August 29, 2018 at 11:51 am EST | by Blake Chambers
Rehoboth’s Sundance party returns this weekend
Sundance 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

The Sundance dance party is a Rehoboth Beach Labor Day tradition. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Sundance 2018

 

Rainbow XXXI: In the Name of Love

 

Auction: Saturday, Sept. 1

 

7-10 p.m.

 

Dance: Sunday, Sept. 2

 

7 p.m.-2 a.m.

 

$80 for both events or $45 for one

 

Rehoboth Beach Convention Center

 

229 Rehoboth Ave.

 

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

 

302-227-5620

Sundance, the annual CAMP Rehoboth Labor Day weekend tradition, will be somewhat bittersweet this year.

Sundance 2018: Rainbow XXXI: In the Name of Love” will be held this weekend to benefit CAMP Rehoboth in memory of the late Steve Elkins, who died in March from lymphoma. He was 67.

Steve Elkins, CAMP Rehoboth, gay news, Washington Blade

The late Steve Elkins (left) with husband Murray Archibald. The two founded Sundance more than 30 years ago. Elkins died in March. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sundance was created by CAMP Rehoboth founders Elkins and his husband Murray Archibald in response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Archibald had been Elkins’ husband and partner for 40 years at the time of Elkins’ death. They decided to make Sundance a dance party with the purpose of raising money for AIDS charities. Archibald said in an article of a recent issue of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth that many people were dying and there was no treatment for AIDS at the time.

“It was 1988. We were losing friends left and right. We were still living in New York in those days but spending a lot of time down here,” Archibald says. “It was terrible, and we wanted to do something. It was our 10th anniversary party, Steve and mine, and everybody in our house down here wanted to do something. And I said, well, we wanted to make it a fundraiser. We did a lot of events actually back then — dance events — so we thought that would be a great way to make money.”

The Sundance Auction will be held on Saturday, Sept. 1 with an open bar, food by Plate Catering, music by Stephen Strasser and silent and live auctions. On Sunday, Sept. 2, there will be a dance party from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. with an open bar, Joe Gauthreaux as DJ and special guest Studio 54/Saint DJ Robbie Leslie. Both events will be held at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.

There was no auction the first year; it was added the second year. Initially, the auction happened right before the dance, but a couple years later, the auction and dance were separated into different events. Sundance has always been held on Labor Day weekend and has become a tradition.

Sundance has received an increasing amount of support and sponsorship over the years, raising more than $2 million overall.

“It’s grown. It just keeps growing. It has for years,” Archibald says. “We have tremendous community support for it. I think its growth is probably the main thing and the support that it gets. The way we’ve raised money has changed. For a good while, it was only AIDS work, and a lot of it went to Sussex County AIDS Council and helped them stay afloat.”

Archibald says when CAMP got started, its volunteers quickly began expanding AIDS services they were doing and started splitting the money raised from Sundance between CAMP and the Sussex County AIDS Council. By the time the Sussex County AIDS Council closed, CAMP was doing a lot of AIDS work and other kinds of health-related work. The money raised from Sundance has been used for CAMP Rehoboth for years now. Archibald said Sundance raised $6,000 its first year and now raises around $120,000-125,000 per year.

Elkins and Archibald have advocated for LGBT rights in Rehoboth for decades. There was tension between the gay and straight communities in the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s, with one group in town that started a campaign with bumper stickers that read, “Keep Rehoboth A Family Town.” In response, Elkins and Archibald decided to open CAMP Rehoboth, looking to promote inclusion for all.

“During the ‘80s, Rehoboth had grown tremendously as a gay resort. Gay people had been coming here for a long time,” Archibald says. “During that time, there was the Strand, which was controversial because of its location. It was open for seven years. It was a huge club. The Renegade was just outside of town. Those were two big dance clubs, and we had people coming, the crowds had gotten bigger. Everything had changed in that decade.”

Elkins and Archibald wanted to ease stress and build bridges. They developed CAMP Rehoboth with the mindset that it would work within the community, making the decision to not be “in your face” or “radical.” They wanted to work with people. Elkins and Archibald started using the language of making Rehoboth a place with “room for all.” Archibald said that when Elkins died earlier this year, the press was using that language to describe CAMP Rehoboth, showing that it worked.

The influence that Elkins and Archibald have had over the years can be seen on a statewide level, with then-Gov. Jack Markell adding sexual orientation to Delaware’s anti-discrimination law in 2009, which was signed by Markell at CAMP Rehoboth on Elkins’ birthday. Additionally, Elkins and the current president of the CAMP Rehoboth Board of Directors, Chris Beagle, testified in support of the legalization of civil unions in Delaware in 2011.

