The celebration of LGBTQ independence will kick up a few notches when hundreds of square-dancers converge upon the city.
The International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs will hold its annual convention July 4-7 in Philadelphia for the first time. The gathering, called Belles Run Philadelphia 2019, will host more than 900 LGBTQ community members and allies from around the world, dancing in seven ballrooms at Philadelphia 201 Hotel.
The convention will feature tips (themed dances) such as leather, bears and women-only. Moves will include the grand-right-and-left and some 100 other steps to calls (directions) by well-known callers.
The producing organization, Dance for Independence, issued a statement saying it’s “excited to be bringing this momentous event to Philadelphia during the same year in which Stonewall is celebrating its 50th anniversary.”
Members of Independence Squares, Philly’s LGBT Western square-dance club, are preparing for the powwow.
“At every convention, we have what is called the Fun Badge Tour,” said member and former club president Tim Harper.
“You sign up. You’re loaded onto a bus. You don’t know where you’re going. You go around the city stopping at sites the organizers feel are emblematic of the city. You stop there, you dance, you get on the bus and go.”
Harper expects to have at least four busloads of dancers rolling throughout Philly.
Another convention highlight is the Honky-Tonk Queen contest, a talent show that will be held for two nights.
The annual convocation also draws square-dance enthusiasts from outside of the LGBTQ community and from outside of the country.
“It’s kind of cool,” Harper said. “There’s a club in Japan that comes to our convention every year. They’re fabulous dancers. It’s spread worldwide.”
Mike Rutkowski, caller liaison for Independence Squares, said straight participants also appreciate the convention’s world-famous callers, who come from as far as Europe and Asia.
Also, he noted, square-dancing’s popularity is “dying out” in the straight community.
Like the convention, the Independence Squares club is open and welcoming to allies.
Harper said there are misconceptions about square-dancing being antiquated.
“[People think] it’s boring. It’s something that old people do. I’m too young to do this because I have so much energy. This is going to be really slow and dreadful. They wear funny clothes,” he said.
“I think once you show up at a dance and experience it, all that goes out the window.
“It’s a social event,” added Harper. “You’re interacting with seven other people at once. I don’t think people realize how much physical activity is involved until they actually start doing it. It’s good exercise and good socialization, and it’s fun.”