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Seattle Histories Pride Edition: LGBTQ+ Country Dancing – A Radical Act of Inclusivity

Historic preservation in Seattle begins with community. The Seattle Histories storytelling project highlights the places, people, and events that have shaped the history of Seattle’s communities. These stories, told by community members, emphasize experiences and narratives that may have been overlooked or misrepresented in our city. In honor of PRIDE month, we asked community members to submit stories specific to the history of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community. Read the LGBTQ+ Seattle Histories stories and then delve into the full project.

LGBTQ+ Country Dancing – A Radical Act of Inclusivity

by Jean Anton, Barb Buys, and Katie Gustainis

Every Tuesday evening in the heart of Capitol Hill on Broadway, a group of folks spanning the spectrums of age, race, gender, and sexuality warmly greet each other inside All Pilgrims Church. The twang of country music fills the air. No, it’s not a worship service. It’s line dancing.

Soon 30 or more people are laughing and smiling as they move across the floor in lines, executing a complex series of steps and turns in all directions. Some dance the steps as choreographed. Others add elaborate arm movements and improvised styling as if starring in a dramatic soap opera.

Fast-forward to Friday night. Many of the same familiar faces are two-stepping and waltzing around the dance floor at the Century Ballroom just a mile south of the church. The lights are lower, the outfits are on fire, and the joy is palpable.

This is Rain Country Dance Association, Seattle’s nonprofit dance club for the LGBTQ+ community and friends for over 17 years. Newcomers and old-timers alike are united in our love of dance and our commitment to creating a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community.

“It was the most welcoming family we’ve run into in Seattle.”

Chris, a Rain Country dancer

More specifically, we (Jean, Katie, and Barb) are some of those friendly faces you’ll see on the dance floor. We are invested in this community and the documentation of its place in Seattle’s queer history. Rain Country embodies the grassroots, cooperative, and welcoming spirit of our city in unique, magical, and ever-evolving ways. This is our story.

A group of approximately 35 people with their hands in the air and smiles on their faces on a dimly lit dance floor interspersed with columns wrapped in rainbow neon lights.
The power of Rain Country is in the joy you’ll find on everyone’s face.

The Beginnings of Rain Country

During the country western dance craze that swept the country in the wake of Urban Cowboy and “Achy Breaky Heart” in the 1980s and 1990s, Seattle became home to the Timberline Tavern. As The Seattle Times described this gay bar in a 1990 review, “There’s Patsy Cline and k.d. lang on the sound system, maple on the spacious circa-1913 dance floor, pails of peanuts on the bar and wagon-wheel chandeliers in the rafters. You’ll think you died and went to country-western heaven.”

For Barb Buys, the first person to greet you at any Rain Country event today, the Timberline was an essential part of her coming of age in the 1990s. “It’s really where I learned how to be a lesbian,” Barb explains. “It was like having a party without needing to clean your house, or going to a party that you didn’t have to get ready for.”

After 15 years of serving a tight-knit community of dancers, the Timberline had to move from its original location in 2003. The dance culture that had made the bar so special struggled to retain its vibrancy amidst the transition.

At that point, Jim Drew grew tired of waiting for someone else to solve the problem and sent a rabble-rousing email to a local country-western listserv one Saturday in April 2004. “We’ve lost some of the ‘dance community’ we once had in Seattle,” he admonished. “We need to get off our collective butt and work to build the local CW [country-western] dance scene.” 

Asked about it now, Jim says, “If you want a ‘community’ you have to create the structure for community to build from. If you leave it up to a business that isn’t invested in the dancing side of things, then you are at their mercy. Rain Country gives dancers control over what and how we dance.”

A group of twenty-nine smiling people posing for the camera and holding a white banner with green text reading “Rain Country Country-Western Dancing.”
Dancers, including co-founder Jim Drew (front, red shirt) pose for the camera at Rain Country’s 2009 Pride Sunday dance at the Armory in Seattle Center.

