This letter to the editor helps us think about how brave Roy Gotta was to publish his article in a national magazine as early as he did.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase about gays in square dancing. This could also apply to the other minorities mentioned. The objection to dancing with any vocal minority is not an objection to the distinguishing characteristics that sets that minority apart. The objection is to the flaunting, taunting and rudeness that some of these individuals seem to feel they must exhibit concerning their minority orientation.
Of course homosexuals have been square dancing with
heterosexuals, probably from the very beginning, and heterosexuals never knew
the difference. And that, Mr. Gotta (and ladies and gentlemen in square
dancing) is precisely the point! We didn’t know the difference because
the difference was not being flaunted in our faces.
A square dance is not a political platform from which to launch your particular social or political agenda. There is history and tradition in square dancing, and there are rules and codes of dress and conduct. We don’t allow drunk people to impose their “rules” on us. If we define “Friendship Set to Music” in terms of every special interest group out there being allowed to demand we accept all their friends, rules and music without regard to our own, then square dancing is doomed. Mr. Gotta needs to review the 10 Commandments of Square Dancing and be reminded that they apply to the minorities as well as to the majority.
Now that gay and lesbian square dancers can comfortably dance in many venues, we tend to forget that this was not always the case.
Roy Gotta’s article appeared in the February 1994 issue of the national square dance magazine, “American Square Dance”. It was reprinted in “Times Squares” in April 1994. Next time you see Roy Gotta, thank him for his early and enduring support. A critical letter to the editor in the next month’s issue will be published here next week.
Stay tuned for one reader’s response.
“Why do they have to dance at our club? Why can’t they deep
to themselves? I don’t mind if they want to square dance, as long as they stay
in their own clubs. This used to be a nice family club. If you let one or two
in then, before you know it, your club will be taken over by them.”
Do the above statements sound familiar? Have you heard any
of them recently at your club or another club where you were dancing? Well,
these statements were overheard back in the late 1950’s when my father-in-law
had the nerve (or was it the courage) to bring a Jewish couple to a square
Is there any difference between this and the current uproar
over “allowing” gays and lesbians to dance at straight clubs and festivals? I
think not. Is there any difference between this and the same uproar in the
sixties when Blacks entered the square dance picture? I think not. Prejudice
and hatred are the same whenever and wherever they appear. I know of one major
square dance festival that has actually had meetings to discuss “the problem”.
Before I discuss attitude, let’s take a look at a couple of
facts. Barring gays and lesbians from your club or dance, or segregating them
at said affairs, is illegal! It is discrimination! Also, you have been dancing
with gay and lesbian square dancers for many years. You just didn’t know it!
Gay and lesbian dancers have been coupling up and dancing as “traditionally
correct” couples. If you are concerned about coming into contact with gays,
keep in mind that a week doesn’t go by that you probably have contact with a
gay individual outside of the square dance activity.
I have heard the argument that “I can’t dance in a square
with same sex couples.” Two things come to mind when I hear this. One, this
person probably didn’t say anything in the past when two women were dancing
together, and two, this person is a very poor dancer. Some men are uncomfortable
swinging other men. This is not a problem if you just say so up front. It is no
different than not swinging someone of either sex who has a physical problem.
Let’s suppose for a moment that your club decides to break
the law and ban gay and lesbian dancers from dancing as same sex couples at
your dances. Do you now follow the same rules for the two senior ladies who have
been dancing together at your club for the last 2 years? How do you know for
sure that they are not lesbians? And how about the times when I have jumped
into a square to be the needed 8th body? Since that 8th
position was the “girl’s” part, do seven people have to sit down, because the
rules prohibit same sex couples? Does my 84-year-old mother-in-law have to give
up the activity she has been doing for over 40 years because she dances mostly
the “boy’s” position?
Finally, whatever happened to “Friendship Set to Music?”
Does this mean only my friends, by my rules, and to my music? It is not easy to
change one’s attitudes and feelings. It is similarly not easy to accept
lifestyles and customs that are radically different than your own. Remember,
you are not being asked to accept, condone or embrace anyone else’s lifestyle.
However, you are being asked to not deny anyone the right to enjoy their chosen
form of recreation. After all, that’s all square dancing is, recreation. It
happens to be recreation that involves interaction and interdependence on at
least 7 other people. If your prejudices are so great that you cannot even
dance in the same square with a person who believes or lives differently than
yourself, then perhaps you should be looking for another form of recreation.
