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“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!)

“Trapped in PS 3” reprinted from the May 1992 issue of Times Squared


As a club we’ve been around quite a while. In this occasional column we’ll look back at some of the serious and not to serious articles from past issues of Times Squared.

Trapped in PS 3
by Michael J. McKeon

It was a dark and stormy night (no, this isn’t a Snoopy novel) … well actually is was dark but the only storm brewing was inside the heads of Michael Coan, Sheldon Green and Michael McKeon. You see for all any of us knew, it wasn’t even 9:58 or 10:02 pm – and the three of us were hurriedly scurrying around inside the closet at P.S. 3 trying to get everything put away and straightened out for yet another square dance day.

Finishing before the others, I quickly grabbed my large and cumbersome 55-gallon trash can and headed for the Hudson Street exit. As I approached the door, I noticed the center door was chained – no problem, there are two more sets of doors. Pull, pull, pull, hmmmmm?! These doors are all locked too, not to worry (or should I?), there are plenty of other exits and Sheldon and Michael C. will know another way out. Running around the building with a ghetto blaster, a briefcase and a 55-gallon trash can, we quickly searched all the exits – unfortunately, we experienced the same results at all possible passageways – plain and simple there was NO WAY OUT. We were indeed TRAPPED IN P.S. 3!!!!

The three of us, looking like lost puppies complete with dismay on our faces, weighed our options. Sheldon suggested the fire alarm, Michael C. just looked perplexed, and I and my 55-gallon trash can was willing to do almost anything short of jumping off of the roof (specially in Cowboy boots). To me the idea of pulling the fire alarm was just fine (even a little exciting), well, except for all the noise, which was a reservation shared by all.

Finally, there was the suggestion of exiting through a window. The only problem posed was how to get through the gates which barred window access. This seemed to be no problem for Sheldon and Michael who finally found a gate which was unlocked, the only problem being the scaffolding which hampered the possibility of fully pushing the gate out of the way.

This really seemed to pose no problem for the two “little guys”, however, my 55-gallon ice bucket and I were another story.  Putting the trash can back into the closet and taking long deep breathes, I managed to begin squeezing up and out the window.  Bending down, squeezing up, sucking in and pushing, I was finally halfway through. Now my only problem was the protruding six-inch bar which was jabbing into my stomach. I can only be grateful for my recent return to running which seemingly made my efforts a real possibility – and a successful one at that, as I sucked in once again and squeezed the rest of my body through the narrowness to freedom. Whew, free at last, Thank God I’m free at last (feeling a little like Martin Luther King) or so I thought.

Taking another deep breath and looking around I soon realized we were essentially back to square on. We were finally out of the building, but now trapped a bout 12 feet in the air by 40 feet of planked scaffolding with approximately a three to five-foot wall surrounding our prison. Not only did we gingerly have to walk around on the flooring, but we also had to be on the lookout for loose pointy wires, jabby nails, holes in the floor, nosey neighbors and uniformed police officers on local patrol. The gate between exterior of the building and the scaffolding looked to be about eight to ten feet at its widest – unfortunately, scrutinizing these “escape botches” only opened our eyes to steep jumps, sloped walls, bends in the building’s structure and a host of other obstacles impeding our easy access to an expedient escape.

Not to dismay, as Michael and Sheldon both scrutinized the situation and between the two of them located 2 or 3 potential escape routes. I was only experiencing a sense of relief that I had left my great ice-can behind and all we really had to worry about was the boom-box, the briefcase and the small but interested crowd of 5 or so, which had gathered around on the street below to witness our escapades.

Fortunately, Michael and Sheldon narrowed our escape possibilities down to what looked like a potential flight to freedom. Narrow as the opening may have seemed, my two partners in crime managed to squeeze down and gingerly jump to the ground – and I knew, since I had already squeezed through a similar crack at the window that I could handle this with no problem. The only other consideration was the bump in the building’s exterior which loomed between me and a six-foot jump to freedom. Growing more and more tired and not looking forward to a 15 mile and ½ hour drive home, I expediently slithered down into the crevice and shoo-ing Sheldon’s helping hand away with my boot, I jumped to the safety of the NYC street below. (And I did it all by myself, thanx anyway, Sheldon.) However strange it may seem to use the word safety in reference to the NYC street I can assuredly assume this was the general feeling shared by all.

