A Short History of the Tinseltown Squares

In the fall of 1986, in addition to the classes they were taking in a caller run square dance club, Ben Teller, Don Williams, Jerry Stevens, Steve Howell and Jack Newsbaum agreed they needed additional class time to hone their Plus Level square dance skills. The group chose Saturday afternoon as a convenient time. Ben volunteered to be the instructor having wrapped up his duties as founder and president of Avatar. Don provided the sound equipment and tapes expanding what he was doing for some exhibition teams. Trinity Episcopal Church at Berendo and Melrose was the selected location; the new group becoming part of the church’s gay outreach program. The new group invited friends from New Year’s Resolutions and the exhibition group called “Oil Can Country Dancers” to dance with them. After several sessions, it was apparent that the energy was there to form a member run club.

In early 1987, Ben has an idea – hold a Saturday night dance with a paid caller and open the dance to all square dancers. The group agreed. The caller that night was Paul Waters, who later taught Tinseltown’s Mainstream and Plus Classes. The dance was a great success. That evening of dance convinced the group they wanted to form their own member run gay square dance club.

And the group did form their own club in March of 1987, naming themselves the “Tinseltown Squares”, thus becoming the first gay and lesbian square dance club in Los Angeles. The name Tinseltown was selected to be inclusive of the whole film production area from the South Bay to North Hollywood. And indeed the membership was drawn not only from Los Angeles, but also from the surrounding communities like Pasadena, Long Beach, Burbank, San Gabriel, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. One of the original founding five is still a member. Steve has gone off to other activities. Jack and Steve moved out of state. Steve later passed away. The club logo, badge and banner were designed by the talented Dennis Akazawa, now deceased. Dennis also appeared as Ms. Yo-Ho. Her last appearance was at the 1988 Phoenix IAGSDC convention.

For four and a half years, the Trinity Episcopal Church housed all Tinseltown classes and dances. In September 1991, the club moved to the Highland Ebell Clubhouse in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles. Built in the early 1920’s, the Ebell has a two-story ceiling and a fabulous wood floor that thrives under the pounding of dancing feet.

During the first two years as a club, founding dad Ben Teller continued to volunteer as class caller and instructor. When the club finances were in the black, a decision was made to switch from a volunteer to a professional caller. Scott Byars was hired and taught Tinseltown classes for the next two years. In September of 1991, Paul Waters was hired as the class caller and instructor. When Paul, then a 20-year veteran of square dancing, began his association with Tinseltown he classified himself as “straight.” We did too, with a wink. But as of September 1992, Paul saw the light and “came out.”

1992 was busy year for Tinseltown members, performing square dancing demos at the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, Orange County Gay Pride Festival, Sunset Junction Street Festival, West Hollywood’s Halloween Night, Floyd’s in Long Beach, and The Rawhide in North Hollywood. And Paul was there calling the action. The Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade and the Halloween Night attracted television coverage so we were able to see ourselves via videotape.

In 1987, Ben Teller and Don Williams led a square of Tinseltown dances to Pioneer 8’s, a straight club in Redondo Beach, just south of Los Angeles. Don was the Pioneer 8’s Secretary and Ben was enrolled in the Pioneer 8’s A-1 class. One day Ben asked if Pioneer 8’s would welcome a square of same sex partners at one of their Sunday dances. They said not only “yes” but indicated that if any of their members didn’t like it, that was their problem. For many years Tinseltown along with Golden State Squares had an ongoing relationship with the Pioneer 8’s. Members of Tinseltown have also been active in the B&B’s and Trailblazers. Many members of these clubs attended Tinseltown functions. And Tinseltown dancers joined with Pioneer 8’s in the 1992 Doo-Dah Parade, square dancing down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. This humorous, anti-establishment parade was televised nationally.