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 various perspectives on our community, banding together, and shared legacy. Enjoy reading memories from Jill Togawa, Mary Carbonara, and Amara Tabor-Smith.

— Wayne Hazzard

Where Does The Time Go?
Thirty years ago I was just beginning to dance in the Bay Area and I loved climbing the stairs to take class in the big Footwork Studio with its lovely arched windows that looked out onto Mission Street. It reminded me of studios in New York where you could look out on everything below from a barre or in between turns across the floor. Ten years later when Purple Moon Dance Project presented its first work at Footwork we used those windows as backdrop for our publicity photos.

In a community that is sometimes fragmented, Wayne Hazzard has been a gatherer – a champion of our whole and he has so steadfastly nurtured dancers, choreographers and dance organizations over Dancers’ Group’s 30 year history, even during the years that he was not its leader.

When I unknowingly founded Purple Moon Dance Project in 1992, Wayne agreed to co-present us at Dancers’ Group’s space, called Footwork, on 22nd Street in San Francisco. Their small staff worked out of an even smaller ‘office’ that doubled as box office and reception area. DG set a high bar for presenters as they met our new group and others I observed since, at their own middle ground. Truly supporting artists presenting their work in the best possible light with respect and encouragement for their work and all the many things that go into producing it. Wayne helped me with everything from scheduling rehearsal space, getting our first bulk mailing out, to handling reservations for our two-weekend run, and calling me to let me know we were sold out before our first night! I wonder how differently Purple Moon’s beginning might have been, or if I would have felt encouraged to continue, if not for the support of Dancers’ Group. Even thirty years ago, Wayne was so knowledgeable, and calmly efficient – I have always admired how he seems to know what needs doing, who to get to do it, and how to do it without going crazy!

As the organization grew I have often marveled at the way Dancers’ Group has kept its ‘ear to the ground’ for all of us, consistently coming up with more ways to support the dance community through small and not small things like bulk distribution of postcards, partnering with Grants for the Arts and other groups to co-present artists who might not otherwise be produced, giving so many artists a voice through their publication In Dance and being a resource to young artists finding their way in San Francisco.

As Purple Moon Dance Project celebrates the closing of its 20th year, and as I prepare to perform for the last time with my company in San Francisco, some of my brightest recollections and most satisfying experiences as a dancer and choreographer in the Bay Area have had some connection to Dancers’ Group.

Thank you Wayne and everyone at Dancers’ Group for the love you give all of us.

–Jill Togawa, Artistic Director, Purple Moon Dance Project

The Beginnings Into The Future
Footwork Studio 1983: I remember coming there as a young dancer to dance and rehearse with my teacher Ed Mock who had just lost his own studio on Page Street in San Francisco. I came to know this organization that Wayne and Vernon dreamed up when it was on 22nd and Mission, upstairs from what was then Leed’s shoe store and had once upon a time been an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Dancers’ Group was (and still is) a home for so many incredible Bay Area dance artists–an organization that lovingly supports the work of this diverse, complicated and amazing community.

I have had the opportunity to perform in pieces that exemplifies the type of work that Dancers’ Group supports as a dancer in Joanna Haigood’s site-specific works Shifting Cornerstone and Sailing Away which were part of both ONSITE and the Rotunda Series. And now I have the opportunity to collaborate with Dancers’ Group to create He Moved Swiftly, a site-specific dance production that will explore the life and work of choreographer and teacher Ed Mock.

Dancers’ Group is an organization that is for dancers by dancers; an organization that has a long San Francisco history and survived so many of this city’s changes: the loss of great local dance artists to relocation or passing on, the late ’90s dot com dislocation madness–an experience that the organization itself suffered through– and the generational and cultural shift that takes place over time in the arts.

Dancers’ Group is still here, still vibrant, still supporting dance art in very precarious and uncertain times. As a San Francisco native and Bay Area-based artist, Dancers’ Group is one of few organizations that is synonymous with San Francisco dance. Like Grandma’s house they are sturdy, warm, full of history yet able to hold and support the present and future possibilities. Happy 30th….so grateful for you….let’s DANCE!

–Amara Tabor-Smith, Artistic Director, Deep Waters Dance Theater

Yes Means Yes
There’s nothing more empowering than having an inspiration for what you think is a great idea met with a “yes” by someone who has the capacity to help you reach your goal. Dancers’ Group has been that “someone” for me many times over during the last 24 years since I first arrived in San Francisco. I got my first “yes” when I decided I wanted to begin teaching and Wayne rented me the old Dancers’ Group space on 22nd Street – the big corner studio with the buttery soft, yet very creaky, wood floor and the huge floor to ceiling windows. He helped me get the word out and, to my amazement, students came. Suddenly my teaching life in San Francisco began, thanks to Dancers’ Group.

It was just the first of many yeses I’ve gotten from Dancers’ Group over the years. From fiscal sponsorship, to networking, to help finding and applying for grants, to my frequent phone calls (“do I need a liability waiver for this?”), Wayne and the Dancers’ Group staff support us artists as we wade through the process of actualizing our work. There is no better “yes” than that.

I remember years ago when Dancers’ Group was being evicted from that beloved space on 22nd street. It was the pinnacle of the dot com boom and the building was being sold to some corporate entity. Dancers’ Group waged an all-out battle to retain the space, taking to the streets, writing letters, and appealing to city officials. The eviction, of course, ultimately took place, but what Dancers’ Group left behind, was to me more meaningful than any speeches or letters to editors.

Wayne had invited the community to cover the walls of the space with pictures, words, messages, poems, rants, and raves, anything that expressed how people felt about the space and Dancers’ Group. If they couldn’t keep the space, they would at least let the community it served make their lasting impression on it. Within very little time there was precious little space left, literally.The sheer volume of responses was amazing and those graffitied and well-loved walls will forever remain indelibly etched in my memory.

The impact of Dancers’ Group on our community runs deep. It will take a lot more walls and many more years to truly say thank you, so I’m starting now: Thank You.

— Mary Carbonara, Teacher/Choreographer/Performing Arts Publicist

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

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.