaches helped me find my limits with my HD. For example, I don't do any dips where I have to balance my partner's weight. But, there are a lot of moves that give the illusion of dipping.

We listened to the music the events were going to draw from, until we never want to hear it again. The rules require country dress. Marcella is the only Lesbian I know who doesn't have any blue jeans, so she made a trip to Value Village for some.

Chicago was my first Gay games. It was very moving to be on Soldier Field for the opening ceremonies with 12,000 people participating in all kinds of athletics. About 250 people from Seattle got sunburned together, waiting for the delegations to march in.

As we were walking up the street, the day after the opening, a very young woman with a clip board approached us, asking, "Have you got a minute for Gay rights." Marcella said, "I've spent years on Gay rights," and kept walking.

When we got to the country and western dance event, we found the level of competition was high. There was a lot of great smoothness and attitude there. We wound up ranking fifth out of seven couples in the novice division. In line dancing, I came in sixth out of ten, but my friend Marcella took the bronze medal for that event, so we bring those bragging rights home.

One of the watch words of the games is doing your personal best. I definitely became a better dancer, in the process of preparing. And I found my disease not limiting me very much at all. I would have liked to have ranked better. But, just getting up at the Chicago Hilton with the world class dancers there was something to celebrate. We also learned a lot from watching other country dancers.

The day after our event, the standard ballroom and latin dancers took the floor. Their moves were breathtaking. The costumes glittered. There was general dancing, between the events, so it was fun to watch combinations of cutaways and blue jeans, or shorts and chiffon cha cha-ing across the floor. And I really got to fulfill my fantasy of being in a room full of Lesbians waltzing.

We found out that country and western dance is not going to be an event at the next games, four years from now, in Cologne, but ballroom will be. Does anyone know where we can find a quickstep class?

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