Andy Shore - How I Started
I first became aware of GLBT square dancing shortly after moving to California in 1981 to attend graduate school at Stanford.
I remember seeing dancers in the SF Gay Pride Parade in 1982 or 1983 (probably the Foggy City Performance Team or perhaps even Foggy City Squares at that time). Stanford's gay student group (Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford - GLAS) invited Foggy City down to perform at our "gay family day" events both years, and I remember thinking how much fun that looked...
In the mid-1980s, one of my co-workers at Adobe Systems got a bunch of friends to attend an old-time "barn dance" at the firehouse in La Honda. She was a fiddle player and a friend of hers was in the live band that was playing for the dance. I think a group of 5 or 7 of us went and I had a blast. I would later understand that the caller performed a wide-ranging mixture of traditional squares, modern western squares moves, and some very complex stuff (e.g., flying squares). I came back from that dance determined to find out more about the GLBT square dancing that I knew existed.
I posted a query on USENET (probably ba.motss or soc/net.motss) asking if anyone had information about gay square dancing in the area. Keith Sklower of UC Berkeley responded that his roommate was involved in the activity and gave me Russ King's phone number. I called Russ and learned that there were a couple of groups in SF that held weekly classes. At that time I wasn't yet prepared to drive to SF every week for a class (we were still heavily into "startup mode" at Adobe and I was working like a dog) so once again I put the idea aside. So this must have been before 1985 since he didn't mention the Reelers as an option at the time.
Then in 1986, maybe a year later, I saw a notice in the High Tech Gays (HTG) newsletter that a GLBT square dance group was starting new classes in San Jose. I'd been single for a while and really needed a social outlet and a break from working so hard, and the drive to San Jose was a bit easier to manage than a trip up to SF, so I decided to attend the class. This was El Camino Reelers' (ECR) third beginners' class, and their 2nd year since they were founded. Somehow I'd missed finding out about them a year earlier. (It turns out that Frank Yellin and Per Bothner, whom I'd known in grad school, were early members of the Stanford Quads, and also later came out of the closet, but somehow I missed out on finding out about that group.)
So in the Fall of 1986 I began learning Basic and Mainstream with ECR. Our teacher was a big straight bear of a guy named Bill Hanzel (his wife choreographed for the Barbary Coast Cloggers at the time). ECR was started in 1985 by some South Bay lesbians. Most of the membership at that time happened to be female, and I was one of a very few men in the club.
One night of our class we had a substitute caller - a gay man from San Francisco named Bob Bellville - and it made quite an impression on me. Not only could we square dance, but we could be callers too!
In July of 1987 I attended my first IAGSDC convention, "Explode The Rose" in Portland, OR. I went to the convention as a Mainstream dancer, but on the morning of the second day, some of the women in ECR dragged me into the Plus hall to fill out a square. I had so much fun that I stayed in that hall and I managed to learn most of Plus that weekend. (Note: I do not recommend this method of learning a level!) Also at that convention I met Randy Clarke, who at the time lived in San Mateo and danced in SF with Foggy City and Gold Rush. Shortly thereafter we started dating and he moved in with me in Mountain View in September of 1987.
After the Portland convention, I started venturing up to San Francisco to dance. I remember attending some great Western Star events at the old Golden Gate YMCA, including an early appearance by Paul Waters and what might have been the first gay gig that Deborah Carroll-Jones (then Deborah Parnell) ever called.
Randy was in the Gold Rush performance group and, after including me in a Russian River retreat weekend, they invited me to join the group. Gold Rush was one of several GLBT MWSD (Modern Western Square dancing) performance groups that existed at the time. They performed high energy, highly rehearsed singing calls with fairly intricate choreography (often including calls not on the standard CALLERLAB programs). We rehearsed a lot, and performed (rarely) at gay rodeos, fundraisers, GLBT Pride, and at IAGSDC Convention.
Gold Rush relied on members to perform the calling/singing and once the members of the group discovered that I had a reasonably good singing voice, they urged me to learn a couple of the performance numbers as a caller. This was all highly rehearsed, and the dancers were supposed to do the memorized choreography regardless of what the caller called. This sometimes lead to interesting goof-ups.
Back in this time, there were no "club callers" for Foggy City. (FCD classes were co-taught by club members who were also callers, including Bill Whitefield, Ren Brown and Joe Frazier. They often used fixed written sequences for teaching and walk-throughs and then danced to records. I believe Bob Bellville was teaching and calling for Western Star. My ECR class was the last taught by Bill Hanzel. The next couple of ECR classes were taught by the team of Vicki Woods and Mike Luna.
Foggy City club nights often consisted of "record nights" where the called sides of records were sometimes played, and members would sometimes learn a singing call or two or present a short patter tip. Gold Rush served as host a few of these nights, and I learned a standard singing call or two to present to regular dancers. I think the first one I learned was False Hearted Girl (Hi Hat 5066).
Some time after the 1988 Phoenix Convention, Harlan Kerr moved from Seattle to San Francisco, and started calling locally. Harlan heard me call and encouraged me to try writing some patter choreography. Bill Whitefield and Bob Bellville were also early mentors. Randy and I had started dancing with the Stanford Quads (who danced on campus until after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), and John Sybalsky also offered advice and encouragement, in addition to serving as a great caller role model. Dancing to John impressed upon me the fact that there was a lot more to dancing (and calling) Plus than I thought!