I guess there is no moral to our story, but just a warning: make sure the P.S. 3 janitor knows you’re “out” or “in” because if he doesn’t, you might be “in” permanently. But on the lighter side, we didn’t – or at least I didn’t – notify any P.S. 3 officials where the window was that served as our escape to freedom – so if you’re ever unfortunate enough to be trapped inside, just look for a heater on the upper level and … good luck!

Learn to Square Dance!


Looking for an evening of fun and socializing? Join us for an introduction to square dancing. No partner, experience, special clothing, or dance skill required. If you can walk, you can dance!

Our club, Times Squares, is offering three open houses this winter, on Jan 25, Jan 29, and Feb 05. Come to any or all! You’ll learn the basic moves at any of the sessions, and a few additional moves at each of the three.

Friendly experienced dancers will be there to help out, and we have a fun and talented caller/teacher lined up for the evening. A great time is guaranteed!

If you like it, you’ll have the opportunity to join our beginner’s level classes starting February 12. Classes will run every Tuesday night from 6:30 – 9:30 through May to get you up to Mainstream level. Then you can dance with any square dance club in the world!

Come see why we say “Square Dancing is Friendship set to Music!”

Times Squares is New York’s only LGBTQ* square dance club. We welcome people of all genders and orientations. You don’t have to be LGBTQ* to join — just friendly!

Cost: $10 at the door
Where & When: PS 3, 490 Hudson Street (between Grove and Christopher Street)

  • Fri, Jan 25 7-9pm with Pat Push
  • Tue, Jan 29 7-9pm with Howard Richman
  • Tue, Feb 5 7-9pm with Howard Richman

Clear Sailing to Fun Dancing

 

Overheard at our recent dance:

“I forgot how much fun it is to be surrounded by squares and dance in a full hall.”

 

 

It was all hands on deck as Times Squares hosted a Bon Voyage dance for a group of dancers from California the night before they set sail on a Fall Foliage cruise up the east coast to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The trip’s organizer, square dance caller David Mee, and four squares of travelers joined us for the dance. David offered to call, and it’s always great to dance to a new caller. His calling was challenging without being overwhelming and he has a great singing voice. We hope he returns to New York soon, so we can dance to him again.

Kudos to George Voorhis for all his hard work to make this event such a success. The hall was decorated beautifully with bon voyage banners and luggage with stickers from far off destinations. And the cake was delicious.

New Hours and Location Agree with Summer Dancers

Weekly dance instruction is good for the spirit. But what’s a dancer to do when classes are over? Keep dancing, of course!

And so, our semi-monthly summer dances have begun, with a change in venue and time. For four Tuesdays, we are dancing on the 6th floor conference room of the Lenox Health Greenwich Village medical facility. Folks are making the best of the carpeting, kicking up their heels and kicking off their shoes if necessary. Betsy Gotta called on Jun 12, and Howard Richman called for our Rainbow Pride club night on the 26th.

Howard Richman, our own Rhinestone Caller.

We are starting, and finishing, 30 minutes earlier, which also makes for happy dancers. 7:00-9:00pm seems just the right time for getting enough dancing in without folks trickling out.  We hope the momentum continues throughout the summer.

If you haven’t danced with us this summer, your next chance is July 17 when Don Moger from Montreal will be calling. Be there AND be square.

Dancing at Lenox

Toronto’s Triangle Squares hosts Pearl Promenade Fly-in

Pearls, Pearls, and more Pearls

Times Squares members Bill Wolff, Kian-Lam Kho and I attended Triangle Squares’ “Pearl Promenade” fly-in over Memorial Day in Toronto. Everyone was very friendly and we had great fun dancing to Vic Ceder and Don St. Jean, their club caller.

What really impressed me were the decorations. It was a weekend of pearls, pearls, and more pearls. The gym at the school where we danced was cut in half with one door leading to one hall and the adjacent door to the other. The doors were decorated like St. Peter’s pearly gates and you were ushered into square dance heaven by one of the angelic callers. The gym walls themselves were painted with silhouettes of athletes who wore pearl accessories for the weekend.

