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Circuit Part
ies

"Since the beginning of recorded history the male members of the species have joined
together in ritual dance.  Adorned, semi-naked with rhythm instruments, they used
this tribal rite to celebrate their gods and themselves."
-
from The Saint 1980-81 opening season membership invitation -
 

 

Southern Decadence
SOUTHERN DECADENCE

 

Halloween Weekend in New Orleans
HALLOWEEN NEW ORLEANS

 

Mardi Gras in New Orleans
GAY MARDI GRAS

 

 

 

 


For many, the gay party scene revolves around "The Circuit" -- an ongoing series of events held in virtually every major urban area throughout the country and, in recent years, the world.

The circuit party as we know it today evolved from the rave scene, which reached its peak of popularity in the mid-1990s.  However, many people attribute the very first officially-organized circuit party to Corbett Reynolds, an Ohio-based artist. In 1977, he created an event that he named "The Red Party," which was held each year just outside of Columbus, Ohio.  On its 25th anniversary year in 2001, Mr. Reynolds passed away and his estate decided to retire The Red Party as a concept.  A new event called The Chrome Party was formed as a replacement.

It should also be remembered that it wasn't all that long ago that gay boys, men and their friends were unable to dance together in public.  Accordingly, many of the roots of today's circuit events and related activities derived from the gay community's struggle for equality and civil rights...what some would call the "gay pride" movement.  In addition, many events were founded to help combat the AIDS epidemic, as a vehicle to promote awareness and raise much needed money.
     
One of the common elements of circuit party events is a very large group of predominantly male attendees.  Often referred to as "circuit boys" ... recognizable by their gym bodies, usually hairless to accentuate the definition.  The bigger world-wide events can attract upwards of 30,000 participants.  And costumes can be quite elaborate, such as those found at Halloween New Orleans.

There can be one or multiple DJs presiding over the party ... and the DJs rule.   Music genres vary depending on the event. There is extensive lighting and decor in line with the event's theme.  More often than not there are live music performances by a Diva, elaborate stage productions, and the requisite dose of accoutrement -- glow sticks, flashing lights and other toys.  Many of these events are produced as fund-raising efforts for local HIV and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations. Others are produced as for-profit events, with the promoter often (but not always) making a donation to selected charitable causes.

And because shirts are removed almost immediately, preparing for a circuit party can require quite a bit of dedication.  For many it usually involves a serious workout regimen, multiple tanning sessions, exfoliation programs and a strict diet.

The location of circuit parties has evolved over the past two decades. Today in larger cities, nightclubs create a circuit feel on a regular basis. Examples would be Crobar in New York City and The Bourbon Pub in New Orleans.  But by-and-large, a given circuit party is an annual event held in a particular location, consisting of a block of nightly events staged at venues throughout the locale during a single weekend. There are mega-events (like Black & Blue Weekend in Montreal and White Party Week in Palm Springs), regional events (such as Fireball in Chicago and Blue Ball in Philadelphia). Then there are hybrid events that have a significant circuit party component (like Southern Decadence and the Gay Mardi Gras in New Orleans). And in recent years, all-gay cruises have become increasingly popular, with itineraries such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Alaska.  Atlantis Events and RSVP are the two most popular all-gay cruise companies.

An example may help illustrate the mega-event concept. The White Party held over Easter weekend in Palm Springs begins with an "early-bird" party on Thursday night. Friday has the kick-off event. Saturday boasts The White Party itself. Sunday has a sunset Tea Dance, followed by the closing party event. And sprinkled between all of these are daily pool parties at the various hotels.
 

A hybrid event like Southern Decadence during Labor Day weekend in New Orleans begins on Thursday with Chi Chi LaRue's annual kick off event. There are dance parties held at The Bourbon Pub on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The street party continues non-stop around the clock, with an occasional outdoor performance by a singing Diva. The culmination is Sunday's street festival, with a parade that meanders throughout the French Quarter.

Major fund-raising circuit party events are generally organized by a volunteer committee, whose responsibilities include scheduling the DJs and entertainment, coordinating the advertising campaign, and arranging sponsors and promotional partnerships with travel companies and the media. Some events have a single driving force behind the efforts, while others have a rather large group of "hosts" that basically underwrite the events' hard costs (like Halloween New Orleans), so that virtually all money raised may be donated to selected charities. It simply depends on the scope and purpose of the event. It is safe to say that regardless of who is calling the shots, most events depend on a small cadre of volunteer soldiers to make things proceed smoothly.

You may ask just what goes on at a circuit party. Well, putting fund raising purposes aside, the events are essentially a reason for thousands of gay men to descend on a community, and convert the community's facilities (such as civic centers, auditoriums, hotel ball rooms, naval ships, etc.) into a party space for the night.  The "circuit" is no doubt a fast-paced, beauty-oriented, glamorous and drug-laced world....but it is not all drugs and sex. Veteran circuit aficionados will suggest that it is about the sheer joy and empowerment, the fun, making new friends, jetting away to a new locale and bumping into people that they have come to know from around the nation. Also important is the dancing with thousands of like-minded people, to the music of some of the world's best DJs.

It's not perfectly clear why so many gay men simply love dance music and large dance parties.  It could be the total release for those that so often must suppress their innate emotions and feelings in their day-to-day life.   Maybe it is just that most gay men love to have a good time.  But perhaps actor Gene Kelley summed it up best in a line from the classic That's Dancing: "Long before the dawn of history...long before he could sing or even speak, man danced. Moving to his own internal rhythms. The pounding of his heart, the beating of his pulse. Primitive man discovered dance. It is within us...always!"

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