Finally, there’s the method of last resort, which I’ve often
heard termed “find a hole and fill it”. If you get totally lost during a
sequence and can’t possible remember any of the other methods outlined in this
article, you always have the option of standing back until the dust settles,
then dashing into the only empty spot in the formation. (Hint: If you know who
you image dancer is, you can dash into that spot much more quickly!) People may
laugh at you for a moment, but at least your square will keep going.
Don’t Ignore the Caller
If your square breaks down, and the caller starts calling
specifically to your square (“Just that square, make waves with girls on the
ends…”), don’t freak out, don’t argue with the caller, just do what he or she
I’ve observed a number of callers having fun with a floor by
giving a broken-down square specific instruction, then have the rest of the
floor do something different, until finally all of the squares converge. (“In
that square only, swing through; everyone else, centers trade…”)
What to Do Next?
Don’t wait until your square breaks down to start practicing
some of the techniques in this article. Make a note of your image dancer each
time you square up, and periodically notice where he or she is during the top.
Once in a while, glance over at another square to see where your mirror dancer
is. Start being aware of where the girls are ad where the boy are in your
square. You’ll eventually find you can fix a broken square nearly
The Point is … to Have Fun
One of the unbreakable rules of square dancing is, sooner or
later, you’re going to dance in a square that breaks down. Regardless of which
of the above techniques you decide to use (or not use), the most important thig
is to have fun.
When your square breaks down, don’t get mad, and don’t place
blame. Just keep moving, keep on dancing, and keep your sense of humor intact.
Some of the most fun squares I’ve ever danced in were broken down during most
of the tip, but we were all laughing so hard, we had a great time anyway!
In his book, The Extemporaneous Caller, Bill Davis
defines the concept of “Image Dancers,” which are dancers who are diametrically
opposite across the set from each other, and at the dame distance from the
flagpole center of the square. Image dancers will always be the same dance
genders (e.g. two girls or two boys.) Many people refer to image dancers as “mirror
dancers” or “mirror opposites.”
Assuming all called choreography in a given sequence is
symmetric in nature, all image dancers will always remain symmetric, and at the
same distance from the flagpole center of the square. It doesn’t matter what the
A formation is considered symmetric if both of the following
conditions apply: (A) A line from any dancer through the flagpole center of the
square intersects a dancer at the same distance from the center on the other
side. (B) Any two image dancers are facing the same direction (e.g., clockwise,
counterclockwise, in, out, etc.) relative to the flagpole center of the square.
Using Your Image Dancer to Recover
Now that you know what an image dancer is, you can easily
use this concept to review your part of a broken square.
If you’re dancing in a square and suddenly don’t know where
you should go or are uncertain that you ended up in the correct spot, just look
across the flagpole center of the square. Is that your image dancer? If so, you’re
probably OK (unless both of you made the same mistake, in which case there’s
nothing more you can do.) If it’s not your image dancer, move into the position
in your half of the square that corresponds to your image dancer.
Speaking frankly, this method will only work if you have an
image dancer that you know dances at least as well as you do. If you think you
image dancer is weaker that you, this method probably won’t work.
Using Your Mirror Dancer to Recover
If you have a weak image dancer, don’t give up – there is
It’s always a good idea when squaring up to make a mental
not of your partner, your corner, and your image dancer. (This is one of the
reasons many callers often deliberately draw your attention to those people at
the beginning of a tip – for example “Bow to your partner, Yellow rock your
corner…”) Let’s add one more person to that list: your “mirror dancer” in
When you square up, after you figure out who’s who in your
square, make a point of finding another nearby square, and make a mental note
of who in that square is dancing in your position. If you’re the #2 girl in
your square, not down the #2 girl in the square next to you. All you have to
remember is the person dancing the same position as you.
If you find yourself losing track during a complex sequence,
take a quick glance at the other square, and wee where your mirror dancer is.
I’ve observed this technique being used frequently in Advance and Challenge
dancing, where I’ve heard it termed “checkpointing.” If you get lost, this may
be the fastest way for you to get back into the correct position.
Please note: checkpointing, or using your mirror dancer, is
not a substitute for knowing dance calls! This is a technique I suggest using
on y during complex or unfamiliar choreography, where you think you’re doing
the calls correctly, but perhaps missed a call or part of a call and got
Callerlab’s suggested method of recovery is for everyone in
the broken square to return to their home (starting_ positions, and the heads
slide right to form lines facing side walls. The caller will either pick up the
facing lines (often using the hint, “Lines forward and back.”) and keep going
or resolve the sequence quickly, in which case the heads just slide back to
their starting position.