After eighteen months of planning and the closure of the new Timberline location in 2005, Jim and a group of dancers, instructors, and deejays created the completely volunteer-led Rain Country Dance Association in 2006. Dancing began again in earnest on Friday nights at the Cuff Complex on Capitol Hill. Soon, a second biweekly evening of line dancing was added to the calendar. This time, on the dancers’ terms.

What Rain Country Means to Jean

I first heard about Rain Country from Barb. I had enjoyed dancing at the Timberline and was disappointed when it closed. Despite my political disagreement with many of the lyrics in country western music, I have always been a fan of the twang and the rhythm. Once I began going to the Cuff, I was hooked.

Line dancing is one of my passions. It has been thrilling to watch our group transform. We were once just a handful of die-hard regulars, gathering a couple of times each month in the cold basement of All Pilgrims Church, struggling to conquer intermediate-level dances. Now, every Tuesday evening crowds fill up the church’s social hall, practicing increasingly advanced dances.

Rain County provides a delightful way to exercise my aging body –– and my aging brain. After moving for two hours while challenged to commit to memory a complex series of steps, I head home on Tuesday evenings energized and happy, often feeling quite a bit younger than my 77 years!

A group of five people smile for the camera in a large hall with a lit-up Pride rainbow flag behind them.
Jean (second from the right) and fellow dancers at a Rain Country member dance in July 2021 in the social hall of All Pilgrims Church on Broadway.

And, Rain Country offers me so much more than that. It is a cherished space where I’ve formed friendships and found support, where I have been encouraged to try out my skills in teaching, and where I have learned about others in the queer community. I get to hang out with young people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. And not only with cisgender lesbians like me but also with folks who are trans and non-binary and gender queer and gender fluid and gender nonconforming, as well as cisgender gay men and straight folks. I get an education.

A couple of years ago when it became clear that I could no longer drive safely after dark, I wondered how I would get to line dancing. I needn’t have worried. dana, a 32-year-old teacher of creative writing, generously agreed to pick me up and bring me home. I learned details of their childhood, collective household, and work with trans women in prison. I loved hearing about what it was like to teach young college students and what steps dana goes through to prepare a course in writing poetry. And I shared with them about my life. One evening our conversation turned to eating habits and favorite dishes. When we got back to my house after dancing, I filled a few containers with brown rice and stir-fried veggies. And so began a regular pattern. Each week I brought out portions of soup, coleslaw, or other home-cooked dishes, happy to have discovered a way to express my appreciation.

When dana moved away from my neighborhood, others stepped in. I have been given rides by Chris, Tim, Emily, Katie, and Ziadee. In each case, our time together has offered rich interactions, opening up interesting political discussions and deepening connections. Although folks have had to drive out of their way, their willingness has been unwavering. “No one should have to miss out on line dancing because they can’t get a ride,” Tim once told me. I remain in awe of their kindness.

Family, home, acceptance, support, and safety. Laughter, joy, and fun. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Rain Country. I am honored to be a part of this community.

“…I love how we range from skill-building to sharing histories to being playful and dirty on the dance floor.”

dana, Rain Country dancer

Building a Community that Lasts

Just two years after launching Rain Country as a formal organization, the board set out to put Seattle on the map of the national country-western dance circuit with an annual conference: The Emerald City Hoedown. Since 2008, the Hoedown has grown from humble origins as a one-day event to four days and nights of classes, dances, social hours, potlucks, and late-night chats in the hotel lobby. The Hoedown is attended by hundreds of dancers not only from Seattle but from Canada, California, Oregon, and as far away as Detroit and D.C. Many are regulars who return year after year.

The vibe more closely resembles a family reunion than a conference. In between daytime line dance, two-step, and west coast swing classes, friends who’ve moved away hug locals they haven’t seen since last year and promise to grab a dance at Saturday night’s Hoedown Ball.

A small Asian woman in an intricate dress with a red skirt and lace top and pearls is holding a microphone while posing with a white woman with short blonde hair and a blue shirt who is holding a plaque with red sequined slipper on it.
Ruby Luke (left) presents the 2022 Ruby Slipper award to Barb Buys for her commitment to the Rain Country community.

