This week's Chicagoan: Saundra Bryant, square-dance caller
'I used to say I'm not prejudiced, but I found that I'm prejudiced against stupidity'
A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford, December 1, 2011
"At one point, there were 25 or 30 African-American square-dance callers. Now there are probably 12 or 14 of us in the whole world. This is my job, and there are times I work more than 40 hours a week. Prior to that, I was an accountant.
"It's hard to get African-Americans into square dancing, because the media still pushes it as an old-fashioned, redneck kind of thing. It is not. Until we get past that gingham-check, hoopskirt, knee-slapping, fiddling-out-in-the-barn stereotype, I don't think we'll get a lot of African-Americans in it.
"I've never liked country music. Nor have I ever liked traditional square-dance clothes, petticoats and whatever. In my repertoire right now is Cee-Lo Green, 'Forget You.' 'Disco Inferno,' by Tina Turner. Some stuff by Lady Gaga.
"I did the Taste of Chicago a few years ago, and we were in a tent. The dancers were out front, but I was in the back. People were walking by, and I would say, 'Why don't you stop and dance?' They'd see me and their mouths would drop, because they didn't expect to see someone black, first of all, giving directions to 30 or 40 Caucasians, and second of all, in this activity.
"Square dancing is done on a grid-type formation. Picture a chess board. The moves that the chess pieces make are the moves that are spoken to the dancers. If I say the equivalent of 'queen to rook four' or whatever, the dancers have to know where to move. Very few people realize that there are 11 levels of square dancing. To go through the beginning level, there's 68 different figures you have to learn. I probably know somewhere around 6,000 movements.
"I've called in places like Japan, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Germany. The interesting thing is that there is no translation into any language for square-dance terminology. It's all done in English. A lot of the Japanese have learned English from square dancing.
"When the Chi-Town Squares [Chicago's gay and lesbian square-dance club] first asked me to call, they were just starting out. A gentleman came to me and said 'There's a new club starting, and they could really use you.' I didn't really pay attention to whether he was gay or straight. That was insignificant to me.
"Then the founder of Chi-Town called and said they wanted to hire me to call a dance. I said 'Sure, let me get a calendar.' And he said, 'Just a minute, I have something to tell you. We're a gay club.' My comment to him was, 'And I'm a black caller. You still want me to get the calendar?'
"I used to say I'm not prejudiced, but I found that I'm prejudiced against stupidity. Really. I think that people who are prejudiced are stupid, and that irritates me. Along with some other things people do. But in general, I'm not prejudiced against anything. Folks are folks.