Last January, my life changed within a haunted lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Just when I thought life couldn’t be weirder, sexier, more fabulous, or more fun, I fell down a rabbit hole and learned what it means to “French hard.”
It all happened at the first annual Winter Ball presented by Hard French, the wildly popular Saturday afternoon soul dance party at El Rio in San Francisco. The Winter Ball, which took place at the Brookdale Lodge near Santa Cruz, was my first-ever Hard French experience, and I was immediately enchanted by the energy, style, and diversity of the crowd on the dance floor. It was the first time I truly felt like I was in a space where gender and sexuality were fluid, and strict definitions of identity were outdated.
Inspired and invigorated by that night, I’ve become a regular at Hard French
parties. Last June,
I even got behind the scenes and helped promote the group’s epic Pride Party. And this year, you might’ve seen my moves on the dance floor at the second annual Winter Ball and the Second Anniversary bash. So just what is it about this party that makes me love it so? Hard French is San Francisco at its best. It’s a radically inclusive space that fosters community, personal expression, and some seriously wild dancing.
Hard French got started in 2010, when six friends with the dream of an afternoon soul party stumbled upon a lucky break. DJs Carnita and Brown Amy had been spinning soul together for a couple of years, but were still searching for a place where people really connected with their music. Meanwhile their pals, party promoters Devon Devine, Tina Faggotina, Jorge P., and Amos G. were also looking for a venue to create a truly original dance party. Although all six are queer, they weren’t looking to throw an explicitly queer party because they wanted it to be a place where everyone feels welcome. The dots all connected when Devon secured an afternoon spot at El Rio, DJ Carnita and Brown Amy’s dream venue. “It’s really special to have created a community around this music that we love,” DJ Carnita explains.
The name Hard French was born from an offhand comment by Tina Faggotina regarding his desire to French kiss a boy hard. Devon adds, “We call it Hard French because we want people to do it hard, and our crowd really brings it.” But Hard French has come to embody the spirit and diversity of the community, which is apparent from the answers the crew gave me when I asked each to explain what Hard French means to them:
So what can you expect at a Hard French Saturday El Rio party? Expect to eat BBQ, drink beer, dance with babes, and be reminded of how awesome it is to be alive. One of my favorite HF moments took place before the mayoral elections. Then-mayoral candidate Supervisor John Avalos joined a group of drag queens and DJs to judge a dance competition. Eventually, it was down to two dancers. I held my breath as these two went at it with an unmatched passion. It was without a doubt the best dancing I’d ever seen. And I wasn’t alone in being impressed – in the end, both dancers were awarded the grand prize.
Going to a Hard French party always gives me an incredible feeling of connectedness. Dancing with the crowd always makes me grateful that I call San Francisco home. People need reasons to dress up and excuses to get weird. At Hard French, it’s not surprising to find yourself exploring a haunted lodge in a sequined dress, or to catch your straight friend making out with a drag queen. Hard French is there to remind you that life, at it’s best, is absurd and passionate. And that is a beautiful thing.
Join the dazzling spectacle the first Saturday of the month at El Rio, as well as special parties, like Hard French, Pride and Folsom Street parties.
Photos by Courtney Trouble and Cabure Bonugli