A History of Alamo City Wranglers

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Email from David Dooley to Allan Hurst on Fri, Jul 11, 2008 at 3:36 PM

Allan,

I'm weak on dates and some names, but here's a sketch of the early history of the Alamo City Wranglers. Cricket Matheson may have either a better memory of this or perhaps scrapbooks or other items to fill in the blanks.

One evening in the early 1990s I slouched against the railing on the patio of the largest country & western gay bar in San Antonio, never imagining that life was about to change. (Cricket Matheson adds: "The name of the bar we started at was called “Memories”.)

During that evening two acquaintances, Dan Alvarado and Mike Stone, came over to encourage me to check out the new gay square dance group. Monday night would be the last introductory evening, and then lessons would begin. That sounded good. My parents had square danced for a couple of years when I was in junior high, and the idea of dancing with men certainly sounded appealing.

Little did I imagine that this would eventually lead to spending hundreds (no, thousands) of dollars traveling to square dance fly-ins, conventions, and special weekends; meeting a man from San Diego and moving to California to live with him; and, last but not least, entering the arcane world of Challenge square dancing and trying to figure out how to do a Finally Tandem Catch Rotary Flip Back 3.

None of this would have happened if at the Albuquerque convention Bill Eyler hadn't challenged Cricket Matheson to start a gay square dance club in San Antonio. (I think this is correct, but confirm with Cricket.) Cricket and the late Harland Jylha, who already danced with local straight clubs, worked very hard to set up what became the Alamo City Wranglers. They found a location for the class in a bar on the northwest side of town (name??) and hired a local caller from the straight community, Rusty Fennell. (Cricket adds: "The 5th Founder was named Danny Castillo")

The first night's introduction to square dancing was so much fun that I never had any doubt about coming back every week for the Mainstream class. I recall that both Cricket and another of the organizers, David Vanderhoof, made a point of thanking me for coming and saying they hoped I'd be back. Making every new dancer feel welcome is really one of the most important things we can do to build our clubs.

Since class was on Monday night, it seemed like the third day of a three-day weekend. We usually had two squares. Ollie Matson was the only woman in the class. Some of you probably met short, white-haired Ollie at conventions in the late 90s: she was usually first in line to buy the discounted registration for the new convention.

That first class was almost the last for the Wranglers. The bar where we'd been dancing decided it didn't want us any more. We moved to downtown San Antonio to a large historic building called the Bonham Exchange, which had become a gay bar. (When I first arrived in town, I thought people were saying the Bottom Exchange.) Unfortunately, we couldn't muster even two squares, which made our caller Rusty decide it wasn't profitable for him to keep calling for us. A small second class of about five students had to learn from Rusty's tapes, with Cricket as our leader. If you think Challenge levels are hard to learn from tapes, just imagine brand new dancers struggling with them. The club was on the verge of folding.

Fortunately, Cricket found a solution: another local caller, Terry Wheeler (then known as Terry Kephart) agreed to call for us. Terry's high energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of higher levels of square dancing gave the club the shot in the arm it needed.

We received another boost when Lou Torres, one of the founders of Chesapeake Squares, moved to San Antonio. Terry offered the Wranglers' first Plus class. Whenever a visiting caller came to town, Terry arranged for that person to call for us, too. Mike Jacobs and Tim Marriner were among the nationally known guest callers for the Wranglers. Terry eventually encouraged a number of the Wranglers' Plus dancers to join a mixed gay/straight Advanced class which she taught. Terry, Cricket, Harland, and another good friend of the Wranglers, Marge Goeth, made significant contributions to bringing the local gay and straight clubs together.

Cricket urged the club to hold our first fly-in, Pass Thru the Alamo, in March 1994 (?). Most of us had no idea how much we were going to enjoy this. People came from all across the continent to dance with us, among them Costa [need last name] from Toronto, Will Hamp from Philadelphia, Ben Fabian from San Diego, and Kris Jensen, then a beginning caller, from Albuquerque. [Would be good to verify these people were there, but I believe this is correct.] The Wilde Bunch particularly supported our fly-in.

For the first time, some of the Wranglers met that great icon of gay square dancing, Anne Uebelacker, who called for us. [I think the first callers were Anne and Rusty Fennell and possibly Bill Eyler as well. Bill called for us one year, and so did Andy Shore.] Oddly for San Antonio in March, there was a sudden hailstorm one afternoon during the fly-in. Finally we had to say goodbye to our new friends, but fortunately some of them returned in subsequent years.

It's a well-known fact that fly-ins can change your life. The 1995 Pass Thru the Alamo certainly changed mine, for I met a dancer from San Diego named Larry Richards. A year and a half later I moved to San Diego to be with him, leaving behind a job, friends, and the square dance club that made it all possible.