At the 1989 "Peel The Apple" convention in New York, I attended the first-ever GCA Caller School, with Anne and Joe Uebelacker and Harlan Kerr as the staff. Harlan had really pushed me to write more sequences, and his "how to resolve a square" flow chart in the first GCA newsletter - "Lambda Calling" - was my guide when I was writing each sequence. I had taken 8 backgammon pieces from a set I owned and put numbered stickers on the top for the couple numbers and sexes. This was my first set of square dance checkers. At the school, I was "sorted" into the more advanced group of callers, and I had already signed up to call a tip during the "open mic" time at convention. I don't really remember much about the school, other than it was great fun, and that at the final session where everyone called a bit together, Warren Jaquith blew us all away with his well-timed expert delivery.
My "open mic” tip at convention was what clinched it for me. I was scheduled for the first tip "after hours” in the Plus hall, following staff caller Betsy Gotta. I didn't know Betsy and she didn't know me (Peel the Apple was her first IAGSDC convention), but she saw me standing nervously by the stage, leaned over and asked "are you on next?” I said yes, and she checked my name badge and city to introduce me. Meanwhile, two or three squares of SF area dancers had squared up in front to support me. Upon introducing me, there was a big cheer from this support group and it startled Betsy a bit. She gave me a look like "who IS this person?” (I'm quite sure she forgot this incident, but I got to tell this story again in 2002 when she passed the Golden Boot Award on to me.)
My written patter (long since destroyed) was probably awful. Anne had helped me review my sequences and for every one that she put in the "usable" pile, three or four went into the "don't try this at home, kids" pile. My singer was Pink Cadillac (Red Boot 3017). After delivering the opener, first two figures, middle break, and third figure, I was so excited that I skipped the fourth figure, going right for the closer. About half way through that I realized what I'd done and somehow managed to get out another figure (or another version of the closer) and at least call through the whole record. The Bay Area contingent that had squared up in front of me in support erupted in applause. It was at that point, even though I'd had a major goof, I decided that I would pursue calling seriously.
So I dabbled at home for another year or so, and continued getting encouragement and advice from the group of mentors there. I decided to attend a "straight" caller school, so in 1990 I went to "SuperSchool" in the Poconos with Bill Peters, Jim Mayo, John Kaltenthaler, and Herb Egender as the staff. I was the only gay attendee that year, though Bill Eyler, Ron Masker, Howard Richman, and Kris Jensen all attended SuperSchool in other years around that time.
When Bill Peters (formerly from the Bay Area) learned that I danced to John Sybalsky and had an engineering bent, he took an instant shine to me and took me under his wing. The school was a full CALLERLAB curriculum school, and we covered a wide range of topics, many in "lecture" format. It was a good experience; by turns terrifying, enlightening, encouraging, and discouraging. It ended with a personal meeting with the staff in which they told me that I was ready to teach a class. This was news to me, but I took it to heart.
Meanwhile back home, there were still opportunities to call on "record nights", and at some point I started calling quite a bit for ECR on summer club nights when no class was in session. They were extremely kind and patient with me. Few beginning callers have that kind of opportunity.
After a couple of years of Vicki and Mike teaching for ECR, Harlan taught for a year or two. Then ECR asked me if I'd teach the next class, so in the Fall of 1991, I taught my first intro-to-Plus class for ECR. (By then, ECR had voted to be a Plus club – that's another story.) The following summer (1992), was my first time on (part time) staff at an IAGSDC convention - Diamonds In The Desert in Albuquerque, NM. Some of those tips were recorded and believe me, it's not pretty!
In Albuquerque, Foggy City approached me to teach their next Basic/Mainstream class in the Fall. I wound up teaching Mainstream, Plus, and Advanced at ECR for 13 years and Basic/Mainstream at FCD for 12 years, right up until I left the bay area in the Fall of 2004. I also taught some C1 classes co-sponsored by Midnight Squares.
I attended my first CALLERLAB convention in 1991 in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel (rooming with Bill Eyler). I've attended almost every one since. During that period, I also joined the Santa Clara Valley Callers Association, though there was a bit of controversy about admitting an openly gay caller, and I think one member resigned in protest.
I think it was around that time that Randy and I left Gold Rush since my own calling schedule was now keeping me very busy. I should also mention that I continued to call for the Foggy City Performance Team until the mid-1990s, just as a caller. They were expertly choreographed and rehearsed by Steve Browning and all I did was show up to sing (or even be recorded). They were never supposed to listen to what I was calling, as I might (and sometimes did) screw up.
I've attended many other caller's schools over the years, including a local school run over many weekends by Bill Davis and Kip Garvey. Also the Sturbridge school run by Randy Page and Ken Rittucci – the year that Mike Jacobs taught an Advanced session, and the Lone Star Caller College with Deborah, Jon Jones, and Jerry Story. I've also been to many GCA schools (as student, TA, and staff) and have been on the staff of the Rhythm Records caller school, the Northeast caller school, and the Alguire Memorial Caller School.
In 2005, I began dancing contras and in 2007 I began calling them, attending the contra callers school at CDSS's Pinewoods dance camp in Plymouth, MA. (Learning contra calling, however, is a story for another time.) See "Andy Shore on contra dancing" for more info.
I've called in 25 US states, Canada, Russia & Latvia (see Pink Triangles in Red Square), and Australia (see Pink Triangles Down Under), and at numerous Fly-ins from Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale, from Boston to San Diego. I've been on the staff of five IAGSDC conventions, at several California state conventions, at seven National Square Dance conventions.
In 2002, Betsy Gotta honored me with the Golden Boot Award. It was a special privilege to receive it from her. In 2004 El Camino Reelers honored me as lifetime member of the club.
Square dancing has truly changed my life.