Dancers’ Group: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance


To help celebrate Dancers’ Group’s 30th anniversary this year, we have reached out to people to share a special remembrance. Throughout 2012 this publication will carry a few pieces per month, each telling a unique story of the impact our work has had on a variety of artists, educators, writers, and funders. These remembrances paint a remarkable portrait of a vital and relevant organization. This month’s iteration gives us three thoughtful pieces that recall events and performances that took place at our former studio from Jess Curtis, Stephen Pelton and Emily Keeler.
–Wayne Hazzard

Remembering Footwork
My first memories of Dancers’ Group are back in the last century when the organization was just called Footwork. Footwork was a place, the place where I discovered dance in the big city and Vernon Fuquay the guy that made Footwork happen. It was a place where I discovered dance in the big city. It was a space with beautiful hardwood floors and tiny dressing rooms where you had to be careful not to bump into the folding chairs or the whole pile would slip down and make a big clattery mess. I remember, in 1984, driving down from Chico, California to try to take my first professional modern dance class and peering into this big sweaty room where all the groovy jazz dancers in Ed Mock’s class were moving super fast and dancing in ways I had only dreamed of; parachute nylon sweat pants rolled up to their knees and down to their pubic bones. Everyone hot and sexy, at least to a 22-year-old kid from Chico.

Footwork was the place were I took class from Lucas Hoving every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, before running down to 24th and Mission to Third Wave Dance studio (now Dance Mission) for rehearsal and comp class with Lucas and then back to Footwork on Tuesday and Thursday to take class from Joan Lazarus after riding my motorcycle over to take the early ballet class from Alonzo up on Market at Church.

In the evenings Footwork became a theater; in 1989 some young, former Margaret Jenkins dancer named Joe Goode was trying his hand at choreography making a piece that was a hybrid of dance, theater and installation called The Disaster Series. I’ll always remember Joe with a watering can pouring water into a little Diorama saying “Anything can happen! Anything can happen!” (You might also have seen a young dancer named Wayne Hazzard on stage in that work.) Or, you might have found yourself another time seeing that funny young tattooed SF newcomer Sarah Michelson, with her sassy accent, sharing a wacky evening of witty and sarcastic talky dancing with long and lanky Jon Weaver.

Footwork was occasionally a site for a birthday party too; a ‘holotropic’ (ecstatic re-birthing) breathing circle with Joseph Kramer one year for Keith Hennessy’s birthday; another year, for mine, 12 men on ecstasy, drumming (quietly of course) into the night sharing stories of transitioning from our 20s into our 30s. I remember crawling inside a six-foot long drum that (Contraband Musical Director) Norman Rutherford made from a PVC tube that was slowly being beaten while they all chanted my name. Ahhhh, the nineties…..

A few years later Footwork was the setting for the celebration of Anna Halprin’s 75th year (she was just a kid back then). Several friends and I took part in a re-staging of Parades and Changes and I discovered what an amazing charismatic genius and force
of nature she was.

Of course the dot-com boom changed the face of the city and with it Dancers’ Group lost that beautiful room, but not without a bit of a fight; a sit-in and occupation with free workshops to the community. I haven’t been back in there since Abada Capoeira took the place over, but I often ride by and look up at those windows and am happy to know that sweaty bodies are still up there dancing in and amongst my earliest memories of being a dancer in San Francisco.

–Jess Curtis, Choreographer, Director, Performer and Teacher: currently divides his time between San Francisco, Davis and Berlin

Just Relax and Laugh
One night, early on in my time in San Francisco [1991], I was performing on a mixed bill at the old Dancers’ Group/Footwork space on 22nd Street. It was one of those casual, low-tech evenings they used to host probably monthly. I was up next, in “the wings” which was actually just the hallway, getting ready to perform some deeply serious, deeply personal solo of mine or other; something that I thought took immense concentration, focus and soul searching to bring off. But onstage before me was Grace Walcott performing an excerpt from her one-woman show in which her breasts, after having had enough scrutiny and unwanted attention from men, became lethal weapons, shooting and killing anyone who looked at them the wrong way. (Well, they were quite an eyeful.) She was so hysterical that I lost my concentration, forgot what I was supposed to be focusing on and just laughed and laughed for her whole 15 minutes. I went on stage still smiling and gave the best run of the piece that I had ever done. I didn’t need to focus, I didn’t need to dig deep–I’d already done that in rehearsal. I needed to relax–I needed to laugh.

In a way, this is a good analogy for what Dancers’ Group is all about. They take care of many of the stresses that can get in your way when you’re trying to show up for a rehearsal or performance and just do your work–they help you relax and just be present for the task at hand. And with Wayne and his fabulous team at the helm, you always have a good laugh doing it, too!