On July 1, 2013, Beagle and his husband, Eric Engelhart, decided to have their wedding ceremony at the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center because they wanted to make the occasion a celebration for the entire community. Beagle and Engelhart were selected to be the first same-sex couple to marry in Sussex County by then Sussex County Justice of the Peace, John Brady, after the legalization of same-sex marriage in Delaware.

“I gave several press interviews immediately after Steve’s passing in March, and in virtually every one of them I mentioned that I’ve had many proud moments representing CAMP Rehoboth over the years here on the board,” Beagle says. “Next to marrying my husband, Eric Engelhart, on the stage of the CAMP Community Center on July 1, 2013, my other proudest moment was testifying with Steve Elkins for the civil union legislation in 2011. He was a mentor to me in many ways, and he will always have a very special place in my heart for the leadership and difference he made in my life, and countless others. So many of us wouldn’t enjoy the life we have here today, and the protections we’re entitled too, if not for Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald.”

Beagle began volunteering for Sundance in 2006, making this his 13th year helping put it together. He has mostly worked with the decor crew and set-up team, along with Archibald and other key volunteers, many of whom have been helping Archibald for 20 years or more. Beagle also co-founded the Sundance 5k in 2010.

“It amazes us every year how Murray is able to create a visual masterpiece celebrating the particular theme of the year,” Beagle says. “A true camaraderie has evolved over these many years, and it has become a type of family reunion for many of us, something we all cherish very much. And nothing beats the sense of gratification we all share as the auction doors open at 7 p.m. The crowds start pouring in and we see the look of awe and amazement in their faces. At that moment, we know we’ve done good work.”

Natalie Moss began volunteering at CAMP Rehoboth in 1991. Moss has served as treasurer for both CAMP Rehoboth and the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center Project. She is also auction co-chair of Sundance and has been helping with the event for 28 years.

“We send out letters to all the businesses and ask them for donations. Then, we have callers and picker uppers that follow up on the letters and run around town to pick the stuff up,” Moss says. “We have a lot of individual people, as well as businesses, that give us stuff.”

Once the donations for the auction are brought to CAMP, Moss goes through them and lists them on spreadsheets. Once that’s done, the donations are brought over to the convention center where another team of volunteers displays them on the floor. Moss oversees the team that tallies the auction sheets. CAMP made the decision to use old-fashioned bid sheets because they want people to enjoy themselves and to not take away from their experience by them looking at their phones trying to bid on something.

“We get some really, really fun stuff. A lot of quirky things, games, books, glassware,” Moss says. “And the businesses give us gift certificates to restaurants — gift certificates for dinners and lunches and breakfast. Once it’s displayed, it looks beautiful.”

The Sundance auction will also have artwork, jewelry and a 60-inch TV among other things that will be up for bid. Moss says Sundance all comes together with the help of about 200 volunteers and the result has the appearance of a “fabulous-looking disco.”

The Sundance auction started 30 years ago. Organizers have intentionally kept it low tech — all the bidding takes place with paper and pen. (Photo courtesy CAMP Rehoboth)

Moss says working with Elkins was great and that everyone on the Sundance team had their role. She said Elkins did a lot behind the scenes. Elkins would run out and get whatever the Sundance team needed. He would negotiate with the liquor store to get more tonic and mixes, order lunches, pick up the lunches and did some computer work, which included printing pictures for the live auction. Moss said Elkins did everything to make sure the volunteers were taken care of.

“I used to be down here a lot, like I am now, and I’d have the music on. He was a very good singer, he had a very good voice. He used to sing in church. He would come down here and sing to me all the time, so I miss that,” Moss says. “So, Murray came in the other day. I said, ‘Are you going to sing to me?’ and he said, ‘No, you don’t want me to sing to you.’”

Monica Parr, who serves as CAMP Rehoboth’s administrative coordinator, is helping organize Sundance for her fourth year. She is managing the volunteers needed for the front-end production. Parr is working alongside Archibald taking over some of Elkins’ tasks.

“It was a joy to work with Steve. I knew Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald long before I began working at CAMP Rehoboth. I was a volunteer for Sundance almost from the beginning,” Parr says. “Steve was one of a kind. He was the kindest and most generous man you would ever meet. He would make sure that everyone felt welcome at CAMP, and at any event that CAMP Rehoboth sponsored. He will be truly missed.”

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