Have you ever wondered how the iconic Tea Dance started and where its quirky name came from? The event’s history is actually quite interesting. Tea Dance evolved from the concept of afternoon tea and dated back to 1880 during the French colonization of Morocco.
In later years dancing and entertainment were incorporated, and the Tea Dance as we know it was born.
In its early days, it typically occurred during summer or autumn afternoons, or early-evening dances. The two different time periods were sometimes referred to as “low tea” and “high tea.”
In the late 60s Tea Dances started to become popular within gay culture, and Sundays became the most traditional day to stage the event.
Key West has been holding Tea Dances since the 1970s at venues including the late Atlantic Shores. Our temperate year-round weather means the island is an ideal spot to enjoy the outdoor affair all year long.
Tea Dance’s current “home,” La Te Da at 1125 Duval St., has been a trendy meeting place for the LGBT community since the late ‘70s. The property is a popular hotel, restaurant, bar and also includes a cabaret room with nightly entertainment.
These days, Tea Dance takes place poolside from 4 to 6:30 p.m. each Sunday, attracting revelers of all ages who dance and enjoy libations. The well-attended all-welcome party offers outstanding dance music provided by local DJs Rude Girl and Molly Blue.
Christopher’s Restaurant at La Te Da opens immediately after Tea Dance, with scrumptious food to round out a night of dancing and entertainment. (Burning off some calories dancing means I can sometimes indulge in a guilt-free dessert made by the talented pastry chef.)
Tea’s DJ Rude Girl is also a well-known and admired morning anchor for Key West radio station WEOW 92.7. Recently Rudey, a longtime island resident and entertainer, offered some insights on the beloved Tea Dance.
Keys Voices: Why do you think Tea Dance has become such a community tradition?
Rude Girl: I believe Tea Dance is — like we say in our live ads for La Te Da — a “town hall meeting with drinking and dancing.” The camaraderie amongst people, gay and straight, locals and visitors, older and young, is nothing short of electric. I really don’t know the complete “why,” except to say that the purposes of Tea Dance are to meet and bond with friends, make new friends, dance till you drop, and have fun.
KV: What elements make it so popular with locals and visitors?
RG: We have formed even more than the aforementioned camaraderie — the feeling is more like family than anything else. There isn’t a week that goes by without hugs and kisses and lots of smiles and laughter.
KV: How long have you lived in Key West and been working as a DJ?
RG: I have been DJ’ing, along with my on-air partner-in-crime Molly Blue, for over 20 years — almost the entire time I have resided here. We began “back in the day” at Atlantic Shores, following in the footsteps of DJs DDT, Dale and others. When La Te Da picked Tea Dance back up, we filled in when DJ Junior (who is SO missed) was on vacation.
KV: What atmosphere do you try to create with your DJ’ing?
RG: Our aim is to make sure we have a musical appeal to a really broad spectrum of people. We mix up old-school disco dance music with current remixes of new songs. As long as the beat is happy and makes your feet move, it’s on. Suffice it to say, there’s a Rudey love affair with Tea Dance and I want to remain the “humble musical servant” as long as they’ll have me.
So next time you’re visiting Key West, come celebrate with Rude Girl, Molly Blue and the Tea Dance regulars — and transform your Sunday by having a “Tea-rrific” afternoon.
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