Twenty-five years ago, Huey Lewis declared that it was “hip to be square.” Meanwhile, the newly formed Triangle Squares LGBT square dancing club was proving him right. Today, Mr Lewis has faded into obscurity, but the Triangle Squares are still going strong. At the end of May, the group will host a silver anniversary convention, or “fly-in.”
Some Xtra readers may be surprised that square dancing is still a thing people do. Are you picturing women in crinolines and men in cowboy hats and bolo ties do-si-do-ing while someone calls out “Swing yer pardner”? Well, at a Triangle Squares event, people usually skip the crinolines. Except for the drag queens.
“We’d been influenced and inspired to dress up after seeing beard-drag, as done by the Buxom Beauties from Cleveland, who’d been attending our fly-ins in those early years,” says Don Cheff, a seasoned square dancer and a long-time member of the Triangle Tarts, Triangle Squares’ resident drag troupe. “Americans were heavily into the beard-drag thing, always including lots of crinolines, big hair and crazy eye makeup.”
Going drag is a choice at Triangle Squares, not a requirement, as is taking a “lead,” “follow” or even “bi-dansual” role on the floor. “In gay square dancing, you don’t have to come with a partner or wear a uniform, and anyone could dance the lead or follow role,” explains Brittany Harris, a university student and recent convert. “There is also different ‘fluff,’ which are the little add-ons people tack on to moves to make them look nicer or to add a little humour.” Harris was first introduced to square dancing in high school, and while many members of Triangle Squares have past experience with the form, some come to it fresh. “Did I grow up with square dance? No, I had never danced before and didn’t start until I was about 60 years old,” says Colleen Dodd, who’s been with Triangle Squares for 10 years. “I was looking for something that didn’t require a partner and would exercise my brain as well as my body.”
For Bob Hynes, chair of this year’s fly-in, square dance also has a personal significance. “In 1996, I moved to Toronto after six years in northern Saskatchewan,” he says. “It was in this community of 700 that I learned to square dance. I noticed an ad in one of the gay newspapers for an introduction to square dancing for gays and lesbians. I went by myself, a little self-conscious, because I was still pretty much in the closet. The caller told us to form pairs and take the hand of the person beside us. I reached out and took the hand of the man beside me. It was electric! It was the first time I held the hand of another man in public. I don’t remember who the man was, but that electricity stayed with me all these years.”