“AIDS Square Dancing – A Personal Experience” reprinted from the January 2001 issue of Times Squared

In this article by Harry Simmons we are reminded of the horror of the AIDS epidemic and its effect on the gay community.

The contrast in our monthly newsletter between the fun and humor of the square-dancing article and the pain and sadness of the tributes to those lost in AIDS remind me of a remarkable day during which I experienced intensely both the joy of the dance and the pain of bereavement.

I was in Washington DC for the final AIDS Memorial Quilt display in October 1989, and spent a full Sunday morning with the quilt, locating the two panels I had contributed for two lovers (lost in 1984 and 1986), and experiencing all the old grief and sadness at their loss as well as the overwhelming impact of the vast expanse of the quilt itself, representing the thousands and thousands of people I didn’t know.

That afternoon the DC Lambda Squares held a dance in honor of  the Quilt Weekend and I went and spent several hours surrendering to the joy of square dancing, two-stepping, and boot-scooting, with the customary abundance of socializing, warm hugs, and smiling faces. It certainly was a fun dance in and of itself, but my sense of enjoyment was heightened by the contrast with my hours spent with the quilt! By the time I walked back to my car my senses were those of physical tiredness, but with my mind racing and whirling in a sense of dream-like unreality!

Finally, on my drive back to New York that evening, I was able to calm down and reflect on such a remarkable, intense day and conclude that it represented “both sides” of the extremes of life- my quilt experience was a confrontation with pain, suffering, and death, while the square dancing was (and actually continues to be for me) a celebration of the joys of living! I cannot remember a day when I experienced both so intensely and for such prolonged periods within hours of each other!

I was also reminded of the following incident that occurred in the PS 3 gym one evening during the past year. Another of the sad announcements was made about a Times Squares member lost to AIDS, and this was followed by a brief awkward pause and the comment “It’s always difficult to know what to say next after such announcements.” After a briefer pause, a response came from one of the listeners, “Square ‘em up!” I was delighted to hear that! Not only did I wholeheartedly agree, but I felt that my whole Washington DC quilt-plus-dance experience and all that it represented had been neatly summarized in just two minutes! It occurred to me that perhaps I should change my will to read that square dancers would be allowed to visit my own final resting place only in groups of eight – or in groups of seven and I could be a phantom dancer (unless they were seven beginning dancers and I could then be an angel!)