Roslindale Neighbors: Tea dance for the GLBT community revived in Rozzie this spring

Courtesy Photo
More than 150 people turned out for “Back to Basics” organized by Rick Ward and Harrison Carmichael at Robyn’s Bar and Grill on Washington Street last month.

A tradition for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) community—the Sunday tea dance—has come back this spring to Roslindale Village.

Roslindale residents Rick Ward and his partner Harrison Carmichael often remembered the anticipation of Sunday afternoons when the gay community flocked to what were euphemistically called “tea dances” in Boston in the 1980s and 1990s. Tea dance featured the music of the day with DJs spinning disco, top 40 and other dance hits to huge crowds, usually at bars. Friends met, new friendships were made, and dancing to the biggest hits always drew large crowds at tea dance.

With Boston’s Sunday tea dance missing from the GLBT social scene, Ward, with event promotion experience, and Carmichael, an armchair disc jockey, decided to do something about it.

Their first of a series of tea dances called “Back to Basics” was held on April 26 at Robyn’s Bar and Grill in Roslindale Village and attended by more than 150 men and women. DJ Harrison played songs the crowd remembered, and Ward greeted everyone at the door.

Earlier this year, Ward and Carmichael made a proposal to Anne and Michael Reddington, owners of Robyn’s, to offer their venue for tea dances for men and women of the GLBT community once a month. The Reddingtons accepted. The plan was to test the idea on April 26 and evaluate the event on a monthly basis.

Ward and Carmichael’s dream to bring tea dance back to Boston met some obstacles—like getting the word out, designing a flyer and the fact that Robyn’s did not have a dance floor.

“We had to convince the owners of Robyn’s Bar and Grill that they had to have a dance floor for a monthly tea dance event to be successful,” Carmichael said.

The two were so determined to make the tea dance happen, they donated funds to Robyn’s to help defray the cost of renting a portable dance floor for the first tea dance.

Ward’s brother, Bob, also a Roslindale resident, created digital and hard-copy flyers that were integral in promoting the event. An e-mail list to promote the tea dance had been in the works for three years with the promotion of Ward’s Sloof Lirpa (that’s April Fools spelled backwards) Party, an annual GLBT event held around April Fool’s Day. The Sloof Lirpa Party grew from 75 attendees in the first year in 2007 to this year’s event, also held at Robyn’s, which had about 125 in attendance. Proceeds from that party were used to rent the dance floor.

With three years to collect e-mail addresses, a wide network of friends, social media networks and post-ings on e-mail list serves, like the JP Men’s Group, word got out about the new monthly tea dance for GLBT folks in the community.
Because there was no RSVP on the promotional materials, Ward and Carmichael said they had no idea how many people would show up for first tea dance. When the day came, the temperature was above 80 degrees, and, they said, they began to think no one would come because of the gorgeous weather. By 5 p.m., the crowd started arriving. They realized after the event that they were not the only ones longing to bring back tea dance—there was a whole community wanting to remember the fun times from Sundays long gone.

“We were thrilled to see so many people come to the first tea dance and feel certain that the crowds will only get larger,” Ward said.

When asked why they chose Robyn’s as the venue and why hold the tea dance in Roslindale, Ward explained that as a member of the Roslindale Village Main Street board of directors, he wanted to do what he could do to help promote Roslindale as a destination, not only to dine and shop in, but also as a place to live.

He said the Roslindale area has a burgeoning gay and lesbian population. Many of these GLBT residents have come from traditionally gay neighborhoods such as the South End, Cambridge and Jamaica Plain. The higher cost of housing in those communities has made Roslindale more attractive, Ward said. Showcasing the business district to potential shoppers and residents was part of the objective in holding the tea dances in Roslindale Village. Robyn’s is a venue that is gay-friendly and able to accommodate large crowds, he added.

Also, the price of going into town for entertainment continues to increase, so staying local is becoming more desirable to many folks in the Roslindale area, Ward maintained. “Supporting local establishments has become sexier, and community sustainability has taken on a new meaning and importance.”

Back to Basics tea dances will continue on Sun., May 31 and June 28 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Robyn’s Bar and Grill, 4195 Washington St. in Roslindale Village.

DJ Carmichael will play mainstream house and top 40 dance music. There is no admission charge. Robyn’s is just under a mile from the Forest Hills MBTA station and accessible by any one of six bus lines that head to Roslindale Village via Washington Street. Parking is available on streets and in the Taft Hill Terrace pub-lic parking lot one block from Robyn’s (across from Wallpaper City). For more information, contact Ward at [email protected]

From press materials.

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