Fire Island is the oasis New York’s LGBTQ community flock to on the regular during the dog days of summer, and the Fourth of July is one of the crown jewel weekends in the season’s calendar. Not only because of the historical invasion that takes place on Independence Day every year, but also because of the “IndepenDance” that attracts hundreds near and far to one of the biggest and best house parties of the summer.
Every year, event producer Guy Smith and his crew of bohemian nightlife demigods create a party with a political satirical backbone to celebrate the Fourth of July, mocking our country’s establishment in a fun and fruity way.
On Saturday, July 6th, the event returns with a “Big House” theme, and we had the opportunity to talk to the flamboyant Smith about what makes this event so special, and why Fire Island is a such a grand place to celebrate our queer freedom.
Instinct: Why did IndepenDance originally begin?
Guy Smith: It began as a fundraiser in the 1990s for health care, as the Pines community was beginning to emerge from the AIDS epidemic, and the men of 161 Ocean Walk wanted to bring back the spectacular and opulent parties of the ’70s and ’80s. Later, some of those men moved to Reflections – the big white house on the Bay, and the parties got bigger and more lavish. It still carries on that tradition of being a spectacular benefit event, but now, since me and my bunch of friends have produced it, it’s become more over-the-top political satire than opulent.
What can people expect at this year’s event?
The party transitions from day into night, and it always begins as a high energy and sexy pool party, and as it gets darker and the lighting fires up, the house becomes a really spectacular dance club under the stars. It is the biggest house party on Fire Island and it’s always attracted the glitterati of our community, young and old, from all walks of life. The sound and the music will be on point, as will the lighting and the decor, and the party will have lots of little hidden gems and surprises.
What do you think is lacking in the LGBTQ community, and how does events like IndepeDance fill that void?
We as a community love to be social, and to show off, and have events where we come together and feel like one powerful organism for a purpose. When we band together and have a cathartic experience, we are able to change the world. I feel our parties should always have that in mind. Not just hooking up or getting messy, but actually being there for each other and making the world better for everyone. No one can do that like our community. We are really special that way.
How has LGBTQ nightlife changed since you began working in it? How is it the same?
I began working in the superclubs of the early 1990s, when creativity and grandeur were the norm. We had clubs like USA, and Avalon Boston, and Palladium, and Roxy, Twilo, Limelight, Sound Factory, and so many clubs that had a cohesive culture that revolved around fashion and art and… well, moments. People came to expect huge sound, huge lighting installations, and crowds that made outfits to wear just to one party to showcase their talents. And there was sometimes some take-a-way moment, some spectacular point where the music and lights and crowd all came together and felt as one, and they would talk about it for years after. That’s what really inspired me to become part of that world.
What are the charities who will benefit from Saturday’s event?
The prime beneficiary is the Pines Care Center, which provides free health care to anyone in the Pines who should get injured or fall ill. It is a full service clinic located in Whyte Hall, the community center, and is staffed every day by a rotation of really amazing doctors. Elinor, the charge nurse there, makes sure everyone who comes in is cared for. Since we are a barrier island, there’s no easy way to get to a hospital, so this is really a necessary service.
What is so special about celebrating the Fourth of July in Fire Island?
Fire Island is really an expression of our free society as Americans. We have been an oppressed minority for centuries, and had literally no human rights to speak of when the island became a sort of secret gay and lesbian enclave back in the 1940s, a place to meet and be ourselves. As such, it has become a community about self-expression. People come to Fire Island to fly their freak flag on the highest pole. It’s about gender bending, and over-the-top looks, and a place to show them off and be with people who appreciate that sort of behavior. As we say, it’s our little sand bar five miles off the back of reality. You can be as naked or clothed as you want, and you can be as outrageous as your imagination will allow.