The Ball has become an opportunity for Rain Country volunteers to honor one another for their leadership and the hard, behind-the-scenes work necessary to run a community organization. Ruby Luke, one of Rain Country’s most cherished instructors and fashion icons, is one of those leaders among leaders. Despite her small stature, Ruby is hard to miss when wearing one of her well-known handmade dresses, headwear, and matching shoes at any dance event. A longtime veteran of the national square dance scene, Ruby became beloved within the LGBTQ country-western dance community while at the Timberline. Alongside Jim, she was one of the strongest forces behind propelling Rain Country forward with her dedication to teaching, serving on the board, and showing up to every event.

In 2011, the board honored her with an award they aptly named the Ruby Slipper. Nowadays it’s given annually to a Rain Country leader, if one meets the criteria. “Ruby Slippers sparkle,” the nomination form explains. “They symbolize the inner spark or passion that the recipient has for RCDA.”  Nominations are requested for someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty in service, exhibits a passion for dance, builds bridges, and inspires others.

The Ruby Slipper is part of the unique strength of Rain Country. By honoring each other and our contributions, we make use of the power of gratitude to bind the community together.

“It’s like a chosen family.”

Ruby Luke, Rain Country dancer, co-founder, and icon

What Rain Country Means to Katie

When the dancing stopped, I wept.

In the wake of the death and hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels inappropriate to admit how much emotional energy I spent grieving a social dancing space. But the loss of dancing in that spring of 2020 revealed just how integral the Rain Country community is to my sense of self.

As a Texan who transplanted to Seattle, I grew up two-stepping in elementary school and learning line dances as cheerleading routines. After dinner on school nights, my dad would spin me around the living room with the same swing dance moves I use today. Dancing lives deep in my bones.

Although I enjoyed dancing at the country bar near my west Texas college, the alcohol-soaked environment kept me on constant guard against unwanted sexual attention from men. The first time I walked into the Cuff for a Friday night Rain Country dance, I knew this space was different. And not just because it was a gay bar.

That night, I knew that these people, this place, was my home.

Six years later, Rain Country is where I am my whole self. I am a dancer, I am a Texan, I am queer, I am a woman, and I am having the time of my life.

One of the first people I met while dancing was Barb. Despite approaching her 70s, she, like me, dances to almost every song and loves to talk to new people. When I grow up, I want to be Barb. We have built a relationship molded around the cadence of Tuesdays and Fridays, and the truth is that without the regularity of Rain Country, our friendship wouldn’t exist. When I met the woman who would become my wife, I took her dancing and made sure she met Barb (spoiler: Barb approved). The depth of her warmth and openness inspires me every day to be my most authentic self and ask others to do the same.

It’s not just Barb. There’s something special about dancers.

Jean – my incredible co-author – is closer to my grandmother’s age than my mother’s. She is whip smart and has been a lesbian since before my parents graduated high school. She is someone I trust, a fellow writer, and a friend. Like Barb, our friendship lives within the confines of Tuesday nights and has blossomed on car rides back to her house after dancing. From Jean I’ve learned that Oregon communes and lesbian mountain festivals were real. I’ve learned that you’re never too old to go to Peru alone. She has shown me what life can look like when you never stop leaning in and staying curious. Our friendship is one of mutual respect and admiration.

A visibly pregnant white woman in a maroon shirt, black leggings, and cowboy boots stepping forward in the midst of a dance inside on a low-lit bar dance floor, surrounded by other dancers.
Katie, while 8 months pregnant, performing her favorite line dance on the floor at The Cuff with Rain Country in February 2022.

After I became pregnant with our first child in 2021, I never stopped dancing. My remote day job existed on Zoom, so my belly grew beneath the screen with few witnesses. It was my dance community that watched my baby grow week after week, waiting anxiously through the final days of pregnancy to see whether I’d show up to dance. Five days before my due date, I celebrated my thirty-fourth birthday with a night of two-stepping at the Cuff and enjoyed a lot of resulting attention. “I can’t believe you’re still here!” they said. But where else would I rather be?

