ABOUT THE DATE SQUARES
No, we’re not a bakery and we’re not a dating group. The Ottawa Date Squares’ name is a tongue-in-cheek way to tell the world that we don’t take ourselves too seriously; except that we seriously love square dancing.
Begun in 1995, the group is a place for LGBTQ+ individuals (and our straight allies) to be themselves while learning modern western square dancing with a unique gay styling that makes it way more fun and energetic than what you may remember your grandparents doing.
We are members of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs and also of the Eastern Ontario Square and Round Dance Association and we host regular invitation dance weekends like Veer North to the Capital. We will also be hosting the IAGSDC’s yearly convention in 2023 (after Houston in 2021 and Minneapolis in 2022). Follow these links for find out more about those:
Gay Square Dancing is based on Modern Western Square Dancing which is the most common form of this activity. It is danced throughout North American and Europe and the dance steps (calls) are defined and regulated by an international organization named Callerlab.
Because the calls are the same everywhere, you can learn to square dance in one city, travel clear across the country and join a square dance there without missing a beat or learning any new calls.
Gay Square Dancing varies from Modern Western Square Dancing only in that some of the calls have added styling which makes the dance more energetic and exciting. Not all calls are styled differently and during classes we learn both forms so that we can dance with both groups interchangeably.
Stylings can include things like kicks, hand claps or yelled out words (ex: on the call Spin the Top we all yell “Spank the Bottom!”) but do not change the general form of the movements themselves.
If you learn the stylings in Ottawa you can go to any IAGSDC dance in the world and you’ll feel right at home.
Like other activities you progress through different levels when you learn to square dance. The levels are:
- Basic and Mainstream (which are taught together)
- Advanced (often taught as A1 and A2)
- Challenge (C1, C2, C3A, C3B and C4)
Many dancers will take several years to learn and dance each level before moving on to the next one and some dancers will remain dancing Mainstream or stop at Plus if they don’t enjoy the more complicated calls in the higher levels.
Having to spend most of a year learning before you can complete a dance level has been seen as a barrier by some who just want to have a fun time and don’t care about the more complicated stuff. As a result, Callerlab has come up with a new program they call Social Square Dancing (or SSD for short) which includes only a subset of calls chosen from the Basic and Mainstream programs for their ease of learning and their fun to dance.
SSD can be learned in as short a time as three months which allows clubs to onboard new dancers much more often. It also tends to keep the dancing more exciting and interesting.
Dancers who learn SSD can keep dancing it for as long as they want or they can, through a special workshop, learn the remainder of the Basic and Mainstream calls in order to move into Plus classes and onward from there.
Square dancing is a very inexpensive activity as it does not require special equipment to participate.
As a non profit organization, the Ottawa Date Squares only collects as much money as is required buy any supplies we need, to rent our dance locations and to pay our callers for their time.
The rate will vary depending on class size and it is posted shortly before classes are to begin each semester.
A yearly membership of $25 is used to defray fixed costs such as consumables like hand sanitizer; and class fees are usually around $7 per night with a discount if you pay for the entire session up front.
The best thing you can do is to get on our mailing list. We put out periodic newsletters, details on upcoming classes as well as dance opportunities at any special events in the region.
If you’d like to start a new class with the Ottawa Date Squares, you don’t need to have a partner and you don’t need any previous dance experience at all.
We will teach you everything you need to know in small manageable sessions each week, building on what you learned the week before until you finish the program.
There will be people in the class who have already been through the program and are there as “dance angels” to help beginners out and also to refresh their own skills.
You do not have to be LGBTQ to join us. We have many straight friends who attend our dances and we love them dearly. However, discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. We are all here to have fun and to be ourselves.
We are a very progressive club and we try our best to keep to more modern music when we can.
Expect to hear some oldies from time to time but in general our music tends to be in the modern pop/rock genre to appeal to as many people as we can.
Note: A dance TIP is what we call all the dancing we do in between breaks. It can be teaching, practicing or just dancing.
So you know what to expect, here’s what a typical class night might look like.
Quite a few of our dancers like to get together for supper before dancing. A restaurant is chosen near the dance venue and we all meet there. We have an email list that we use specifically to announce the supper locations so let us know if you’re interested in joining us and we’ll add you to the list. It’s not mandatory to attend supper but it’s a great opportunity to socialize and bond with fellow dancers.
People start arriving at the dance hall around 6:15pm and the class will start at 6:30pm with a 15 minute warm-up tip followed by a 10 minute break.
The next tip will be a review of the previous week’s calls with some practice or workshopping as necessary and you’ll get a chance to practice the calls several times before we move on to new stuff.
After a short 10 minute break, new calls will be taught. Generally between one and three new calls will be taught depending on their complexity.
Another break and then we do a tip in which we use the new calls we just learned and practice them, often finishing up with a “singing call” where the caller will sing the song with dance calls mixed in. Singing calls are really fun!
The final tip of the evening will typically be easy calls. We try to finish the night off with a really easy and fun tip.
During each of the breaks, we socialize and often snack on desserts that some of the members will bring. For many this is the highlight of the evening. There are some friendships that have formed around square dancing that have lasted decades.
In the old days, square dance clubs used to require that special attire be worn. Crinolines and fancy colourful dresses were very popular and you can still see them today at some special dances but our club does not require them and we do no encourage them.
You should be free to wear whatever you feel comfortable wearing and be as fabulous as you want to be.
Our current executive is comprised of:
Our club callers are Wendy VanderMeulen and Mark Benoit.
From a pandemic perspective, square dancing is a pretty risky activity. You have to get very very close to lots of people who are breathing hard and moving around in indoor spaces.
For this reason, the Ottawa Date Squares have paused all in-person dancing since the beginning of the pandemic and we continue to reassess the situation in view of someday soon resuming our favourite activity.
This will not happen until we can be assured of the safety of all our dancers so it may yet be a while but we expect our existing dancers will be keen to resume dancing and also that new people will be looking for social activities like ours to help bring us all out of the dark year that we’ve had.
So if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to our email list and follow us on social media to learn when we’ll be starting up again.
While not about the Ottawa Date Squares, this video, produced by an American square dancer, talks about gay square dancing in the United States.