Monthly tea dances return to Nashville

Tea dances are the remnant of late-19th century social functions: traditionally events of late summer and early fall, these dances brought an activity usually relegated to the night life into the calm breeze of late afternoon. As a part of gay culture, too, the tea dance takes dancing and drinking out of the intensity of the late-night scene and into the social atmosphere of a Sunday afternoon get-together.

Occasionally Nashville has had some “pop-up” tea dances for special events, but until recently it lacked a regular, recurring tea dance. Thanks to Kelly Mason of Green Pea Salon (middle, in photo above), along with co-hosts Keith Hinkle (right) and Gary Gaston (left), all that has changed. Every month, on the fourth Sunday of every month from 4:00–7:30, you can find the Sweet Tea Dance at The Basement East.

Tea dances are a long-standing gay tradition. “Everybody I know has always known about tea dances,” said Mason. “They’ve been popular since the sixties in places like Fire Island and P-town and such. At the end of the weekend on a Sunday, we get together at nice little happy places where you can dance to positive music—nothing too serious—and you know just finish off the weekend with some cocktails. And of course we ‘spill the tea’ on whatever happened over the weekend amongst our friends.”

Mason had been hearing from a lot of people that they missed tea dances, especially while “sitting around somewhere on a Sunday that’s not as fun as we wanted it to be,” Mason added. But the Sweet Tea Dance began, as such things often do, with an off-hand remark.

“I was at dinner with Mike and Mindy Grimes, who are good friends of mine and who own The Basement on 8th Avenue,” Mason explained, “and he was opening The Basement East—he called it The Beast. He said he needed a Sunday event, so I said just casually, ‘Oh, you should have a tea dance.’ He seemed interested so I explained to him what kind of event it was. He thought that sounded like fun.”

While Mason knew Grimes to be a very open-minded person who embraces his LGBT neighbors’ and friends’ identities, when Grimes said, “Let’s do it!” Mason didn’t know exactly how to take it. “A week passed,” Mason said, “and Mike came in to my salon at 12 South to get his hair cut, and while there he said, ‘So let’s do that tea dance!’ So he was serious—I took him seriously at that point.”

With a space available, Mason called up Jason Harris, who is a part of La Force, a DJ group that also includes Laura Taylor and Keith Johnson. “They spin at QDP every third Friday of the month,” Mason said, “and Jason has spun some parties and events for me. I met him for a beer at red door and told him our idea, and La Force jumped on board.”

“Now I needed help organizing the event,” Mason added, “and I thought of two people who are very good in the community with social events—Keith Hinkle and Gary Gaston. I called them and asked them to be a part of it. I met them for drinks and they both said it sounded like a fun idea and they wanted to help organize the event.” And thus the Sweet Tea Dance was born.

The hosts have added a charity component to the traditional tea dance model. “We decided to bring charities in to use the opportunity to fundraise, raise awareness, or whatever, while people are there having a good time,” Mason explained. “The first organization we brought it was Nashville CARES. Since then we’ve had the Brooks Fund, and we’ve had Pride.” OutCentral was featured at the party in August, and September will benefit the Grizzlies for the Bingham Cup.

Pride was an especially important event for the party, since they hosted what would become the closing party for Pride 2015, in the immediate aftermath of the same-sex marriage ruling. “When we suggested that our tea dance be part of Pride weekend, they didn’t have a closing party organized yet, and most Pride festivals do have a closing party so it was perfect for them.”

So far the event has been well-received, with attendance of over two hundred at each event. “Every event so far has been very successful, and we want to see it evolve and grow,” Mason said. “We have a signature drink. Mike is expanding on The Basement East, adding more deck space, so it’s gonna be even more fun.”

While the event does have a cover, it’s minimal ($3.00), and merely covers DJ costs. “We make no money off of this, this is just fun for us,” Mason explained. “We do all this work just so we can have a good time and charities can raise money and awareness.” So if you’re having a lazy fourth Sunday, you might want to head over to The Basement East and check it out.





Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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