Part 2 - A Summary of First-Year Activities

As mentioned in the last article, the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus Square Dance Club was formed in February 1984, by a group of individuals [gay and straight, 20 in all (#1)] who were bound together by a commitment to socially oriented square dancing in an inclusive environment. It was originally decided that the name of the club would be the Rocky Mountain Rainbows, spelled that way, since the rainbow flag is a well-established symbol of gay pride. Within a couple of weeks, someone suggested that the spelling be changed to Rainbeaus to pick up the square dance reference (i.e., the Beaus and Belles concept), and the notion that we welcome same sex couples (#2). That was a fortuitous move, as it opened the door for the naming of the club’s camp drag contingent, the Rainbelles, in 1986.

Right off the bat, club members were faced with the looming deadline of the first IAGSDC convention, just six weeks ahead. In order to finish Mainstream lessons in time for that milestone event,
club members had to meet twice each week. Both Oscar Wildes and the Foxhole offered dance space at no charge, and so we met at Oscar Wildes on Tuesday evenings and at the Foxhole on Saturday afternoons. The club had no storage unit, and so the sound equipment had to be packed up and moved back and forth for each class—No small task! It was at the Foxhole on February 25, that the Rainbeaus’ first official club photo was taken, and that photo was used in Seattle’s convention program.

“All Join Hands”, the name of the first IAGSDC convention, held on April 6-8, 1984, was a momentous occasion for all who attended, and that can’t be overstated. Convention organizers, Doug McPherson, Agnes Smith, and Harlan Kerr, envisioned and planned a premier event, and that’s exactly what it was! Featured National callers, Elmer Sheffield and Paul Marcum, had everyone dancing and laughing, interacting with others from around the country and Canada until all hours of the night. Never before had gay square dancing been so glamorous…Attendees were treated as first-class guests in the newly renovated Madison Hotel. There were polished dance exhibitions, dance workshops, planning meetings, a stellar banquet, post-convention tours, etc. For the nine dancers who attended from Denver, “All Join Hands” was an experience they would never forget. If there had been hesitation about the activity prior to the convention, there was certainly none afterwards. Our commitment to gay square dancing was super-charged, and we were determined, more than ever, to promote our new and beloved club.

Upon returning to Denver, our top priority was to plan for and promote the first RMR-sponsored class. We passed out flyers, talked to friends, and held a pot luck/open house at Cherry Creek Mining Company. The decision was made to hold the class at the Foxhole since that space offered better lighting and ventilation, more dance space, and, importantly, better visibility. The first night of class was Wednesday, May 16, and again Karl was the instructor (#3). In June, we organized a six couple square to dance for the second annual CGRA Regional Rodeo and decorated a pick-up truck (belonging to Bob Southerland) with an arch of rainbow balloons for Denver’s Gay Pride Parade—It was a busy time!

Early on, club members volunteered their services to manage club business. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that we needed a formal structure, that is, a board with well-defined responsibilities. So then, in June, we voted to establish a five-member board that would be elected to a term of six-months. There would be a President, Secretary, Treasurer, Instructor, and New Class Rep, the latter to be chosen by the current beginning class. As it happened, Jon Lentz was elected as our first club President for the term July through December 1984.

As the fall approached, we started planning our second beginner class. The Foxhole gave us a second night for lessons and offered to store our equipment, and so we terminated our dancing at Oscar Wildes. We continued to refer to the first class (still at the Basics level) as “beginners”, but that lead to some confusion. What we needed was a means of distinguishing the two beginner classes, particularly in our planning meetings. We discussed the matter at some length and came up with a scheme that worked beautifully—We would name the classes in sequence by the colors of the rainbow. The first class, the one that began in the spring, would be the Red Class, the new fall class would be the Orange Class, and so on. That scheme would give our not-yet-graduated class members an identity in the club, as well as a sense of placement along the club’s timeline. In the future, the members of each class would know they hold a significant place in the evolution of the club.

In an attempt to develop a broader base of instructors, the board asked Cornell Trouw, an Advanced dancer who had recently moved here from California, to teach the Orange Class. That class began at the Foxhole, on October 15, 1984.

At the end of the Rainbeaus’ first board term, club officers decided to make a few changes to the structure of the board. (The bylaws had not yet been developed.) Instructor was dropped as an elected officer, and Vice President and Rep-at-Large were added. Vice President would be responsible for activity planning, while Rep-at-Large (filled by the outgoing President) would provide continuity from board to board. For the January through July 1985 term, the Orange Class would choose the New Class Rep.

Another installment of the Rainbeaus’ history will be appearing next week. It will focus on club activities through the late 1980’s.

(#1) For the record, the 20 club founders were Danny Bahr, Jim Benton, Dennis Cossey, Mary Ann Hartnett, Kurt Heller, Karl Jaeckel, Doug Jarrett, Jon Lentz, Larry Lowe, Linda MacGregor, John Mason, Cricket May, Roger Mesick, Gene Miller, Justin Page, Gloria Pratt, Bud (now John) Rhyne, Cameron Samiian, Ed Schelhous, and Stu Sweetser. Of those, only three are still dancing: Karl and Bud/John with the Rainbeaus and Stu Sweetser with Diablo Dancers in the East Bay (San Francisco). Ed Schelhous moved from Denver back to his hometown of Cleveland and started Cleveland City Country Dancers, but he is no longer active. Two founders remain in the Denver area who no longer square dance, at least seven are deceased, and the whereabouts of the other six is unknown.

(#2) A few founders opposed the change in spelling from Rainbows to Rainbeaus, fearing that “beaus” implied a men’s-only club and that lesbians would be discouraged from participating. Fortunately, the change in spelling was approved, and that issue has not been a problem in attracting women to the club.

(#3) It would be fitting to mention here something about the teaching method that Karl used for the first Rainbeaus classes. Following is an excerpt from SquareUp #13 (January, 1998) in which Karl was asked, “Of the many contributions you have made to square dancing, what means the most to you?” He replied, “From 1982 through 1993, I collected more than 1200 hash (patter) numbers and singing calls and sequenced them into a logical teaching order. I prepared notebooks with all the words (the call sequences) and indexed significant calls for cross-reference. At a moment’s notice, I could pull our music appropriate for any class, from first-night Basics through Plus. I taught so many classes during that period that I was intimately familiar with the music, and, in fact, confident that the quality of my program could rival that of any local caller.” (During the mid 1980’s Karl made copies of his music collection and notebooks to assist several gay clubs that did not have callers.)