Bill Klein & Western Star Dancers
Bill taught the first two Western Star Mainstream classes, both in 1982. Scott and I were in his first; the second one graduated in December 1982, when the attached class/club photo was taken. Bill was not a teacher or caller; he was an experienced Challenge-level dancer who had resolved to help us out after we split from Foggy City Squares as run by Skip Barrett at that time, which used a singing-call only, non-Callerlab format.
Bill approved of our determination to learn to square dance the way everyone else did outside of Skip's high-energy bubble, including gay clubs in other cities and local straight ones. But it wasn't easy, since our record collection consisted of singing calls only (the Jack Lasry hash series came later), so to fully learn the calls from both positions, we had to learn both roles right off the bat. This was tricky for many dancers, and Bill's patience often wore thin. He was a natural martinet with a sarcastic streak, and on more than one occasion I had to remind myself that he had the knowledge I wanted to acquire, so I needed to just buckle down, focus and hold my tongue.
I learned later from Scott Carey that despite outward appearances, Bill was quite shy, and developed increasingly severe stage-fright as the classes wore on. Scott would give him pep talks and a good stiff drink to get him going, as I recall--but hopefully Scott will chime in with a more accurate account. In any case, this side of Bill was quite a contrast to his mad leather queen side, but he was a complex and multi-faceted man, and an excellent dancer. One quote from him I still remember, and repeat when appropriate: during our first class, when one dancer complained about the number of dancers who were (with Bill's approval) regularly switching roles and getting him confused as to whether they were man or woman at any given moment, Bill replied, "It shouldn't matter whether it's a man, a woman or a Hanukkah bush coming at you--just do your part of the call correctly by definition and it will all work out."
— Russ King
Russ has written a well thought out portrait of Bill during the early days of Western Star Dancers. I’m not sure I could add more content, but possible some additional detail. It is hard to overstate the control that Skip Barrett had over “Square Dancing” in San Francisco in the early eighties. He had that certain charisma that a bully has. He had the glamorous space at the big disco hall for his classes. And he had worked out a “routine” - teaching singing call records as choreography - that took advantage of the “Urban Cowboy” Country Western fashion craze of the day. It was very important what we wore, what clique we were in, and what blind allegiance we paid to Skip. But this isn’t a note about Skip. Just to tell you how the odds were against Western Star Dancers at the very start.
We did have 5 dedicated folks willing to make a run with it. And somehow we had secured a dance space - problematic as it was, at the ACT studios downtown, where you had to go thru a sign-in process and make a number of twists and turns to reach the space. We had also somehow found some square dance records at a dusty old shop in Oakland. But what we were missing was the concept of what Modern Western Square Dancing was all about! We were basically recycling what Skip had erroneously taught us, albeit in a gentler way. And so I will always remember the evening when Bill arrived at one of our “classes”, disgusted, amused, and caring - and said “I’m a Square Dancer. I’ve been a square Dancer for many years. Would you like me to teach you what Square Dancing really is?” We collectively and immediately replied “YES”. And at that pivotal moment we were on course to bring Gay Square Dancing as we now know it not only to San Francisco, but also to build and reinforce it across the country.
We were able to move to a lobby area at the Golden Gate YMCA and “hire” Bill for our first class. Skip Barrett and his cronies sat parked outside to record the names of anyone who went inside for our class and set the stage for their ostracism and harassment. Meantime, inside, Bill taught us Callerlab with the dedication of a drill sergeant. I remember doing “Boys, Run”, “Girls, Run” over and over and over. As Russ so aptly wrote, with Bill’s teaching, you had to "buckle down, focus and hold your tongue." What we couldn’t have known at that time was just how good of dancers Bill was making us.
The moment of truth came when the South Florida Mustangs arrived rather unexpectedly one evening for a visit to our class. We knew of them - mostly in conjunction with the Gay Reno Rodeo, We knew they were “Rock Stars”. We had heard they had paid a visit to Skip’s class - of course! And here they were with their intimidating black and white outfits, their confident polish, and their excellent dancing skills. We were mostly thru the Mainstream calls. But we had never danced with anyone outside of this very first class, let alone “The South Florida Mustangs” And we held our own! If Square Dancing is Friendship Set To Music, then that night, Bill, Western Star Dancers and the South Florida Mustangs became great friends.
With a few more classes at the Y, Bill forged a group of dedicated, confident and excellent dancers. Western Star Dancers now had two feet firmly placed in Callerlab’s Modern Western Square Dancing. The IAGSDC was percolating across the country. Bill was truly a pioneer in this movement. He has left us all with a wonderful and lasting legacy. God Bless you Bill.
— Scott Carey
Bill's departure from Western Star was perfectly friendly, but as far as he was concerned, his work with us was done. He'd never really enjoyed teaching, and as Scott told me, the increasing stage fright he developed (but concealed from everyone except Scott) during the second class made his exit an easy decision once it had graduated. By that time we'd made contact with two real callers--Phil Payton and Bill Hanzel--who took over teaching and calling duties for the next several years, leaving Bill Klein free to reascend to the Challenge stratosphere.
I remember that Reno evening in 1982 at the Gay Rodeo, when Dave "Happy" New Year set up his equipment in the pothole filled parking lot, with the portable commodes not far away; it was the first time gay dancers from all over the country danced together, and thanks to what I'd learned from Bill at the first just-completed WSD class, I was able to be one of them. None of us knew anything about tagging in however, so I had to wait for another dancer to tire before I could jump in, and incompatible styling was a hurdle. But looking back, I have nothing but positive memories about that night. And BTW, Rob Doud was the inside source for details about how Skip Barrett herded his brood back to the hotel post-haste, to prevent them from exposure to that dangerous virus known as Callerlab.
— Russ King