The Pearly Gates

In the hallway there was a photo spot where you could dress up like the Girl with the Pearl Earring by the Dutch Golden Age painter,  Johannes Vermeer.

The Girl (?) with the Pearl Earring

DREAM 2018

Over one hundred dancers attended DREAM 2018 (Dancers Recruiting Educating and Motivating) sponsored by the NNJSDA last Saturday. Six Times Squares members attended including Susan G., Marshall B., Jeff E., Peter S., Kian K. and me. There were also three dancers from our sister club in Philadelphia, Independence Squares.

I attended two workshops. The first was given by Roy Gotta and addressed ways to talk “up” square dancing. When he gave examples of how we often talk about our activity to non-dancers, I cringed a little because that’s exactly how I talk. When he rephrased what we often say, I was amazed at how much more positive it sounded! The other session I attended was about Graduation and Graduation Ceremonies. The presenter shared an online article, Abandoning Graduation Ceremonies, that suggested that we do away with graduation ceremonies altogether as it gives new dancers a convenient opportunity to stop dancing. One club in the NNJSDA has its graduation ceremony three weeks before the last class so that the dancers have to come back to finish the lessons.

 

Learn How to Help Your Club at DREAM 2018

If you care about the fate of Times Squares, but don’t know what to do, here’s an opportunity to learn how to help. The Northern New Jersey Square Dance Association is hosting a day of seminars and workshops entitled: DREAM 2018 – Dancers Recruiting, Educating, And Motivating. The workshops start at 1 PM on Saturday, May 5th in Clark, NJ and will be followed by an evening of dancing with callers Mike Kellogg, from California, and our own Betsy Gotta. Click here for full details.

 

Many of the workshops directly address issues crucial to the fate of our club. For example, Retaining Your Dancers and the Social Aspects of Square Dancing (Beyond the Dance Floor) will discuss how you balance activities for both new and seasoned dancers that build social relationships crucial to continued growth. With so many things to do in New York City, retention is a big concern for our club.

 

Do you ever get strange looks when you mention that you square dance? Talking “Up” Square Dancing, will share strategies for encouraging friends and colleagues to take lessons and join a club.

 

Enticing Club Members to Become Leaders. Many clubs have folded despite good attendance and a healthy treasury because no one wants to help run the club. Learn how to reframe the tasks so that dancers don’t arrive as the first tip starts and leave just before cleanup. As Times Squares’ membership shrinks so does the number of dancers willing to lead the club.

 

To Graduate or Not: Alternatives and Solutions is a roundtable discussion of approaches to respectfully handling the faithful new dancers who may not be “ready to launch” at the conclusion of the lessons. A struggling graduate is more likely to drop out than continue.

If you’ve decided to take a more active role in supporting Times Squares this is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the issues surrounding our club’s survival. If you need transportation or want to register, please contact Warren Livesley at wlivesley@gmail.com.

New Board of Directors Elected for 2018

A new board of directors was elected at our annual meeting on January 6th. Congratulations to all the new board members and we look forward to a great year. Find out more about them here:

Jim Babcock, President

Although I’ve only been dancing with Times Squares for one year, I’ve been contra dancing for nearly all of the 21st century. I find dancing rewarding, not just for the physical activity, but for the social interactions. I’ve found Times Squares to be a very friendly social group. I wish I had joined sooner!

As a board member, I will bring to my work there my experience with other dance and musical organizations to further the common good of our club. That experience includes being an event organizer for a New England LGBT dance club and a volunteer coordinator for a New York City contra dance series. I also serve on the Times Squares Peel the Pumpkin 2018 committee, where I designed the event’s flyer and t-shirt.

Outside of volunteering and dancing, I work at Columbia University Libraries, keeping the world bibliographically safe as a database and technical services manager in the Science, Engineering, and Social Science Division. I also find time for graphic design projects and genealogical research (ask me about my DNA!). I would appreciate your vote.

