Dancers’ Group History: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance

November 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 Mary Armentrout, Kat Cole & Eric Garcia and Dana Lawton. — Wayne Hazzard

The Dancers’ Group I remember:  memory snapshots that stand out from the 24 years I have known the organization.
1988 – Joe Goode hanging out in the old space after a showcase of shorter works, giving mordant and insightful feedback.
1995 – Akira Kasai teaching a butoh workshop, most elegant human ever in a pleated silk long skirt outfit, suddenly becoming possessed and exhorting us all to become lava, his face distorted, his bones erupting in new patterns oh and we certainly did, following his lead.
1996 – Deborah Hay, performing solo, utterly still and deep inside herself, completely unfathomable to me, and totally fascinating.
1999 – Lugging bushels and bushels of stuff (including a mattress spring, a bunch of ironing boards, toilet seats and packages and packages of Costco instant mashed potatoes) upstairs to the extra room on the third floor of Dancers’ Group’s space for my performance installation that lasted all day, performances and messiness accumulating, building, collapsing throughout the day.
2000 – During the last desperate performances at the old Footwork space, after I had performed, watching out of an upstairs window as Keith Hennessy and a band of other performers in black spun a ritual in the middle of the street on 22nd, candles and shadows dancing and magnifying in the faces of the crowd gathered to witness.
2001 – Tanya Calamoneri hunched over her messy desk, executive director now, her eyes agleam, working late into the night in the tiny office at Shotwell and 19th, eagerly pursuing some grant deadline.
2003 – Patricia McCarthy, in the same space—much more organized during her tenure as executive director—casting a watchful and satisfied eye over the busy staff productive in their tight quarters.
2005 – My amazement and delight when there in my email is a response from Wayne Hazzard interested in the executive director job again!
2006 – Looking again at a street corner, this time 24th and Mission, as a new Dancers’ Group site specific commission unfurls above us, which is Jo Kreiter’s The Live Billboard Project on the side of Dance Mission Theater.
2007 – Walking into the new spacious office now on Mission Street, feeling the hum of the whole Dancers’ Group team – which continues to grow! – expansive, positive, confident, thoughtful.
2010 – Finding myself performing inside a garbage can in the back hallway at CounterPULSE as part of the Dance Discourse Project #8. Of course, panelist Philip Huang breaking all the rules and having us love every minute of it.
2011 – Watching YouTube videos of the Hit and Run Hula project again and getting all misty-eyed about dance that just moves you, no matter who you are, where you are, and so impressed at all the ways that Dancers’ Group is now exploring to bring this out into the world.
Mary Armentrout, Artistic Director, Mary Armentrout Dance Theater

A Place to Grow
As emerging artists, it can be difficult to navigate the complex systems of producing and supporting your own work; however, in these short two years of being a company, Dancers’ Group has been a consistent encouraging presence for us. Whether it’s through their 2nd Sundays program, their comprehensive fiscal sponsorship program, or their internships, they remain an artist-centered organization that works from the heart, and that provides a launching pad for artists to further excel in their visions. They were there during our very first production in 2010, and it’s through their support that we’ve had the opportunity to develop and grow creatively and professionally—producing our second home season, growing our infrastructure, and receiving our first funding sources. Through our intersections with the organization, we have come to realize, even in this short amount of time, that Dancers’ Group is homebase for us and many passionate artists. We’ve been blessed to be part of this welcoming organization, in which each interaction feels like a gathering of inspiring individuals.
Kat Cole and Eric Garcia, Artistic Directors, detour dance

After graduation from Mills College in Oakland with an MFA in Dance I was armed with dance theory, dance history and dance/choreographic exercises. However extensive my education, nothing could have prepared me for entering in the second largest dance community as a fledgling choreographer. I knew people I was in school with, since one is usually ‘under water’ when in grad school, and does not have the time or money to explore classes and/or opportunities beyond campus. My first memory as a recent graduate was hearing about Pilot at ODC and this ‘amazing studio’… Footwork. In my naiveté I walked into both places full of wonder, awe and misplaced confidence. I will be honest, my first proposals to show work at Footwork were denied. I met Wayne, super cool, very cool… handing back my VHS and saying that my work was not what they were interested in presenting… ouch! But, determined to stay in the Bay Area and work alongside fellow choreographers, Randee Paufve, Nina Haft, Rebecca Salzer, this rejection made me reflect, and subsequently move beyond what was previously acceptable in comp class and move toward my own choreographic voice. I started taking classes in the city (ODC, SF Dance Center) and in the East Bay (Shawl-Anderson Dance Center) and seeing everything I could on the stage. As a result, my choreographic work began to mature and I created small solos that meant what I said when I said what I meant.

All the while Wayne and Dancers’ Group were there, like an investable fairy godmother. As I emerged as a choreographer and dancer in the early 2000s and I became aware of the ever-present support of this magical organization. Wayne came to see me in my first Pilot and then in Flight. He helped me obtain a CA$H grant with gentle encouragement and advice. I started to notice the Dancers’ Group logo on concert programs I attended and performed in. Through my most magical years of dancing with Janice Garrett (and Kara, and Nol, and Heidi, and Bliss, just to name a few!) I became more aware of the breadth of Dancers’ Group’s investment in the Bay Area dance community.
In recent years I have been honored to be a Dancers’ Group Board member. I have seen behind the curtain, if you will, and am continually impressed by the inner workings of the organization, the dedicated staff, and its fearless leader, Wayne. I have benefited as an artist from 2nd Sundays, and enjoyed numerous evenings of dance that would not exist with out Dancers’ Group’s support.

This past spring, I watched Shae Colett set up a table at the American College Dance Festival Conference in Modesto, CA and engage those students who are ‘under water’ in their respected dance programs. They want to be part of the larger dance scene and now have a true ally as they emerge from their cocoon of higher education into the dance world at large. I am excited not only for my next steps as a dance artist but for those that are about to begin their journeys into this world that we love so much. I am glad that Dancers’ Group will be there for them.

Happy Birthday Dancers’ Group! It is a pleasure to know that the fairy godmother of dance is still working his/her magic.
Dana Lawton, Professor, Saint Mary’s College

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.