A History of Cream City Squares
How was your club started?
Fliers in bars and ads in the Milwaukee LGBT newspaper and bar guides, appeared in the summer of 1990, saying Gay Square Dancing was going to be offered in fall. I responded to the contact person, Bob Moore, and was told I would be contacted when and where the weekly dances would start. The venue was M&M's, a popular local gay bar. The bar donated space for the dances in a room upstairs over their bar. A fee for the dances was charged, to pay the caller.
There were plenty of people, but the carpeted room could only hold 3 squares in a tight space. Many people were left sitting on the sidelines or went down to the bar. A local caller, who had never called for a LGBT group, had been hired. On breaks dancers went down to the bar for drinks, and new people entered squares with no idea of what to do, because they were out of the room when calls were taught.
The caller kept making gender mistakes and starting over; I realize now that it was because he didn't stress that people should pick a role and stick with it. People would switch roles and not know what they were doing, because they didn't grasp that the girl/boy parts were different. Every tip the caller had to teach the same calls for the new dancers coming on the floor. It was very repetitious and unorganized.
The second dance, the following week, only enough for 2 squares showed up. The caller went over the same calls and nothing new was added. It was much like the first dance, and some found it boring. People were finally realizing you needed to attend a lot of lessons in order to square dance.
The third week had one square. At the end of the dance we were told there wouldn't be any more dances, because the group was too small to pay the caller costs. It failed.
Ads appeared in the LGBT press, in the summer of 1991, saying square dancing would be started on Sundays in October. This time it succeeded.
Who started your club?
Joe Frazier, formerly of Foggy City Squares in San Francisco CA, contacted Bob Moore to find out where the gay square dancing was being held, in the summer of 1991. Bob told him the group failed without a caller. Joe said he would teach the class for free until the group got on its feet; Joe Frazier had been a teacher for Foggy City Squares before he moved to Wisconsin.
What year was your club started?
October 20 & October 27 were the first open dances, and the Basic/Mainstream Class started on November 3, 1991.
Why was your club started?
Bob Moore was a member of a group called GAMMA (Gay Athletic Metropolitan Milwaukee Association). He was trying to recruit new members for GAMMA by adding another activity for that group. We didn't know he expected us to all join GAMMA.GAMMA back then was an all male group; we dancers wanted our club to be open to women. The majority of the dancers didn't want to be a part of GAMMA, we just wanted to square dance.
It got started because people wanted to square dance when the opportunity presented itself.
What's the story behind your club name?
Bob Moore suggested our group to be called "GAMMA Squares". We wanted a name specific to our city. Milwaukee didn't have many nicknames. Milwaukee was known for its Brewery industry, so "Beer Town Squares" was suggested. Milwaukee politicians wanted the city to be called "Fest City", but local people here didn't care for that nickname.
Where did your club start dancing?
The new venue was 3B's bar, a country bar, where two step and line dancing was all the rage on Tuesdays and Fridays. It had a nice wood dance floor, with more room all on one level. The bar was looking to increase business on Sunday afternoons; the space was free for us to use. We danced there for 4 happy years, then the building owner wanted more money from those running the bar and the bar moved to a new location.
When was your first class/graduation, and what level(s)?
Cream City Squares had 10 people pay $40 up front for the Mainstream Class which started on November 3, 1991. I was in this first class, and we had no Angels. Joe would teach and then play records, because he didn't like calling. Two people dropped out. Everybody needed to be there every week, because there were no extra dancers.
Joe Frazier started up a second Basic/Mainstream Class, on Wednesday nights, using Angels from those of us still taking the first class.
Six men paid for the class started on January 12, 1992. Richard, my life partner, and Jim, who had got ill and dropped out of the first class, were in this group of six men.
Joe said latter that it was too hard for him to run two different Mainstream classes during the same week.
Joe had informed us there were other gay clubs, so we invited Chi-Town and others to come to our 1st graduation, for the 8 of us from the first class. The graduation was held May 16, 1992 in a large church hall, and we gave out dangles to all those that attended.
Bob Moore was one of the first eight graduates, but he quit shortly after graduating. He was frustrated, partly because we decided to join the IAGSDC instead of GAMMA and partly because we started doing the gay styling we learned from the other gay square dancers.
The rest of us wanted to see if we could dance at a fly-in first. Most of us from the first two classes attended Crossfire IV in Chicago. The next weekend on Sunday September 13, 1992 we hadour second graduation for four men. Two students lost interest over the summer and dropped out of the 2nd class.
How often does (did) your club offer club dances?
