[The Toronto Star Online, Saturday, May 29, 1999]

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Saturday, May 29, 1999
'We don't care who is dancing as long as someone is'
Gay country dancers from around world gather to compete

Sarah Galashan
National Post

Hans Deryk, National Post / GAYS AND LESBIANS IN TORONTO FOR THE BIG CITY HOEDOWN: Ohio's Columbus Stompers practise at Toronto's Delta Chelsea Hotel yesterday for the gay and lesbian country dance club competition.
More than 400 lesbians and gay men decked out in chaps and spurs gather in downtown Toronto tonight for the Checker Ball, the highlight of the second annual International Association of Gay and Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs competition.

"This is cowboy drag," explains Todd Kaighin, the event's co-chairman. 

Same-sex couples in sequined vests and 10-gallon hats will compete as well as demonstrate and teach the latest techniques to convention delegates, some of whom have travelled from as far as the Netherlands to attend the Big City Hoedown.

Unwelcome in straight country bars because tradition requires that dancing couples be of opposite sex, gay aficionados of the dance are often relegated to alternative venues, such as church halls. 

"[Straight bars] will not allow two women or two men to dance together," said Mr. Kaighin.

"We break the rules. We don't care who is dancing as long as someone is."

Lack of prejudice is the only membership requirement, and straight individuals, although a minority, also attend the group's conventions.

The Holzes, an elderly straight couple in their '70s, travelled by camper from the southern United States just to line dance in Toronto. 

The couple says they feel completely accepted by the gay community and Carl Holz is currently president of a Texas-based gay dance club.

"We're just here to have a ball," said his wife, Patricia. "We've been to so many of these things that everyone knows us by name."

Tonight's main event will showcase some of the world's best gay country dancers.

It will also feature a performance from Scooter Lee, the renowned (straight) honky-tonk twister.

In the actual competition, entrants must follow a predetermined routine, perform legitimate country dance steps and reveal "no bare butts," said a blushing Bo Bradshaw. The co-chairman admits chaps and nothing else are often worn to fringe parties, but insists never at the competition.

"This isn't a sex-orientated event. This is about dance," added Mr. Kaighin.

Like most conventions, the weekend will include official organizational business. This morning, members will discuss new membership requirements and fundraising initiatives.



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