In this place, with these people, magic happens. In this place, I get to be a show-off. I get to put on my fancy pants and dance my heart out with my friends and laugh and cheer and shimmy and shake. In this place, I get to shine and flit to and fro like a butterfly while my wife watches me and winks. Rain Country is my place of worship. I go dancing to get in touch with my spirit through my body and through my community. Moving in time with my loved ones is the place I am most myself. It is my community in the truest sense of the word.

A Common Purpose

Today the Rain Country Dance Association is a thriving community. Since its humble beginnings, the all-volunteer board has consistently hosted twice weekly events, kept a rotation of new dances on the schedule, re-launched the Rhythm Riders performing dance troupe, and trained multiple generations of instructors, deejays, and dancers in Seattle.

As a member-driven organization, RCDA has seen record growth over the past several years, despite the gap in in-person programming during pandemic lockdowns. Recently, the Friday night dances were transitioned to the well-loved Century Ballroom. Hallie Kuperman, owner of the Century and a local LGBTQ leader, was awarded a Ruby Slipper at this year’s Hoedown in honor of her commitment to the community and critical efforts supporting the RCDA mission.

A group of twenty to thirty people wearing summer clothes in the midst of a line dance on a dance floor inside a large hall.
Rain Country members in their element on the dance floor at the June 2022 Rain Country Pride dance inside All Pilgrims Church.

The offering of a welcoming space where everyone can belong is a radical act of love and of justice. Rain Country is a case study in diversity within the queer community. We are cis and trans. We are men, women, and nonbinary. We are lesbians, gay men, bi, and straight folks. We are ages 20 to 80, and everything in between. 

“As a straight Black woman, it has been especially meaningful to me to be welcomed into a dance community where people’s variations are seen, shared, and celebrated.”

Sheba, Rain Country dancer and instructor

Our commitment to maintaining this inclusive space, accessible to all, is a revolutionary act in a world that wants to keep us separate. The Rain Country community represents a stunning example of the different strands within the rainbow flag joining together for a common purpose, a powerful model of what we can accomplish when united.

The authors would like to extend their gratitude to the innumerous contributors from Rain Country who shared photos, quotes, and historical documents for this article. Jean and Katie would especially like to thank their co-author Barb for gathering the input of our community. Thank you.


headshot of an older white woman. she has short grey hair and is smiling and wearing a cap.
Jean Anton (she/her) is a 77-year-old queer lesbian feminist whose passions include line dancing, speaking Spanish, being with children, Buddhism, and dreaming up ways to dismantle patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. She retired from 25+ years with nonprofits dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence, and from 10 years teaching step aerobics. She loves to travel, write, spend time with her two grandchildren, and prove that old women can hike up big mountains. Jean has been an active member of Rain Country for more than 13 years.
headshot portrait of a younger white woman. she has long brown hair and is smiling.
Katie Gustainis (she/her) is a writer, educator, and people person. She writes about the complexity of loving ourselves and our families. She is passionate about building intentional, interdependent community and strives to create spaces where we can all feel comfortable leaning on each other just a little bit more. Katie has been two-stepping since the fourth grade and happily dancing with the Rain Country Dance Association since 2017. She lives in Burien with her wife, toddler, dogs, chickens, and neighbors.
headshot portrait of a middle-aged white woman with short hair. She is smiling.
Barb Buys (she/her) identifies as queer and lesbian and is on the board of Rain Country. She learned two-step and line dancing at the Timberline and was a performing member of Cascade Cloggers and a founding member of Women Who Clog Too Much.  She currently is the oldest performer in the Rhythm Riders. Barb is quite the extrovert, welcoming and embracing newcomers so much so she was awarded the Ruby Slipper award in 2022.

Learn more about the City of Seattle’s Historic Preservation program and how you can get involved at seattle.gov/neighborhoods/historic-preservation.
This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle