Date sent:      	Wed, 11 Jul 2001 10:01:25 EDT
Subject:        	Column on Ft. Lauderdale Conference


I thought you might like to see the column I did on the Sundance event in
Ft. Lauderdale.  It went out to my newspapers yesterday, so you can look
for it in papers from TWN (Miami) to Bay Windows (Boston) to The Gay &
Lesbian Times (San Diego and LA) and many papers in between.



A Hoedown in Fort Lauderdale?

by Kevin Isom
published here by permission of Kevin Isom

Stetsons and sun. Boots and beaches. Line dancing and limbo. They go together like, well, a hoedown in Fort Lauderdale.

Come again?

Intrepid cultural explorer that I am, when I heard about the annual convention of the International Association of Gay and Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs (known unofficially as IGGLY-WIGGLY), I knew I had to go and see for myself. Besides, with a new humor book titled It Only Hurts When I Polka, it behooved me to get to know some serious dancers. In this case, country western dancers. The kind of guys and gals who do it best in cowboy boots.

Several hundred dancers, judges, and groupies (I guessed I fit into the latter category) descended upon a Fort Lauderdale resort hotel beside the beach. The sound of cowboy boots clicking across the polished marble lobby floors wasn't something the hotel hears very often. For that matter, not many visitors to Fort Lauderdale wear cowboy hats and jeans in the heat, either. And there we were, ready to play Beach Blanket Bumpkins.

But surprisingly enough, there were no bumpkins here. Country western dance enthusiasts come from all corners. There were five countries represented and teams from Massachusetts to Texas. Attitude? Leave it at the door, Cowpoke. Drugs? No, thank you. Except for a healthy dose of booze, that is. These folks were here for some serious competing--and carousing. Each evening, there was a hoedown (which means a dance to the rest of the world). Hundreds of gay people dancing on a huge dance floor, whether in line-dance formation or circling in couples-dance, is a sight to behold. We're here, we're queer, and we dance a mean two-step.

The main event was the competition on Saturday. All the categories of the competitions include various levels of dance experience, from novice to advanced. This means virtually anyone can compete somehow. It's an inclusive event, after all. If you've got a shirt with a yoke, a cowboy hat, and boots (hey, it's the rule), then y'all come!

The team competitions were breath-taking--like Lord of the Dance without the Michael Flatley slime factor. I haven't seen so many complex moves since my ex tried to get into jeans two sizes too small. The Othersiders from Virginia Beach were breath-taking in their synchronicity. (Must have been the military training, with so many ex-sailors in the bunch. I wondered what I'd get if I were to say to one particular blond team member, "Ahoy, mate, throw me a rope!") The Boston Minutemen put up a valiant show. My guess was that "minutemen" was no reference to their stamina. The Atlanta Southern Line team won a blue ribbon for their spicy Paso Doble (not all the dances were country-western). Even some Germans got into the act, though the Munich Lads didn't seem quite as coordinated as their American counterparts. The point was that they were having fun, and the crowd roared appreciatively.

The DC Cowboys (from the nation's capital) had the best chests hands down, but they were a little too risqee in one of their numbers for the rules of the game. You see, country western competitions are serious about the rules, and vulgarity doesn't play a part. This was refreshing, I thought, after I rolled my tongue back into my mouth. (I admit, I liked the bare chests in the dance number.)

Some folks did seem more authentic country western than others, though. There was the silver-haired cowgirl named Mary Ann who won several individual competition looking for all the world like a lesbian Annie Oakley. I also talked with a big guy from Texas, whose dark chest hair waved "hello!" out the top of his tight black tee shirt. He proudly admitted that country-western dancing wasn't all that far from his roots. "Well, despite my cosmopolitan lifestyle," he confided in a deep, sultry voice, "my family has lived on the same land in Alabama for 150 years." I blanched for a moment, then I tapped my hat as butchly as I could and replied, "Well, my family has lived near the same country club for nearly 40 years." I nodded my head for added effect.

Only one couple entered the advanced couples competition; they had an easy victory. But their dancing easily rivaled the ballroom competitions hosted by Barbara Eden on P.B.S. The main difference, of course, was that these men actually admitted to being gay. And they wore cowboy boots with their sequins.

One of the greatest things about being gay is that I continue to find new aspects of gay folks' lives that I would never have expected--things that are uplifting, positive, and downright fun. And I'd have to add the country western dance circuit (yep, there's a series of these events around the world) to that list.

So dance on, guys and gals--and look for me at the next hoedown!

Kevin Isom is the author of the new book It Only Hurts When I Polka and Tongue in Cheek and Other Places. He may be reached at or

This article is © Copyright 2001 by Kevin Isom.

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