Dancers’ Group History: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance

October 1, 2012, PUBLISHED 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 has been carrying three 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 unique portrait of a vital and relevant organization. This month we know you will enjoy reading memories from Christine Elbel, Jessica Robinson Love and Patricia Reedy.
—Wayne Hazzard

Memories of Footwork/Dancers’ Group
When I began my first San Francisco job as the executive director of the Bay Area Dance Coalition, I soon heard about a dance hub called Footwork/Dancers’ Group. I had been told I could learn a lot from its co-founder and executive director, Vernon Fuquay. He surely did teach me a lot about the local dance community, but not always in the ways I expected. My first introduction to Vernon was when he called me in a lather and told me in no uncertain terms how misguided a new Dance Coalition policy was. One of Vernon’s great virtues was his honesty, and he was fearless in advocating for artists (his fabulous sense of humor also helped him be quite successful at this). He ended up joining the Dance Coalition’s board and provided great friendship and support to me as we tried to build the capacity of the organization, during a time of upheaval and change, in the most effective way to serve the varied needs of our diverse members.

Footwork was always humming with activity—full of dancers taking class, performing, collaborating, planning —and people were so excited to be part of it. Vernon died of AIDS in 1989 and I remember a lovely memorial gathering, sitting on the floor in the main studio with light streaming through the beautiful windows. After working alongside Vernon to establish Footwork, Wayne Hazzard then took over as executive director. He moved his office into the little lobby box office where he was always visible—smiling, patiently helping artists, and making sure this incredibly busy place ran smoothly.

Though I think my first memory of Wayne was when he danced with the new Joe Goode Performance Group. The image of him as the happy groom to Liz Burritt’s naïve bride in The Ascension of Big Linda Into the Skies of Montana is unforgettable. The 1986 premiere used the entire Footwork building, cementing Joe’s growing reputation as a trailblazer in a new genre of dance-theatre. Wayne was a most fierce and yet nuanced performer with deep artistry and technique; he committed himself fully to dancing while also having a very full time job running Footwork. After leaving the Dance Coalition I became involved with the Joe Goode Performance Group, first as a grantwriter and then as board president. I saw firsthand how much support Footwork provided this resident company during its formative years.

After the unfortunate demise of Dance Bay Area, Wayne worked tirelessly to save as many programs and services as possible, and Footwork’s role as our region’s dance service organization greatly expanded. By the time it was evicted in 2000, thousands of artists had come through its doors to train, perform, see others’ work, and learn about the business of dance. In my years as executive director of the Fleishhacker Foundation, I’ve been proud to help support Dancers’ Group by recommending grants for In Dance, fiscally sponsored projects, performance showcases, and more. I offer my congratulations on the 30th anniversary, and my appreciation for all the people whose perseverance has built and held this precious resource.
Christine Elbel, Executive Director, Fleishhacker Foundation

Embracing Change
My memory of the community resource that is now Dancers’ Group begins sitting in the large lobby of the 22nd Street space called Footwork, with red leather seats used mostly for tossed coats and dance bags, dancers sprawled on the floor together. I would be stretching my way too tight little body while peacefully watching Howard Tom unravel Salvation Army cashmere sweaters and re-knit them into something magnificent. A yellow lab lies near, just close enough for a petting, the essence of Zen. Rodney Yee dashes in, motorcycle helmet in hand, and pulls me aside to teach his latest yoga discovery before rehearsal (helpful for the aforementioned tight little body.)

While my choreographic and teaching firsts happened elsewhere, my dancer self was discovered, developed, challenged and nurtured during the entire 30 year span that is Dancers’ Group. Wayne Hazzard, Joe Goode and Vernon Fuquay created a home where dancers could feel secure enough to stick their literal necks out class after class, rehearsal after rehearsal, piece after piece, performance after performance. Risks and firsts were abundant, changes embraced, hearts broken and bonds forged. I, like so many of my peers, owe so many memories to Dancers’ Group.

The classes I took from Aaron Osbore, Lucas Hoving, Ed Mock, Priscilla Regelado, Bayan Jamay, and Cheryl Chaddick kept the community spirit alive.  Rigor was high, but there was love, too, and very little cutthroat cattiness.  Wayne made guest workshops and field trips happen, too. What I remember the most, though, are the rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals…always rehearsals.  And those rehearsals take me back to that LOBBY. During the dot-com boom, when they lost that beautiful space to real estate greed, the staff and board of Dancers’ Group went through an anguished period of reimagining itself. Today, I am honored to be a member of this organization that has re-captured and evolved the essence of what it was then-—a place where risks and firsts are abundant, changes embraced, hearts broken, and bonds forged.
Patricia Reedy is the Director of Teaching & Learning at Luna Dance Institute. She first came to the Footwork Studio, located on 22nd Street between Valencia and Mission in the Winter of 1982-83.

Finding a Home
In the fall of 1997, I was a freshman at Stanford University and a dance student.  Fresh from Tennessee, I was eager to explore the San Francisco dance scene, and I also had no idea where to start.  Fortunately, one of my teachers and a choreographer I was working with brought a group of us wide-eyed students on a field trip to see Sonic Luminescence by Kim Epifano at Dancers’ Group Studio Theater in the Mission.

I’ll never forget inching up the narrow staircase in a slow-moving line and settling into the cozy space with the rest of the audience.  I remember marveling at the articulate and gravity-influenced pelvises of the dancers (release technique was still new to me at the time), being surprised by a section of the performance that took place on the fire escape (hello, site-specific dance), feeling chills go up my spine when the rain thundering on the tin roof chimed in at just the perfect time, and feeling the music reverberate in my solar plexus.  It was thrilling for me not only to see an entirely new kind of performance, but to discover that there were places like Dancers’ Group—small, independent, quirky and fearless hothouses for artistic creation. I walked out into the scrubbed-clean San Francisco night air, and I realized somehow that I’d found my home.  These dancers, this performance space, this city—I knew that somehow I wanted this to be my life.

Less than three years later, I finally moved to San Francisco and started working at 848 Community Space (which is now CounterPULSE). During my first week on the job, Dancers’ Group was facing eviction. So some of my earliest career accomplishments involved participating in performance protests on 22nd street and carting a sleeping bag up those stairs to participate in a sit-in.

Throughout my life in Bay Area dance, Dancers’ Group has been a constant. As a young dancer, I took classes and volunteered for work exchange. As an arts administrator, I’ve helped CounterPULSE and Dancers’ Group build several successful programs in a close partnership that has lasted more than six years. As a community member, I’ve attended community gatherings (thank you for the sushi!), and served on grant panels. Dancers’ Group has grown and changed almost as much as I have in the last fifteen years—evolving from a studio theater to a service organization to a presenter and community resource. Along the way, it’s been my entry point into dance in the Bay Area and a symbol of the community that has become my home. Thank You!
—Jessica Robinson Love, Executive Director, CounterPULSE

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.