25 years ago Chris Ricciotti, the Queen Mum, (as you can see by this picture) decided to start this dance. For the first dance in Sept 1988 12 people came; two weeks later there were 24. The idea of the dance was to provide a way that gay and lesbian people could partner safely with a member of the same gender. Now we regularly get 50-60 people. Out of this dance came weekend dance camps - continuing twice a year - and some gender free dance series in other locations. The idea of the dance was to provide a way that gay and lesbian people could partner safely with a member of the same gender. An article about the history of this dance is here.
When the dance series started, the traditional terminology of gents and ladies was used by the caller. Several years later some people objected to that and the idea of having one role wear an arm band and the other having a bare arm was established and the terminology used is armbands and bare arms. These days arm bands are optional and often when worn are not on the arm. There was lots of discussion about this subject in some USENET groups and more recently there has been a lot in some FaceBook groups with some thoughts of changing it. Dances using this terminology regularly occur these days in Jamaica Plain (Boston), Montague MA, NYC, Atlanta, Berkeley and Oakland, and Chicago. In the past there have been some in other locations.
The JP group was original called the JP Gay and Lesbian Contra Dance, but now is called Boston Gender Free Contra Dance to reflect how it is done and that it is for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer folk and their allies.
I think that this whole story is another aspect of GLBTQ history and also this group's impact on regular dance series. For the past few years at the New England Folk Festival, a huge annual event, there is usually a gender free session and our group runs a Food Booth and we have lots of visibility. I go to lots of conventional dances; these days, at least in the New England area it seems perfectly acceptable for me to ask another man to dance with me; it is very rare that I get refused - that wasn't true a few years ago. I think this is a combination of the growing acceptability of GLBTQ people and also the impact that our presence has had on the dance community.