Rainbow Room Recollections & Definitions

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Excerpted and edited from an email message sent Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:02 AM from Paul Waters to John Zemko

Many straight conventions set aside a hall called a Rainbow Room. This is a room intended for GLBT dancers to dance in.

Gay square dancing has a number of aspects that differentiate it from its straight counterpart. Among which are unique styling for a number of calls (most notably, Weave the Ring). Also, the expectation that dancers will join squares as individuals, rather than as a couple. It's also not uncommon for eight GBLT dancers to figure out who will be dancing what part after they've joined a square. Indeed, these unique characteristics are the very thing that gay square dancers look forward to experiencing when they go to a dance.

Why have a Rainbow Room?

Gay attendees at a [straight] National Square Dance Convention (NSDC) event are NOT attending for the purpose of going to a gay square dance. Rather, their intent is to attend the NSDC.

In general, the Rainbow Room is a part-time hall. After all, a full time Rainbow Room equates to attending a gay square dance taking place down the street that happens to occur simultaneously with the NSDC, rather than mixing with the general dance population. Why bother going if you're only going to dance with the same people you already know?

The intention of the Rainbow Room is to provide a place for the gay square dance attendees of the NSDC to get an occasional "fix" of their style of dancing, and then head back over to the main convention halls to dance with the other NSDC attendees.

Rainbow Rooms also provide a designated place to periodically meet up with friends over the course of the convention. It's also a place to meet new friends who otherwise would not have been encountered at the convention.

Indeed, on several occasions both in Anaheim and Long Beach, I made new friends at the Rainbow Room, then went for a meal, and then danced with them in the main NSDC halls.

Staging Times for a Rainbow Room

I believe that a successful fielding of a Rainbow Room is as a part-time hall, rather than a full-time hall. Succinctly:

Full Time Rainbow Room = Ghetto (not good --- please do NOT do this)
Part Time Rainbow Room = Oasis (perfect)

At the (straight) National Square Dance Convention Anaheim, the hall times were during the lunch and dinner hours (and we hosted one of the after parties), when the other halls were dark (sharing with the handicapable room).

At the Long Beach NSDC, the times were close to the "off time" hours, but not precisely this (sharing with Line Dancing/Contra), and then hosted one of the official after parties, with the IAGSDC lending its name so there would be a "national" host.

Personally, I'd recommend to a convention organizing a Rainbow Room that it be run no more than perhaps two, two hour sessions a day, scheduled during "off" hours, so that these times don't conflict with prime-time activities in the other halls. I believe this is the optimum way to achieve the RR goals, and has the added benefit of eliminating the need for a dedicated RR hall.

Convention Planning for a Rainbow Room

The role of the NSDC volunteers is essentially zero. They need to select the room, set the schedule, and book the callers, all of which are things they're already doing on a much larger scale.

This means that the caller profile form for an NSDC needs to include "Rainbow Room" as one of the calling preferences. This is important not just because some callers enjoy calling to GLBT squares, but also because calling to gender-mixed squares is a special skill which many straight callers have never developed.

Local GLBT Square Dance Club Involvement

The role of the local GLBT square dance group is limited, but critical. If they're not fully behind the effort, then it's better not to have a Rainbow Room. The local club needs to take ownership of the Rainbow Room, and do its best to deliver dancers to the event. This means ensuring that their members are committed to attend, and promoting their hosting of the Rainbow Room through the various email lists. A local GLBT club hosting also provides credibility to the GLBT dance community...which equates to GLBT dancers. And if there aren't any GLBT dancers (or any dancers at all!) in the Rainbow Room, then it's a recipe for an unmitigated disaster. I've observed one such disaster in 2001 in St. Paul, MN.

A full time Rainbow Room was fielded in St. Paul, but the local club sat out the effort of staging. Because there were no GLBT dancers, what happened was that the callers who were booked to call formed squares and argued over who would be the girl. It essentially became a freak show. Not good at all.

On the flip side, when local clubs do take ownership, in conventions such as Anaheim and Long Beach, the Rainbow Room can be an unqualified success. At both of these conventions, in addition to the local and visiting gay square dancers, many of our straight friends attended Rainbow Room dances both to support and also have fun with the GLBT dancers. Another benefit is attracting those who stop by "just to see", many of whom often join into the fun. However, for any of this to happen, there must be a critical mass of gay square dancers, for which support from the local gay square dancers is the key to success.

"Recruiting" Dancers for the Rainbow Room

One tactic that has worked in the past is for the local GLBT club hosting the Rainbow Room to prepare "invitations" (slips of paper with the Rainbow Room schedule), and distribute them during the convention. They'll dance in the main halls with other attendees, and then after the square, pass out invitations to the other dancers inviting them to come by the Rainbow Room (during the off hours). Because of residual prejudice, many [straight] convention attendees may think that they won't be welcome in the Rainbow Room--which couldn't be further from the truth! So the hosting club's duty is to not only attract other GLBT dancers, but also ensure that straight dancers understand that 'everyone is more than welcome to dance in the Rainbow Room.


An added bonus to a convention staging a Rainbow Room is added publicity in the local media. Both in Anaheim and in Long Beach, the local media looked for ways to keep the story going over the course of the convention. But after, "Everyone is in town," there wasn't much more to say. Both in 2000 and in 2008, the papers also ran "Square Dancing's New Partner" articles (something new to talk about), focusing on the Golden State Squares (Anaheim), and the Shoreline Squares (Long Beach). As the starlet said, "Say whatever you want, just be sure to spell the name right." And in both these cases, these "New Partners" stories earned the convention additional coverage in the local media.

A well-planned and well-run Rainbow Room not only provides an "oasis" for GLBT dancers at a straight convention, it also helps to introduce the GLBT and straight square dance communities to each other. As both communities shrink over the coming years, getting to know and be comfortable with each other is going to become increasingly important.

A video of the Rainbow Room in Long Beach can be viewed here.