Gay rodeo returns to Alberta, ready to dance, party and get dirty

Alberta's gay rodeo stars are dusting off their cowboy boots and getting ready to party. The rodeo's coming back after a three-year hiatus.

Calgary's Stampede Park will host all the campy, competitive events

Line dance instructor Sean Buckley taught a class Thursday as a promotion for the Canadian Rockies Gay Rodeo Association. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Alberta's gay rodeo stars are dusting off their cowboy boots and getting ready to party.

The Canadian Rockies Gay Rodeo Association is bringing back the rodeo for LGBTQ athletes this summer, from Aug. 2-4, after a three-year hiatus.

For more than two decades, competitors and spectators filled Strathmore for the events. Now the group, under a new name, has partnered with the Stampede to host events at Nutrien Western Event Centre Stampede Park.

"This is kind of new and fresh and exciting — and our tagline is, 'back to the dirt and back to the party,'" association president and longtime competitor Judy Munson said.

To promote the rodeo, the association held free line dancing lessons at Ranchman's Dancehall Thursday evening, led by line dance instructor Sean Buckley. 

When Buckely heard the rodeo was "rising from the ashes," he had to get involved.

"I was so bummed out that the rodeo was taking hiatus because it was a safe place where you could just dance and be visible and be yourself," Buckley said.

When the rodeo was cancelled in 2016, international gay rodeo organizers said a deficit and the economic downturn sealed the decision to take a break.

'It feels amazing'

Over the rodeo weekend, each night will feature a dance party — complete with line dancing enthusiasts. You don't need  a partner, and Buckley says you'll probably make friends.

Line dancing is one way the organizers hope to include new people in the gay rodeo, which is the only such rodeo held in Canada. There are several held in the United States.

People turned out Thursday night for a free line dancing class at Ranchman's Dancehall. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Buckley taught the crowd a dance that could be applied to a variety of tunes, so long as the beat's similar. That way, he said, anyone can get up and dance if the music moves them.

"It feels amazing, again for that safe space where you can just be yourself, be visible, have a good time — and not worry about people bumping into you on purpose and make it look like an accident," he said. "So you feel a little less vulnerable at an event like the... gay rodeo."

'Country roots and still be gay'

That feeling of freedom and fun was important for Andrew Clapperton, who grew up spending time on a farm, learning animal husbandry. Once he came out and spent more time in the city, he felt he had to leave that passion behind.

"With the rodeo here, I realize it doesn't have to be one or the other. I can be a whole person," said Clapperton, now the rodeo's social media coordinator. "I can have my country roots and still be gay. It's fantastic."

Andrew Clapperton, social media coordinator for Canadian Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, says he once felt he couldn't take part in rodeo as a gay man in the city. Now he's glad to take part once more. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

The gay rodeo also features camp events, which are just-for-fun, silly activities like dressing goats in tighty-whities underwear. There's also a rodeo school hosted on the first day, where anyone can learn the basics of calf roping or steer riding. Participants can then sign up to compete over the weekend.

In gay rodeo, unlike mainstream rodeo, men and women can compete in all events.

The group is hoping for 80-90 competitors but they're so far unsure of the turnout. This year, as it'll be held in the city, Munson says more people may be encouraged to come try it out, as it'll be easier to access for urban people.

Judy Munson, president of the Canadian Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, took part in gay rodeo for 23 years. She's happy to have helped bring it back to Alberta. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

She said she's blown away by the changes over time, and the support of the Stampede organizers, who offered to host the gay rodeo.

"Last year when I saw their float, the Stampede float, in the Pride parade, I was shocked," she said. "But they're there. They're there for us and they want to be involved. So you can't ask for more than that."

Gay rodeo attendees have the option of camping on-site this year, even though it's being held in downtown Calgary.

With files from the CBC's Justin Pennell


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