In the queer community tea dances have been seen as a space to live out proud and among friends! It was illegal for men to dance with other men, or women to dance with other women. It was also “illegal for bars to knowingly sell alcohol to homosexuals.” These afternoon tea dances were held in speakeasy fashion; in the event of a raid, gay men and lesbian women would quickly change partners to mixed-couples.
A tea dance, also called a thé dansant (French for “dancing tea”), was a dance held in the summer or autumn from 4 to 7 p.m.
By 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.
Through the decades the popularity of the tea dance has waned. And while it still survives in Fire Island and a few gay bastions like Provincetown it is all but gone and those few remaining are shadows of their former selves–let’s not let the Tea Dance die!
Visit any of these establishments on June 13 from 4pm to 7pm for the Columbus Pride Tea Dance [Around Town]!
- Contact email@example.com to have your bar/restaurant listed!
A portion of proceeds to support Stonewall Columbus’ operations and programs.
Read more about tea dances here!