Many moons ago I took the plunge and went to my first Edward Carpenter week at Laurieston Hall, at the suggestion of my then therapist Phil Parkinson. The experience completely changed my life for the better.
As a young gay man I had been subjected to considerable homophobic abuse and my self-esteem was in my toenails. During my exploration of the London gay scene, I did not feel I fitted in at all and felt ‘different’ and ‘the odd one out’.
Becoming a part of ECC gave me a long desired sense of belonging, and the encouragement and support I received improved my sense of self-worth and allowed for considerable personal growth. I remember going on further ECC weeks at Laurieston Hall and offering Scottish Country Dance sessions. These were well received and sparked fun and joyfulness.
I started Scottish Country Dancing (SCD) at age 9. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) had local groups across the UK and I found a local class to go to. At age 4 I had really wanted to become a ballet dancer but my family were against it. So at 9 I wore a skirt (kilt) instead of tights! That seemed to meet with their approval!
I later trained and became an RSCDS accredited SCD teacher, and taught some children’s classes locally. Through my long association with the RSCDS I became irritated that men were never allowed to dance together. And yet it was perfectly acceptable for women to dance with women. If there were spare men on the sidelines who wanted to dance they would be told to split up a pair of women already on the floor waiting to dance together. There was no sense that the women being split up might actually have wanted to dance together and I doubt they were all grateful for suddenly having a man to dance with instead.
John at a Gay Gordons dance class in London
So well over 17 years ago, I had the idea to set up a group for gay men. I was then working full time in the NHS so did not have the spare capacity to organise such a group. I had spoken with a fellow member of ECC about my idea. Some time later he approached me about it. He was doing a self-development course which required participants to set up a project, and wanted to take my idea to fruition. I was delighted as I could focus solely on the dance teaching and not be involved in finding venues or dealing with finances. He set up various events which I taught at, and to my delight, the group took off. He named it The Gay Gordons after a ceilidh dance that is very popular. An apt name given we were appealing to gay men and the wider LGBT community and their friends. After he took a back seat others came forward to help me carry it on and I am very grateful to everyone on the various steering groups we had.
I taught the London Gay Gordons for roughly 10 years, and during that time, others in Manchester and Edinburgh set up Gay Gordons groups there. All three groups continue to thrive. Having recently moved to Brighton I am thinking about establishing a Gay Gordons group here when I am feeling more settled into the local community.
But what is most important is that I would never have had the vision if it hadn’t been for the encouragement, support and nurturing I received by being a part of the Edward Carpenter Community.
Thank you to all of you, especially those who give service in various ways in order to keep this amazing community alive and thriving.