The original group decided to keep our club dances on Sunday afternoons, because it was when we could all make it to dances.
Our club has scheduled a weekly square dance every Sunday, except Holiday weekends, until the summer of 2001 when we decided to cut back some Sundays in June, July and August. Our reduced summer schedule allows members to schedule vacation time without feeling guilty they left us without an enough people for a square.
We dance every Sunday, except holiday weekends, from Labor Day to mid June, then dance about every other weekend in summer (our dance schedule is posted on our website).
Who has taught your classes since then?
Joe Frazier taught the first 4 classes. Other than the first class, he taught lessons on Wednesday nights.
He started the 3rd class September 16, 1992, just three days after the 2nd class graduated. That was our biggest class. We had 10 graduates from the third class. People saw us dancing at 3B's bar. We would get 8 members of Cream City Squares, to square dance a couple tips at the country dances on Fridays, at 3B's. The 3rd graduation was May 8, 1993.
Randy E. went to Cleveland's 1992 fly-in with his partner, who was taking the new class. When they returned they thought the line dancers in Milwaukee should form a performance group for our future fly-ins. It set in motion the Milwaukee performance line dance group "Shoreline"; suddenly we had a newer dance group that drew more people than we did. They got over thirty people in Shoreline in 1993.
We danced for their events rather then them dancing for ours.
Joe started teaching our fourth class on September 15th, 1994; only five people took the class on Wednesdays. They graduated Mainstream on April 24, 1994; many stopped square dancing, because several of them found Sunday club dances didn't work for them.
Joe began to train Don Dilges as a backup teacher for Cream City Squares class in the Winter of 1993. Joe Frazier lived an hour north of Milwaukee and ice and snow would sometime delay Joe's arrival.
Members had been going to fly-ins and had to sit out when Plus was called. Members wanted to move on to Plus, because the only gay club near us was Chi-Town Squares and they were a Plus club. Joe insisted our club should only be a Mainstream club until it got bigger (we still only had one square dancing).
Joe Frazier began driving to Madison WI, on Sundays starting in September 1994, to teach square dance to the LGBT community. He was helping people start the "Dairyland Rainbow Squares", another LGBT club. He told them they would have to find a caller after they graduated, as it was too much for him to travel 5 hours round trip in winter to call for them every week.
Joe would come to Cream City Squares in Milwaukee on Sundays for our club dance and often leave early to drive to Madison to teach on Sunday evenings. He left our club's equipment, so the club could play records for the club dance.
Don started teaching a Plus class, from a Plus handbook, in November at the club dances, when Joe left early. Joe informed Don he needed to be licensed and its cost. Don brought up that the club should be paying for Joe's [BMI/ASCAP music performance] license (Joe was unpaid all those years, and Joe bought his own license).
Our club had four graduates on April 2, 1995.
The bar location changed and so did their attitude towards our club. We couldn't have space on Wednesdays and they often infringed on our Sundays by setting up for Sunday evening drag shows.
We had to switch to having our class on Sunday, before the regular club dance in 1996.
Nobody came to take the Mainstream class in 1999. We thought it might be the $40 cost to start lessons. Cream City Squares decided to stop charging the upfront class fee, and switched to paying $3 for each dance lesson attended. Then we thought maybe people didn't like the long time commitment for the class, and we switched to offering 2 shorter classes a year, in 2002.
Don would teach one Mainstream class in spring one Mainstream class in fall, with 11 week duration per class.
Joe taught our 22nd class in spring of 2010, as Don needed a vacation.
We have had an average of 3 people per class. We will teach one person, if they show up for our class.
We were/are lucky to have dedicated callers and angels.
Don Dilges taught a second class of Plus in 1996. He workshopped several members through Plus, without a defined class over the years. Don Dilges taught a third Plus class in 11 weeks in the fall of 2009, because nobody showed up for the scheduled Mainstream class, and some members wanted a "real" Plus class.
Where did your club continue dancing?
We originally danced in local Lesbian/Gay bars, but it was always a struggle with noise & other conflicting events.
When 3B's moved into a new location in 1996, it was a smaller building with concrete floors and the interior was dark like a cave with painted black walls. One of the four bar owners liked drag shows and didn't like country dancing. The line dancing on Fridays and Tuesdays ended as the dancers hated the concrete floors. They looked for another venue, while we needed to have a set place for the upcoming fall class and stayed with the 3B's bar. We were there one year and ran a class with 2 graduates in April of 1997.
The bar was noisy and they set up for drag shows during our dance time. We had to dance in the space we had left, the size of the pool table. It was awful.
