Tea dance

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A tea dance in progress somewhere in the West End of London, a violinist plays in the foreground, spring 1941

A tea dance, or thé dansant (French: literally dancing tea) is a summer or autumn afternoon or early-evening dance from four to seven, sometimes preceded in the English countryside by a garden party.[1] The function evolved from the concept of the afternoon tea, and J. Pettigrew traces its origin to the French colonization of Morocco.[2] Books on Victorian Era etiquette such as Party-giving on Every Scale (London, n.d. [1880]), included detailed instructions for hosting such gatherings. By 1880 it was noted "Afternoon dances are seldom given in London, but are a popular form of entertainment in the suburbs, in garrison-towns, watering-places, etc."[3] Tea dances were given by Royal Navy officers aboard ships at various naval stations, the expenses shared by the captain and officers, as they were shared by colonels and officers at barrack dances in mess rooms ashore. [4]

The usual refreshments in 1880 were tea and coffee, ices, champagne-cup and claret-cup, fruit, sandwiches, cake and biscuits. [5] Even after the introduction of the phonograph the expected feature was a live orchestra – often referred to as a palm court orchestra – or a small band playing light classical music. The types of dances performed during tea dances included Waltzes, Tangos and, by the late 1920s, The Charleston.[6]

The expenses of a seated supper, wine and candles associated with a ball were obviated by the tea dance, when a stiff waxed canvas dancing cloth strained over the drawing-room carpet was considered sufficient, rather than taking up the carpet and waxing the floor in preparation for dancing.[7] The dining-room served as the tea-room, with the dining-tables arranged at one end as a buffet. For the older generation a tea dance was a reception akin to an "at home". Floral decorations were modest.

Gay tea dances[edit]

The term, sometimes spelled T-dance or T dance, is also used within gay culture to designate similar dances: particularly those held on weekends (especially Sunday evenings) in nightclubs, or at the end of the day at gay resorts. Gay tea dances are also a prevalent featured event at circuit party festivals, where they are usually held outdoors and typically precede the indoor Sunday night 'closing party' of the festival. Gay tea dances have also become a major featured entertainment component on-board many gay-oriented cruises.

World records[edit]

There have been four World Record Tea Dances in recent times. In Glasgow in December 2008 408 dancers gained the record during the city's Winterfest celebrations. The programme of music for the event was provided by the Scottish swing dance band That Swing Sensation,[8] with dance hosts the Fly Right Dance Company.[9] The previous record was 195 couples, who danced in London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.

Subsequently, the Royal Opera House in London held a World Record attempt on 8 July 2010 in Trafalgar Square, with the unofficial total being 507 dancers.

Hot on the heels of the London event, Glasgow's George Square was the venue for the current official record on 12 September 2010.[10][11]

In popular culture[edit]

Tea dances are a common cultural reference in early 20th century fiction as a staple of genteel society, where people normally attend these receptions while visiting resort towns (like Brighton, the Hamptons, Provincetown, or Ogunquit). One example can be seen in the 1925 hit Broadway musical No, No, Nanette. A tea dance provides the setting for the plot's climax when the main characters travel to Atlantic City (the same musical also features the famous song "Tea for Two" which is sung prior to this scene).

In the United States, the term has been broadened to refer to any casual afternoon dance event. An infamous example was the 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City, Missouri, that occurred during an afternoon dance which killed 114 people and injured 200. The incident inspired the song "Rockin' at the T-Dance" by The Rainmakers.

In the 1998 film Meet Joe Black the character Allison describes her wishes for her father's birthday party to be "Tea Dance 20's".

In season 4, episode 3 of the British television series Downton Abbey, ladies' maid Anna Bates accompanies Lady Rose MacClare to a "thé dansant" in the neighbouring city of York, where they are invited to dance the foxtrot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Party-giving on Every Scale, London, n.d. (1880), p 26f "Afternoon Dances".
  2. ^ Pettigrew, J., 2001. "Waltz Around a Tea Table." TeaMuse, [online]. July 2001.
  3. ^ Party-giving on Every Scale 1880:26.
  4. ^ Party-giving on Every Scale 1880:27, 28.
  5. ^ Party-giving on Every Scale 1880:29.
  6. ^ Pettigrew 2001.
  7. ^ Party-giving on Every Scale 18890:26f, 29.
  8. ^ That Swing Sensation, Glasgow swing dance band
  9. ^ Fly Right Dance Company, Scottish charitable dance company specialising in social dances of the 20th century
  10. ^ http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/4000/largest-tea-dance
  11. ^ World Tea Dance record Announcement

External links[edit]