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.
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
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
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