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The History of Gay Tea Dances

Photo: The Tea Dance Est. 1966 – Fire Island & Pines Historical Society

The Raven Resort was a popular Gay destination in New Hope PA from 1979 to 2019
Their Sunday T-dances were legendary for a small town in PA.
Learn more about Gay History at New Hope Celebrates History Archive

History of the Gay Tea Dances – These were events organized on Sunday afternoons in the homosexual community, originating in New York in the 1950s and 1960s.  The original dances included tea service. They were a place for singles to meet. The name alludes to traditional tea dances of the English countryside.

It was illegal through the mid-1960s for bars in New York to sell alcohol to people known to be gay, and New York City police would conduct raids on establishments catering to them. Hence, gay men in the area began to hold tea dances outside the city as an alternative venue for meetings. In New York, these generally took place on Fire Island, in Cherry Grove and the Pines, on Sunday afternoons. Serving tea rather than alcohol made them more acceptable and less law-defying. Because they were held in the afternoon, attendees could catch a ferry and return home and be ready to work on Monday morning.

Tea dances spread beyond New York and lasted into the 1990s and beyond, regularly taking place in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown, and Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other cities.

As homosexuality became more accepted and legally protected, the tea dances were subsumed into nighttime club events such as circuit parties.

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