If any of the techniques in this article don’t work for you,
use this method as your fallback. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s standard and any
experienced caller will recognize what’s going on immediately.
“Half-Broken” Square Recovery
If only one-half of your squares is broken (for example,
during a “spin the top” involving both sides of the square), here’s a good
“just keep moving” strategy. If you’re in the broken half of the square, make
up a formation that look like the unbroken half of the squares, make a
right-handwave with boys on the end. It doesn’t matter if the right boy is on
the right end. The objective at this point is to keep your square moving to the
end of the sequence!
If you’re in the unbroken half of the square and the other
people are having a hard time recovering, you might want to quietly tell the
other people what formation you’re in, and where the boys and girls are. For
example, “Psst! Make a right-hand wave with boys on the end!”
Caller Directed Square Recovery
Often, a caller will notice something’s not right in one or
more squares, and will cue the dancers so they know what formation they should
be in. For example: “You’re got right-hand waves, boys on the end…” or “Centers,
who are facing”. In such cases, if you’re lost, and the caller cues you to
what formation you should be in, just get into that formation, whether or not
you’re in the correct place for successful resolution.
Those are the basic methods for resolving broken squares, and
require a fairly minimal amount of practice. However, these methods just keep
the squares moving … you still have to scurry back into the correct place at
the end of the sequence. How do you actually FIX the square mid-sequence? Let’s
move onto some more advanced methods and find out.
This is a great four part article about fixing broken down squares. Maybe we can implement more them in our dancing.
It’s one of the ultimate cultural taboos in square dancing:
don’t talk about broken-down squares. It doesn’t matter if you’re a caller or a
dancer; there seems to be some unwritten rule that it’s bad manners to discuss
how squares break down and how to fix them. If you’re a dancer … have you ever
watched another square on the dance floor break down, and saw them recover, and
then wonder how they did it? This article gives dancers some basic tools to use
in recovering a crashed square. Although this article is targeted at dancers,
caller may want to consider teaching or reviewing some of these techniques.
In the real world, all squares break down sooner or later.
(if you’re a dancer whose squares never break down, you probably only dance
with 7 phantoms.) Perhaps you’re new to dancing a given level and haven’t yet
developed confidence. Perhaps there are a few “nightmare calls” that you just
aren’t get the hang of yet. In any event, for whatever reason, broken squares
always happen, at every dance, at every class, and at every level.
In general, some of those concepts aren’t taught until
Advanced or higher levels, because some dancers may rely on these tolls more
than learning the dance level. Please keep in mind, these tools are intended
for use by dancers only in conjunction with already knowing their current dance
level well. If dancers don’t know their calls, none of these recovery
techniques will help.
For the purposes of discussion, let’s assume a broken square
is the result of two (or more) dancers swapping places by accident in a tip in
which the caller is using fairly straightforward, symmetric choreography.
(Sorry, asymmetric choreo fans!)
More Than One Way to Recover
There are several techniques available for recovering a
“crashed” square. We’ll go through them in approximate order of simplicity,
from easiest to most complex.
Remember, the point of all of these methods is to allow the
square to keep on dancing, even if a dancer has to scurry back into their
correct home position at the end of the sequence.
After all these years, and we’re still saying “Thank you Betsy!”
I had vowed a couple of years ago to stop writing letters to the
editor, after my lover almost handed my head to me on a platter for being too
quick to criticize. However, this is one letter that I feel must be written, especially
The topic, is Betsy Gotta, and the subject is giving credit where
credit is due. Having just completed her Plus class, all I can say is that she
is one classy lady! All the way through the class I was constantly amazed at
her degree of patience and great professionalism. Not once did I see her lose
her composure, or appear irritated. I’m sure many would agree that many times
she would have been justified in being less patient.
Week, after week, Betsy Gotta stood up on that stage in front of a
wide range of multiple personalities with varying moods and different learning
abilities, and demonstrated what the word “professionalism” is all about. Every
student was treated with respect. Her humor was never cruel or at someone
else’s expense. Betsy didn’t stand up on that stage to prove how good she is or
to stroke her ego. She stood up there to teach. And, teach she did! The
enthusiasm and mastery of the class bears testament to her talent as both a
caller and a teacher.
Not once did I hear anyone say anything negative about Betsy,
which I think is unusual in a diverse group such as ours. Reason? In my opinion
there just wasn’t a reason to say anything except nice things about a great
I’m sure I speak for the vast major-ity, if not all, of the Plus class when I say, thank you Betsy — you were fabulous — just marvelous!