Gay Square Dancing: The Beginnings of
The Rosetown Ramblers

By Richard Burdon
Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN)

(Click here or on the image at right to download a recent newsletter from The Rosetown Ramblers)

Rosetown RamblersGay Square Dancing stirred a lot of excitement when it began in Portland in the Fall of 1982. Neil Hutchens, a writer and newspaper publisher, had been dancing with a “straight” square dance club and decided to start a Gay and Lesbian club. He invited a straight lady Jan Phipps, a new caller, to teach gays square dancing! Notices were posted inviting people to give square dancing a try. I joined the second class in June of 1983. It was an historic time because there were few social organizations for gay people aside from the infamous baths and bars. We were ready for something new where friendships could be nurtured.

In the early years of our history gay square dancing was looked upon as an “intolerable” activity for gays. Straight dancers considered it to be strictly “their” thing. Nonetheless, an amazing array of people, including some with serious limitations, presented themselves as prospective students. I remember one or two legally blind persons danced with their white canes. Some deaf/hearing couples showed up to gave it a try. The club met these challenges as best we could. Hank Stack, of Channel 8 TV morning ASL interpreted news fame, undertook to develop signs for various square dance calls and taught sign classes for our members.

Ramblers 1986Being a 50-something just-out-of-the-closet gay man I was intrigued by reports of some of our Ramblers traveling to Seattle to dance with the Puddle Town club. One time they dared to dance on the deck of a ferry boat! Frequently our club members mingled for some great square dance fun. In April of 1984 the Seattle club hosted the First International Gay Square Dance Convention held at The Madison Hotel. Visionaries from several historic clubs set in motion an annual event which has attained a thirty year unbroken stream of fun, socializing, and great dancing

Jan resigned after being “our caller” for two years. We launched a futile search for a new caller. Most straight callers were cautious about their reputations so were dubious about calling for a gay group. In spite of equipment limitations we went about teaching classes with a 45-RPM record player. Several club members would often retire to JR’s West bar for snacks and perfecting our dancing.

Class graduations might have been described as “creative” although hazardous fun. One class of graduates danced with grocery bags covering their heads. Another Graduation was held at the Oaks Park roller rink. Dancers were challenged to execute the calls while wearing only ONE skate. Another time panty hose with a potato in each foot pocket was tied around dancer’s waists—it was comical to watch the flying extensions as the dancers attempted to maneuver without entwining another dancer. In time the initiation rites were tamed--probably in the interests of safety.  

Some eager members formed a group called Heads to the Center after learning plus and advanced levels. That group entertained the club and visitors with dance skits complete with custom made outfits! Eventually it became evident we could not accommodate all dance levels on club nights. So HTTC became a separate club.  

Detractors from the “straight world” seemed to think we had trespassed into their sacred ground of square dance. At some venues we were allowed to dance on the same floor as long as we “looked straight” [“real” boy/girl configurations]. The 1987 IAGSDC Convention we hosted at the Hilton Hotel was picketed by Pricilla and “friends”. Our guests ignored the gantlet of protesters at the entrance of the hotel and we had a memorable event. As time passed attitudes changed and now we have straight people preferring to join our clubs. We are recognized for our informality and the fun we have dancing.    






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