Jeff Eisner, Treasurer

I have been square dancing for about five years now. I joined because a friend of mine had already joined. He enjoyed it, and I enjoy it. I dance at the Plus level, and Tuesday night  Plus classes, monthly club dances, and the yearly Peel the Pumpkin fly-in are events I look forward to.

I’ve been an accountant my entire working life, and the club’s treasurer since March 2017. I would like to continue in this capacity. There is more to being treasurer than one might think. It’s not just collecting money at Times Squares’ events, but keeping track of the club’s overall financial picture. Each month at the board meeting I present a brief report on the club’s finances for that month, which includes breaking down the information by category of funds received and funds spent, to help the board make decisions about the club’s current and future needs.

Warren Livesley, Secretary

For three years I served as the secretary of the Times Squares board, and this past year I served as the club’s president. I also continue to be a delegate to the Northern New Jersey Square Dance Association. We are in the process of codifying the procedures for operation of the club so everyone will know how it runs and what will be expected of them when they volunteer to work at different events.

Michael Coan, Member-at-Large

I have always believed in the greatness of of this activity, seeing it as much more than merely learning some movements and moving (hopefully) to the beat of the music and caller. Square dancing embodies much more, and to loosely paraphrase a famous line: [it] has always relied upon the kindness of [not so strange] strangers.

We come to this form of social interaction as relative strangers, but leave each class and dance with a sense of accomplishment. We also develop some great new friendships, and learn that with a bit of instruction and some help from our new dance friends we can have a great time with those friends.

I love the fact that I’m part of this great activity. I’ve served on the Times Squares board for many years now, and wish to continue to serve the club in that capacity as we continue to promote the “greatness” that is square dancing.

Howard Handler, Member-at-Large

I first came to Times Squares two years ago. Over the past two years I have found that not only do I enjoy square dancing but very much but I have been deeply pleased by the warmth and friendship that everyone in Times Squares has shown to me and to other newcomers. I continue to attend almost every single Tuesday and weekend dance. I have also had a great time at several fly-ins.

Recently a member of Times Squares encouraged me to join the board. It never occurred to me until then that the board might need my participation. Since I enjoy Times Squares so much, I would be honored to give back something by joining the board.

Alan Teicher, Member-at-Large

I joined Times Squares in 1987. I previously worked at a job where my co-workers provided a built-in social life, and so after several years I stopped active square dancing, although I remained a member of the club. Now retired, I have more time and have returned to dancing, taking the Advanced class and workshops as they are offered. One of my fondest memories of my earlier time with the club is taking a new class. The dancing mistakes we all made at the time were frustrating, but we looked at them with a sense of humor and laughed at ourselves for making them. It was a tremendous amount of fun. Now, many years later, it’s still a lot of fun, and laughs come from things other than  making mistakes! The club has given me so much, and so much to many others. I look forward to helping Times Squares grow and remain a vital part of all our lives.

Jonathan Uejio, Member-at-Large

I have been coming to Times Squares classes and dances since my wife dragged me to one of its barn dances a little over three years ago. Since then, I’m no longer dragged to classes and events because I’ve discovered just how much I enjoy square dancing. The two of us have been faithful attendees at classes and workshops, have learned the Mainstream, Plus, and Advanced levels (although some people might dispute us having learned Advanced!). I hope to start learning the Challenge level next year.

I’d like to give back something for all the fun we’ve had over the last three years by serving on the board. I’m a lawyer by trade, so I would bring that knowledge to the board. But I think more importantly I’m an enthusiastic dancer who wants to help this club grow and flourish in these tough times.

Yale GALA joins Times Squares for a fun dance on January 26th

Pat Push

Join Yale GALA, Inc. (Yale University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association) and Times Squares for a fun night of modern western square dancing and socializing, with lesbian caller, Pat Push, who will have you dancing and swinging from the moment the music begins.  Pat was a long-time member of Times Squares and it will be great fun to have her back with us again calling. Doors open at 7:00 PM and dancing starts at 7:30 PM.

This is not your grandmother’s square dancing. Forget everything you might have heard about dancing in fusty old barns.With us you don’t need any previous experience, a partner, or any special clothes. You can also forget the old time music, as you’re likely to dance to the likes of Lady Gaga. It’s a laid-back, low stress night to relax and have lots of laughs.