I love the above snap of my soon-to-be collaborator, the playwright Brian Thorstenson, and me taken at the Dancers’ Group/Footwork Studio closing party in August 2000. The building had been sold so we all spent the party scrawling love notes and anti-capitalist messages on the walls. Above us, someone has written THIEVES, an attack on the high-rollers who had bought the building out from under us. Well they may have got the building, but that didn’t stop Dancers’ Group or the dance community and I’m pretty sure it was us who got the last laugh! Thanks DG!!

–Stephen Pelton, choreographer

As Footwork: A Space for All
Happy Birthday and thank you Dancers’ Group! I raise my glass to you.

In honor of this auspicious birthday I would like to remember Dancers’ Group’s space called Footwork where I was a student, dancer, choreographer, producer, teacher, audience member, mother, friend and the space served as an artistic home to me in the eighties and continued to be an important place for me until their move away.

In the early eighties Footwork was lovingly renovated by my friends Aaron Osborn, Vernon Fuquay and Wayne Hazzard. This former home of Dance Spectrum was transformed from two very funky studios (which I remember always smelled of patchouli oil when Carlos Carvajal and his troupe was there) into one large space, which served for both classes and performances. Lights were hung; a booth was made; the low ceiling torn out exposing the beams. After a few coats of paint, the arched windows were apparent for the first time. It was never a theater exactly, there were chairs placed on risers for performances, it was like that, but it was an elegant space they were making with changes coming incrementally but regularly, as the money would become available. And it was a beautiful space, our space (many felt this way), to make and show work; to be seen to be in conversation with other artists. It was available to us for little money, (usually we split the door,) and we grew as artists because of it.

As a choreographer: I choreographed and produced some of the first concerts there with Aaron, with Linda Fowler, and with artist Sandra Kazanjian.

As a dancer: I studied along with many other devoted students at Footwork with Aaron, our Limon technique teacher. Before each of his classes many of us also took his Zena-Rommett style floor barre classes, which he taught with zeal, humor and painstaking care. We found our way there daily before our afternoon rehearsals. At that time I was dancing and choreographing for The Moving Company, and Aaron for years was our de facto company teacher and sometime rehearsal director for my work.

I auditioned in that studio years later for Joe Goode’s first company and the first concerts we gave of his were there. Joe’s Big Linda was performed all over the building, (a harbinger of many of Joe’s site specific pieces that were to come) in the big and small studios, tiny closet (with the three-d map of Montana on which I trod!) lobby and roof. It was an ambitious and innovative piece and was among other things a valentine to that space.

The studio later was home to Joe’s classes and summer workshops to which I returned several times after I was no longer dancing for him. I remember work that we made in the big studio but also in the lobby, on the stairs, in the window casements.

As mother: My daughter, Simone was introduced to Footwork first as babe in arms for DanceArt’s concert there (Claire Whistler and Duncan McFarland were that duet company for whom I had made many dances.) They made a piece for us when she was six months old and she gazed boldly out at the audience from my arms, or so I am told! When I was dancing for Joe, I remember she would come before concerts while we warmed up on the floor, coming up to many of the dancers, Greg Gibble, Wayne and the two Liz’s (Carpenter and Buritt ) for a little conversation or a kiss. She returned to the studio at eight years old when Joe directed us in two pieces based on the Margaret Wise Brown books for the New Shoes Old Souls concerts produced by Linda Rawlings. Simone also performed around that time with Kathleen Moore in Michael Koob’s beautiful piece made for the Angel Island series entitled Paper Work, for Asian American Dance Performances.

As audience: There were many unforgettable concerts my husband Stephen Goldstine and I attended at Footwork. Some of them we still speak of. Either self-presented or part of one of the festivals Footwork ably produced, we saw the fearless Elizabeth Steb, Tim Miller, fresh from the “NEA four” controversy, the cool and elegant Jan Van Dyke company, Lucas Hoving in the stunning memoir piece directed by Remy Charlip, and Joe, pre-company in a piece made around a table with his beguiling actress sister, Molly Goode.

As producer: As Artistic Director for San Francisco Arts Education Project (SFArtsED) I produced our first summer camp there with Camille Olivier-Salmon. That summer was the beginning of almost twenty years of summer camps we now hold in San Francisco Unified School District Schools around the city for the performing and visual arts. SFArtsED has been the grateful recipient of one of the many regranting programs of Dancers’ Group in the recent past. The direct, no nonsense way that this funding is administered is a testament to the years of experience and solidarity Dancers’ Group has had with arts and educational organizations.

Footwork/Dancers’ Group was conceived and nurtured by four extraordinary people–Vernon, Aaron, Wayne and Joe. And the work goes on with Wayne at the helm with his young staff. There was a wonderful past that shaped me among many others, there is this vibrant, generous present and (glass still aloft) here’s to their bright and abundant future! Bravo.

–Emily Keeler, artistic director at San Francisco Arts Education Project

This article appeared in the March 2012 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.