Under the Sun

How Arizona DJ Quinton Jenkins Founded a Gay Dance Tent

A DJ by any other name: Quinton Jenkins is also DJ Nathan Quinn.
A DJ by any other name: Quinton Jenkins is also DJ Nathan Quinn. Quinton Jenkins

“I travel the planet living the good life,” Quinton Jenkins explained last week. “I love this. I am the guy who’s been a serial entrepreneur, something beyond what others thought was possible for me.”

He meant his various careers as a print and runway model, a professional dancer, and a nightclub manager. Lately, he's better known as the DJ Nathan Quinn, who's gearing up to play dance records at next week’s Gay Pride event.

“But most recently,” he admitted, “what I mostly am is very slightly jet-lagged.”

Jenkins had just returned to Sedona, where he lives part of the year, from his home in Spain. He admitted that travel occasionally worked his nerves.

“But it’s worth it to be home in Arizona,” he said. “We first came to Phoenix in 1968. My parents and I lived first on the south side, where we hovered just long enough for me to finish eighth grade, and then it was off to Paradise Valley in 1971.”

After high school, Jenkins founded a dance troupe called The Cassettes and moonlighted at a local restaurant where his cheekbones were spotted by someone from Yves St. Laurent. “That led to my first professional dancing gig,” he said. “Everything happened right after that.”

That included a contract with Plaza Three Modeling Agency, where Jenkins taught men’s modeling courses in exchange for print and runway representation.

“I must spill some tea,” Jenkins said. “Helen Rogers owned Plaza Three, and she found out that I was dancing at Casa de Roma on weekends. She took me aside and said she couldn’t have one of her models working at a gay bar. She was at that bar most days having martinis for lunch with the owner, and yet poo-pooing me for dancing there.”

Jenkins fled, signing first with tony L’Image Casablanca and later the Ford/Robert Black Agency, neither of which cared that he danced and choreographed at clubs both gay and straight.

“At Graham Central Station, we had an act called Angel and the Revealers that brought in 1,000 women every Thursday,” he boasted. “I was doing a dual thing, posing for pictures during the day and dancing in a G-string at night. But I also did runway shows, print shoots, voiceover work. In the 1980s, I was saying, ‘It should be possible for men of color to do what everyone else is doing.’”

Television people disagreed. On the ABC-TV dance program American Bandstand, Jenkins was regularly featured as one of the show’s “spotlight dancers.” But these bits never made it into the program’s final edit.

“Vicki, my dance partner, was white,” he explained. “They would show the white couples and the Latino couples, but they weren’t about to let a mixed-race couple get screen time.”

Jenkins complained to the television people. “It became a bit of a contentious legal battle. I won an out-of-court settlement, and that is all I am allowed to say about it. I signed something, you see.”

American Bandstand had its rewards. Jenkins worked with music legends Charro, KC and The Sunshine Band, Debbie Harry, and Viola Wills.

“I danced behind them,” he said. “I got to meet them and share with them, and they were very thankful that I would illustrate their music through dancing.”

He’s been working the other side of the dance floor since the early 1990s.

“Modeling was great for me,” he said, “but I was working in a state that didn’t appreciate African American males. I got a lot of international stuff, but here in town I would do shoots for PetSmart or Smitty’s or Bashas' that only paid $25 an hour for a shoot. The big campaigns weren’t coming. You must recall that we didn’t have a black supermodel until Tyson Beckford. I needed something that paid a bankable check, so I took a job as entertainment director of a nightclub in Sedona.”

That led to more DJing and the birth of Jenkins’ alter ego, Nathan Quinn.

“When I spun records, I used the name DJ Quintessential,” he explained. “I would play old school, new school, I could switch genres. That was what my fan base said was my musical ear. I went to Amsterdam, and I got an agent there and he abbreviated my name to DJ Q. I said, ‘Let me come up with something that will be forever mine.’ So I took my second name, Nathan, and shortened it and made my last name Quinn, short for Quinton. It means ‘He who speaks the truth.’”

In 2004, Jenkins’ friend Kevin Andrews booked a tent at Phoenix’s annual Gay Pride event to promote his sound and lighting company. He asked Jenkins to come play music.

“The Pride people said, ‘If you think people will dance inside a tent when it’s 100 degrees outside, have at it.’ And that’s how the Gay Pride dance tent was born.”

The Pride people also booked nationally renowned DJs The WonderTwinz to play records that first year.

“Those two shady MFs,” Jenkins sneered. “They were like, ‘Oh no, girl, we can’t possibly come out until 5 or 6 p.m., because who’s gonna come out at noon to dance?’ It cracked their faces when I had 200 people on the floor at high noon. I still laugh about this, you must know.”

Recently an old beau of Jenkins referred to him as a professional bon vivant, which amused him.

“My friends used to call me a lounge act,” he said, then snickered. “And I would always correct them. I would say, ‘No, darlings. I am a tremendously successful lounge act.’”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela