Dancers’ Group: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance

May 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Phone Numbers, Floors, Windows and Love
I often gauge the depth of my relationship with someone based on if I know their phone number by heart. There are very few numbers that I know. Among them: my grandparents, my childhood home, and Dancers’ Group. That means something, doesn’t it? I think so.

Memories of Dancers’ Group. Fragmented.
1994ish—My first visit to Dancers’ Group… my first contact class. Rolling around on the DG floor on 22nd Street. Or to be more specific: rolling around with strangers, eyes closed, on the DG floor. Intense. Weird. Intimate. I was younger then… impressionable. I immediately associated the venue with scary, new exciting experiences.

1996sih—My first series of classes with Joe Goode and company. Wow. These folks were/are legendary to me. Super famous super stars. There was Joe… right… there. So close I could touch him. Joe’s workshops made me feel like I could do anything. Tools towards following instinct. Courage to claim the word “choreographer.” I remember seeing Wayne Hazzard around. Of course I knew who he was far before I had the courage to introduce myself.

1998ish—My friend Jesse Howell and I submitted an application to Dancers’ Group to present a duet we made. This was the first time I ever applied for any kind of support for my work. These days, my life is often consumed by writing about my work for applications or grants. But I remember clearly that first time of trying to articulate what I wanted to make and why, and discovering how profoundly nerve-wracking it is to put your dreams out there into the world and wish for the best. I remember getting the letter from Wayne saying that we were accepted. I felt like I had “made it!” Having my work chosen by this established, professional organization was something big. Dancers’ Group became the place where “big” things could happen.

Over the next few years, I presented quite a few works through Dancers’ Group. I began to feel at home there. Wayne learned my name, and this was also big. Performing and hearing the 14 Mission bus go by, people yelling, party sounds, sometimes complimenting the performance and sometimes totally inappropriate to what was happening on stage. We had a gallery show of my friend Halstead’s work in the lobby. Halstead took pictures of us dancing in the DG studio and painted over them. All his paintings featured the windows. THE windows. Oh, those windows! My memories of DG are full of those windows. Sitting in the studio in the dark, and the shadows that those paned windows made on the floor, city light flooding thru. Those windows mean something. Do you remember them?

2000 – DG’s closing on 22nd Street. The entire world coming together to shut down 22nd Street, the “Occupy” DG moment! I remember performing in a bathtub on wheels with Jessica and Evie. We rolled the tub up and down 22nd Street, I think we were wearing blindfolds. The unfathomable truth of DG leaving the space! The politics that surrounded this… the dotcom universe spreading. Contagious. Brutal. There are paint ball splatters on the US Bank building at 22nd Street. Do you know how they got there? Paintball gun shot straight out of the DG windows! A mark of something. “We have been here!”

And then there were the Shotwell days—working off parking tickets by working on a directory of dance related services in the Bay.

And finally 2010. Dancers’ Group’s ONSITE program through which we presented a piece called “Love Everywhere.” I remember walking around the Civic Center with Wayne and Kegan Marling dreaming an impossible dream: to present a work at San Francisco City Hall on Valentine’s Day to celebrate LOVE! And to honor the 6-year anniversary of SF issuing same-sex marriage licenses. What does Dancers’ Group do with impossible dreams? Make them come true. We had a huge and lovely event at SF City Hall and another at Glide Memorial Church with the great Reverend Cecil Williams inviting our performance as that week’s sermon. Dancers’ Group is made up of super-powered heroes that shake down with grace and determination.

Dancers’ Group is a backbone. A place to grow up. A way for myself and countless dance makers to land in SF. Dancers’ Group supports and pushes and holds and remembers. Vital. Bigger than any one of us. Thank you, Dancers’ Group, for 3 decades of wonder. Let’s all help them thrive for another 30 years and beyond!

