from my friend Don Bishop This article came out a couple months ago on the history of the tea dance. Enjoy and Share if you like The Very Gay History
of the Almost Lost Tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance Posted by Will Kohler on November 24, 2013 Many gay men under the age of 30 are totally clueless of almost lost tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance. So here’s a little history primer on the tradition of the “Sunday T-dance” and how and why we embraced it in the LGBT culture. Historically, tea was served in the afternoon, either with snacks (“low tea”) or with a full meal (“high tea” or “meat tea”). High Tea eventually moved earlier in the day, sometimes replacing the midday “luncheon” and settled around 11 o’clock, becoming the forerunner of what we know as “brunch”.
late 1800s to well into the pre-WWI era in both America and England,
late afternoon (low) tea service became the highlight of society life.
As dance crazes swept both countries, tea dances became increasingly
popular as places where single women and their gentlemen friends could
meet — the singles scene of the age.
While tea dances enjoyed a
revival in America after the Great War, The Great Depression of the 30s
wiped them out. Tea consumption was in steady decline in America anyways
and by the 50s, tea was largely thought of as something “your
grandmother drinks”. Also, nightlife was moving later and younger.
Working men and women were too busy building the American Dream to
socialize so it was left to their teenaged children in the age of
sockhops and the jukebox diner. Rock and roll was dark and dangerous —
something you sneaked out for after dinner, not took part in before
Gay people, of course, were still largely underground in
the 50s, but it was in these discreet speakeasies that social
(nonpartnered) dancing was evolving. It was illegal for men to dance
with men, or for women to dance with women. In the event of a raid, gay
men and lesbian women would quickly change partners to mixed-couples.
Eventually, this led to everyone sort of dancing on their own.
the late 60s, gay men had established the Fire Island Cherry Grove and
also the more subdued and “closeted” Pines (off of Long Island, in New
York) as a summer resort of sorts. It was illegal at that time for bars
to ‘knowingly sell alcohol to homosexuals’ and besides many of the
venues there were not licensed as ‘night clubs’ or to sell alcohol. To
avoid attracting attention, afternoon tea dances were promoted. Holding
them in the afternoon also allowed those who needed to catch the last
ferry back to the mainland to attend.
The proscription against
same-sex dancing was still in effect, so organizers were forced to
institute ‘no touching’ rules. Since there were no lesbians around to
change partners with, gay men developed the “dancing apart” style that
clubgoers everywhere now take for granted.
June 28, 1969…the
Stonewall Riots mark the fiery birth of the so-called “modern gay rights
movement”. Following (and in part perhaps inspired by) the death of gay
icon Judy Garland, (as the urban legend goes) patrons of the Greenwich
Village watering hole The Stonewall Inn fought back against another in
a very long line of violent police raids, eventually barricading the
police inside the bar and setting off three nights of rioting. The
“snapped stiletto heel heard around the world”as some call it is
commemorated today with Gay Pride celebrations held around the end of
Post-Stonewall, the tea dance moved from the Fire Island
Pines to Greenwich Village. A newly-energized gay community around
Christopher Street embraced the social dancing craze started on Fire
Island. While the Fire Island gays tended to be rich upper-class
preppies, the downtown gays of Christopher Street and the Village were
working-class and they tended to party at night. As in the straight
community, tea dances gradually moved later until they became subsumed
into the night club scene.
Through the 70s, gay men championed the
uniform of the working class — t-shirts and denim — as fashion
aesthetic. In part because they were affordable, and in part because it
projected an appealing hypermasculinity associated with the working
class. Gays in the post-Stonewall era were consciously rebelling against
the effete stereotypes associated with the manicured, sweater-wearing,
tea-drinking gays of the Fire Island set. Real men wore t-shirts and
drank beer. Gay men still had afternoon/early evening dances — usually
on Sundays, in order to make the most of one’s weekend while still being
able to get up for Monday morning’s work.
The downtown gays
rejected the term tea dance as being too effete and opted for the
supposedly butcher t-dance, and promoted “t-shirts and denim” as the
costume of choice. By the mid 70s, the “Christopher Street Clone” look
(short cropped hair, mustache, plaid shirt over a tight white t-shirt,
faded denim jeans that showed off your ass) had made the
trans-continental trip from New York City to Los Angeles (gays in
Hollywood) and, of course, to San Francisco (follow the Yellow Brick
Road and it leads to Castro). It brought with it the t-dance phenomenon,
which is slowly dying out and all but gone.
So grab those fans
and poppers boys and and lets “Ohhhhha, Ooooha” like its 1978 again!
Lets not let Sunday Tea become a piece of our forgotten gay history
LGBT HISTORY TRIVIA:
“Come to Me” the hit disco song
sung by France Joli received a HUGE boost when Joli performed it as a
last-minute replacement for Donna Summer at a concert held on Fire
Island on July 7, 1979 before an estimated audience of 5000 dancing gay