Shoreline found a good dance floor at Just Us, another gay bar.
We asked to dance there on Sunday and they said sure. Their dance floor was wood and a nice size, but we had noise and competition on Sundays from those watching football on the big screen TV. We ran a class at Just Us and had 3 graduates in May 1998.
We showed up for our club dance on Sunday June 28, 1998 and found the door locked. The bar had closed down without warning anybody. We were lucky Joe Frazier and his significant partner was renovating a house in Milwaukee; we used an unfinished room to hold three Sunday club dances.
Thankfully we found dance space at Lake Park Lutheran Church in July of 1998. The majority of our members liked the alcohol & smoke free environment. The church hall floor was tile, but the Church provided a nice large space, and just the type of healthy atmosphere we wanted. We make a monthly donation for use of the space. The downside is nobody in the LGBT community sees us dancing. Recruiting is much harder.
We had to find another venue in the spring of 2005, because of church hall renovations to make it wheelchair accessible.
We danced three months at Plymouth Church hall, in the same neighborhood, but they moved us to a carpeted room a few times because of schedule conflicts and they forgot and locked us out a couple times (we had to scramble to find a space, but we survived it).
We returned to Lake Park Lutheran Church, after it was fixed up and have remained there.
Which dancers have been members the longest?
We have Joe Frazier, James T., and Don Dilges as continuous members from the start in 1991. Richard B. has been dancing since the second class was held. Gary A & Bruce R., two members of the first class, returned to dance with us after a six year gap, but they chose not to be paid members.
Has your club participated in any Pride or other civic events?
Our club has participated in all the Milwaukee PrideFest events since 1992, except two.
Early on we danced demos to records, once a member paid to have Sandra Bryant call a 2 hour dance, after that Don Dilges called either a 2 to 3 hour square dance with tips of teaching new people, the last few years we were moved from entertainment to the health and wellness area of PrideFest and had an hour to do a tip or two of demos and then Don teaches new people some basic calls.
One year the PrideFest volunteer for entertainment decided to hire paid professional entertainers, and not to use the local LGBT dance groups. Many local LGBT groups were unhappy that year.
One year we didn't participate because Don Dilges went to a family wedding out of town the weekend of PrideFest.
Cream City Squares did a demo dance on the first local Q-TV show broadcast, April 9, 1992; this was before any of us, except Joe knew full Mainstream.
Joe Frazier put together a Cream City Squares "Exhibition Team" in 1993, and we practiced, another night beside the class and club dance nights, to make every move precise. We were dancing 3 times a week. The group performed in 1993 at the "Mardi Gras" LGBT community event, at the "Country Dance" fundraiser for the Milwaukee Counseling Center, and the Metropolitan Community Church's "Hoe Down". We performed at LGBT "Magic Picnic" in Madison WI and at an AIDS fundraiser "Country Pig Roast" in Aztalan WI in 1994.
Once Joe was trying to start the Madison club, the performance "Exhibition Team" fell apart.
We danced at the “Country Dance” annual fundraisers until 1998, when they stopped holding them.
We co-sponsored a fundraiser with Mona Bar called "Dance for a Fair Wisconsin" October 11, 2006; the funds were to help defeat a state constitutional ban on same sex marriages and civil unions. The fundraiser was successful, but the ban on marriage and civil unions passed in the general election and is now in our state constitution.
Cream City Squares danced as a part of the 2009 Cream City Foundation "Coming Out Day" event on October 11.
Describe any significant media attention.
We had gotten a large article in the gay press about nine of our members attending the 1993 Wisconsin Square Dance convention, and about our group representing LGBT people at the straight square dance clubs. We were visibly doing more with the straight community, than most LGBT groups at that time.
We were very active those first few years.
The gay press lost interest in our group after a few years. We were struggling to find a place to dance for a few years. Once we found a good place to dance at Lake Park Lutheran Church we spent a lot of money on ads, trying to get new members (it didn't work).
A few years latter the Milwaukee and WI gay newspapers folded, and the bar guides didn't list anything but bar events for a while.
They recognized we were bridging the gap between the LGBT and straight community, at a time when most LGBT groups stayed to themselves.
How have your club and its members interacted with straight square dancing in your area?
The first time we danced with the straight dancers was at the Wisconsin state square dance convention in Milwaukee in 1993.
So as not to intrude on them, we squared up in our own square and used all the fancy styling of the gay clubs. A large number of people took seats in the auditorium and watched, as if we were a show. I don't think they ever saw a square of 8 men before in one square (Actually one was a lesbian with short hair in jeans dancing the boy’s part; they assumed she was a boy).
