Dancers’ Group: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance

June 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Space to Make Mistakes
1994–I once locked a homeless man into the Dancers’ Group/Footwork 22nd Street space overnight.
Well, it wasn’t just me. It was all three of us POTRZEBIE girls: myself, Lydia Bueschel and Katie Friedman. Somehow, in our last walk-through of the space, at 10pm? 11pm? midnight?, none of us found the guy, who greeted Wayne the next morning in the lobby with a cry of, “It wasn’t my fault!” We then got a very calm phone call: “Um, who locked up last night?” Wayne didn’t take away our key.
This is the priceless gift Dancers’ Group has given to me in so many ways over so many years: space. To be young, to be clueless, to need help, to have someone to ask for help, to not have to be perfect, to practice, to fail, to make mistakes and not have them held against me, to experiment, to learn, to raise money, to spend money, to rehearse, to perform, to gather with my community, to protest, to mourn, to grow, to connect, to take things for granted, to remember not to take things for granted, to recognize who came before me, to recognize who’s coming after me, to have company in this crazy endeavor, to stick with it.
— Chris Black, Choreographer

Connecting the Dots
Wayne is the lifeblood of Dancers’ Group for me. I have known him for 26 years. As a young dancer I used to stand behind him in technique class; his movement energy was so bold and generous, I learned to dance just from proximity to his backside. I have watched him go from a hot young dancing star on stage to a thoughtful, deeply kind and inclusive national leader in the contemporary dance field. He is the stuff that makes the arts a devout experience for me. His inquisitiveness is constant and expanding, and yet he is humble and open to all dancers, young and old.

But Dancers’ Group does not end at Wayne. The organization has a knack for attracting the best kind of dancers for its staff… those who can shine on stage like no other, and who can also can organize, administer, write, coalition-build and cultivate community like no other as well. If our U.S. Congress were anything like the Dancers’ Group staff, our country would be thriving by now. At Dancers’ Group, dancers are the secret weapons.

I found this out first had in 2006 when Dancers’ Group presented my work in what was the virgin flight of their ONSITE series. I remember, in the midst of some hectic site-specific rigging and production, standing on the roof of Dance Mission, looking across a busy Mission Street to the Bart Plaza at 24th Street, and seeing Wayne and Kegan passing out chocolate kisses in exchange for audience surveys. It warmed me so much to see them embrace their role as presenter with such gusto. I don’t think I have ever been presented with such respect as on that project. They gave feedback and support when I asked for it, left me alone when I needed space to think, and all the while seemed to love being a part of making something with me.
Truly, Dancers’ Group is a treasure for our community. They are all action and just enough talk. They are compassion embodied, with just enough camp, critique, and changeability to keep things interesting.
— Jo Kreiter, Choreographer

The Many Lives of Hit & Run Hula
A family of four strolls along Pier 39 licking ice cream cones and listening to the sea lions bark. Suddenly, a bus pulls up and colorfully dressed men and women pour out and form lines. The group dances in unison, twirling and gesturing to the sounds of toe-tapping music. As spectators quickly gather, the family members turn to their neighbors in the crowd. “What the heck is this?”

“This” was our Hit & Run Hula, which took San Francisco by surprise one sunny Saturday in the summer of 2009. Our hālau (Hawaiian dance company), Nē Lei Hulu I Ka Wākiu, descended on more than ten different spots in the city. Most were chosen ahead of time, but some were spur-of-the-moment. No one, not even myself, knew exactly how the day would unfold.

The idea for Hit & Run Hula sprouted when Dancers’ Group approached us for a project to present dance outside the theater. I was intrigued by the idea of taking it to the streets: hula, guerrilla style.

Some people who saw Hit & Run Hula were those who knew about it and planned to be there, but the rest were passersby, tourists, people on errands, joggers and others who didn’t expect it. Wayne Hazzard, executive director of Dancers’ Group, called them the “accidental audience.”

It was great to see people’s astonished and quizzical expressions. “Did we really just see thirty-five people dancing hula in the middle of the street?” People seemed delightfully surprised, pleasantly bewildered, and even slightly bothered.

In one instance, a woman, obviously in a rush and uninterested in our Castro Street performance, crossed in front of our lip-syncing drag performer and stepped on the power cord, accidentally shutting off the power and halting the performance mid-word. Without a backward glance or an apology, she continued moving hurriedly on her way. It was awesome! In a theatrical setting, I would have suffered a heart attack. But in the streets, we plugged that baby back in and Matthew Martin, our iconic drag star, simply picked up where he left off.

The day was filled with one fantastic surprise after another. We squeezed into the downtown Apple store to dance, and a video of it went viral in a week.

We received emails, Tweets, and Facebook postings from people all over the world about our zany Hit & Run Hula adventure.
When I first spoke with Wayne Hazzard and Kegan Marling of Dancers’ Group about the project, I thought that it would be a fun, one-day affair featuring hula, surprise and merriment. As it turns out, that was just the beginning. A few months ago we took Hit & Run Hula 38,000 feet in the air, where we performed on a Hawaiian Airlines flight. We just returned from New York City, where we surprised travelers at JFK airport with hula dancers that materialized out of the crowd.

And it’s all because of Dancers’ Group. If Wayne Hazzard asks you to do something out of the box, beware.

—Patrick Makuakāne, Director, Kumu Hula, Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu


In Dance is a monthly publication of Dancers' Group.

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