— Erika Chong Shuch, Choreographer/Director

Beginnings
I remember Dancers’ Group in its first incarnation as Footwork Studio. The late great teachers Ed Mock and Aaron Osborne were installed in this beautiful space on 22nd Street with arched windows and hard wood floors. There was a grumpy little southern man named Vernon Fuquay who seemed to be in charge. At first I thought I should stay miles away from this Vernon character, but eventually his sardonic humor and his “get it done” attitude won me over. At the time, I was trying to figure out how to retire gracefully from this unprosperous and unglamorous field of modern dance. Vernon saw my work and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t going anywhere; that what I was doing felt accessible and honest (even to a self admitted curmudgeon like himself) and he wasn’t going to let me throw it away.

So he held my hand and helped me to incorporate the company, develop a board of directors, and scrape together a few dollars to pay my dancers. He installed me as the resident artist at Footwork and gave me a place to rehearse and perform. Quite simply, there would be no Joe Goode Performance Group today if it weren’t for the gutsy, bossy insistence of Vernon Fuquay. I grew to love him, and that place became my artistic home where I had the freedom to develop my own hybridized form of dance theater. That first cohort of dancers: Wayne Hazzard, Liz Burrritt, Marit Brook-Kothlow, Suellen Einarsen, Emily Keeler, Peter Rothblatt became my family. And Vernon was always there to chide me, to make me laugh until I cried, and to sober me up when I became too intoxicated with my own artistic headiness.

I am not one to wax nostalgic about the remembrance of things past, but this was truly a golden era for me with a community of like-minded spirits who just wanted to try something new and experiment together. We were surviving on late night burritos and the belief that we were doing something that hadn’t been done before. I could call Vernon in the middle of the night with some half articulated idea and he would reply, “I don’t care- just stop talking about it and do it.” This was the tough love that I seemed to crave at that point.

It has been a marvel to watch Dancers’ Group transform into a well-oiled organization with a respected publication and countless programs that benefit the dance community. It truly provides a service to the field in the Bay Area and beyond. I’m sure (although he would never admit it), that Vernon would be proud.

— Joe Goode, choreographer/artistic director, Joe Goode Performance Group

New Then and New Now: Two memorable performances
My earliest memory of Dancers’ Group was a performance at the old space on 22nd Street at Mission. This is probably 1983 or 1984. I went to the show with no expectations at all and, while climbing the steep stairs to the studio, wondered if I was in the wrong place as there were few indications that a performance was about to begin. By complete chance I had stumbled into one of Joe Goode’s earliest performances as a choreographer and solo dancer. I remember the piece as being called “Shapes Girls Make With Their Bodies” but Joe remembers it as “Shapes That Girls Make”. Although the work was very short it was extraordinarily moving and engaging. It was new and retro at the same time. Joe remembers the “shapes” as mostly coming from classic pin-up poses. But he transformed these clichéd poses into something so sympathetic. Was it vogueing? Was it camp? I don’t know. One thing I do know: the piece was extremely sophisticated and was performed with complete sincerity—no irony or cynicism. But utterly memorable. And, Joe says, it led a few years later to one of his signature works: 29 Effeminate Gestures.

In contrast (but also in continuity) my most memorable recent memory of a Dancers’ Group performance took place in City Hall as part of the Rotunda Series of free noontime concerts which Dancers’ Group and World Arts West produce on the first Friday of each month. The date was April 1, 2011, the performer was Monique Jenkinson (aka Fauxnique). Here was another girl making shapes with her body! Monique, in a to-die-for gown of what looked like thousands of yards of white satin, lay prone at the top of the grand staircase in the rotunda and commenced to, slowly and in total silence, roll down the 40 marble steps, her gown unfurling behind her, until the entire staircase was covered in the world’s longest and most spectacular bridal train. Government bureaucrats, tourists, children on school field trips, and actual brides and grooms being married that day in City Hall will carry her image for a very long time.

— Kary Schulman, Director, Grants for the Arts


In Dance is a monthly publication of Dancers' Group.

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