We were the only square that didn't break down on one tip, when a caller called spin chain thru in the Mainstream hall. The caller came over to us to give us her card, if we ever wanted to hire she would call for us. She said she would have thought she called something wrong, but she saw our square do exactly what she hoped all the squares would have done.
People saw we were good dancers and they wanted to dance with us. There were more men in the Mainstream hall and more women in the Plus hall. We got some of the extra men in the Mainstream hall to dance with us, so they didn't have to sit out so many tips.
We were very nervous about attending. Only one woman seemed hostile and said "don't you like to dance with women?", and we replied that we would dance with her, but she walked away.
The Wisconsin convention runs Friday to Sunday. There was a non-denominational religious service Sunday morning for those from out of town, that none from our club attended; it was held by a caller that was also a preacher, and he picked a sermon on Homosexuality is Evil.
We heard about it latter from several people. Some people got up and walked out of the service, some people complained that it was rude to pick that subject when the first gay club was attending convention, and apparently the convention committee got enough complaints that they told the preacher never to preach on that subject again at a WI square dance convention.
Several of us have gone to many of the Wisconsin State Conventions held each August. Several of us go to the local straight square dance clubs dances, but not consistently.
They welcome us to their dances, and we have been accepted at their Conventions.
Over 12 years of our club being listed in the Wisconsin square dance publication, which lets people know where to dance, only six dancers from the other local clubs ever came to our club's dances. They know where we are, but don't mix with us unless we visit them.
Don Dilges put up our Cream City Squares public website in June of 2001, and he moved the club's website to the IAGSDC hosted space in November 2002. People do find us through the website.This past year we had three local straight people come to our dances, because we offer Plus level dancing. We had six straight people from out of state come to our dances, because they just wanted to dance while visiting Milwaukee.
We have had only seven straight people join our club over the nineteen years. Five of those seven took our lessons and four are presently paid members of our club. Perhaps we have finally cracked the glass ceiling separating us...?
We are the only square dance club on Milwaukee's east side, and the only club dancing on Sundays in our area.
When are your Fly-ins?
We had several one day and two day dances called "drive-ins" the first 5 or 6 years of our club. We would hire local callers and invite just the square dance clubs closest to us to come to these dances. Sometimes we included pot luck dinners.
Chi-Town would send a bus load of 50 people up to dance with us. We had next to no housing to offer, with our small club, and figured we would work up to a fly-in in the future. It never happened.
The differences between our club size and the level of dance we offered and lack of housing, stopped people from other clubs from attending. Our few members that volunteered quickly burned out.
What's the age range of your club members?
We were mostly in our 30's to 50's when the club started.
We have had dancers from age 5 years old to mid 70's dance with our group. We decided to restrict membership to 18 year olds, but people can bring their children, and some have done so in the past.
Our dancers are from late-20 to mid-70 at present.
Did or does your club have a newsletter?
We had a club newsletter for members to keep informed of our dance schedule, special events, IAGSDC events and fly-ins, etc.
The newsletter was started by Trig S. in 1994, and he ran it until 1995. Don Dilges kept it going until 2002. We stopped the newsletter when everything went online. Don has continued to run the public website.
DiDi set up a private "Cream City Squares" website on Yahoo, where our members can post pictures (some people don't want their pictures made public), print off a copy of our by-laws, see the minutes from our meetings, copy ads for events, and share information with each other.
Describe the essence of your club.
We are a diverse group, and everybody is made welcome. We started as all gay men, but over the years we now have equal numbers of gay men and lesbian women. We have had a transgender woman dancing with us for years. One of the straight men is a cross-dresser, so we see at least one square dancer in dresses and petticoats almost every week. His wife finally took our lessons and enjoys dancing the boy’s part. Our straight members are married couples, and they have been going to other gay and straight clubs to dance, but they enjoy being in our club.
We have styling, do a lot of DBD, have more Plus tips, and half of us dance both parts. We have a lot of fun dancing and our members socialize outside the club functions.
We have about 22 people that attend our dances, but I think only 14 are paid members. We have had to cancel only one dance this year for lack of 8 people planning on attending. Before we started reducing the summer dance schedule, we had some dances fail, for lack of a square. We have been getting two squares more often these last two years. Things seem to be getting better lately.
Why is Cream City Squares still so small after 19 years?
Milwaukee's LGBT community offers so many activities and clubs, that people chose just the ones they like best, they don't have time to join more than a few groups.