Dancers’ Group History: Celebrating 30 Years

By In Dance

December 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

To celebrate Dancers’ Group’s 30th anniversary this year, we reached out to many in our community—beloved friends and a wonderful mix of artists, educators, writers, and funders that we have worked with—to share a special remembrance. December marks the final month in which we will be printing these stories that honor our three decades in the community. I’m proud to state that these remembrances have painted a unique portrait of a vital and relevant organization. This month we know you will enjoy reading memories from Shae Colett, Kim Epifano, Joanna Haigood and Kegan Marling.
— Wayne Hazzard

Finding a New Home
While my history with Dancers’ Group only goes back four years, I can easily say my life has been fully enhanced and forever changed by the organization. I came to San Francisco in the summer of 2008 to test the waters and see if I could imagine myself living in this city. Within a week of being here multiple people told me if there is someone to know in this city it was Wayne Hazzard, and boy were they right. I met Wayne shortly after my arrival and without a pause he gave me his card told me to contact him for comp tickets to a dance show and to let him know if I had any questions. My three months in San Francisco flew by and before I knew it I was on my way back to Chicago and dreaming of a life in San Francisco.

In December 2008 I was ready to officially move to San Francisco and I knew just who to contact. I emailed Wayne and asked if there were any job openings. While there were no jobs open at the time I was encouraged to apply for an internship. I was offered an internship in January 2009 and couldn’t have been more excited. Within a month of living in the Bay Area I started learning the ins and outs of the dance community and really found my place as a dancer and administrator.

In May 2009 I was offered a job at Dancers’ Group, and I knew that this place was going to be home for a long time. Dancers’ Group is an organization that embraces its staff as artists and allows us to “have it all.” We are never questioned about having a rehearsal or going to take a yoga class, we are encouraged to see dance and share our thoughts. Working for this organization has helped me continue to be a dancer and fully connect to our amazing community even when I am not in the studio.

I am constantly learning from not only Wayne but from the community and my co-workers. My job is far from a chore as I get to breath dance day in and day out. Dancers’ Group has created a community that I had never experienced in any other city. It has given me the opportunity to learn, grow and help represent all that this community has to offer.

Thank you Wayne and all past board members and staff of Dancers’ Group for making the organization what it is.
— Shae Colett, Outreach Director, Dancers’ Group

Beginnings, Openings, and Connecting Again
In 1981, I landed in San Francisco from Bisbee, Arizona in a blue VW bus. I danced at Mariposa Studio at Theatre Artaud, ODC School, Third Wave, Sally Street’s ballet class at Berkeley Ballet, and Footwork – now known as Dancers’ Group. At this time, many amazing people and places were becoming a part of my life. I began working with Footwork when it was located at 22nd and Mission. I knew Wayne Hazzard as a performer first, and then I found him to be a great organizer and spokesperson for the dance community. While starting my own company, Wayne was great at answering questions and giving suggestions, and Dancers’ Group was my fiscal sponsor until I became my own non-profit. Dancers’ Group has been a historic part of the dance community and integral to my personal Bay Area dance experience.

Dancers’ Group brought together artists like Joe Goode, Ruth Zaporah and many more. In the summers Wayne set up groups of artists to teach workshops that were very successful and engaging. Classes with Sara Shelton Mann and Kirstie Simson were always packed. It was so exhilarating to explore deep, physical concentration and evolution. At that moment, Footwork’s dance floor was the sweetest floor in the city. It was delicious! I had many great full throttle dances on that floor. Wayne was open to teaching styles that were beyond classic technique and incorporated other forms, which later informed my own teaching style. I incorporated voice into my classes and developed Sonic Dance Theatre.

In 1997, Wayne asked me to do a piece for Footwork’s Bread and Butter Series which resulted in Sonic Luminescence, an all women’s piece that was a fusion of dance, song, music, theater and light.  Inspired by the music and writings of Hildegard von Bingen, Sonic Luminescence was so popular we did it the following year. The piece was powerful as we were able to fully inhabit Footwork, the perfect site with its arched windows, which helped to shape the piece. Lauren Elder put simple branches on the walls and around the room. Elaine Buckholtz and I developed hanging birdcages with lights in them that could spin. The dirt and water on the blonde wood floor made it feel like we were in a temple in the woods. It had a deep feeling like something from the past that had to be told again.

Song for Wayne – From Sonic Luminescence
“I am Blue”
I am blue
I am walking into blue
I am blue up to my neck
I am holy
I am unholy
I am blue
I am
I am restless, I am buzzing in your ear
I am human
I am blessed, I am hard to please
I am holy
I am unholy
The next investigation was a cross culture experience with Parallellos Treinty dos, a group from Mexicali, Mexico. We collaborated to create two very powerful pieces. Dancers’ Group’s Edge Festival presented one of these pieces, Calida Fornax (warm oven in Latin – the phrase from which California got its name), which later won an Isadora Duncan Dance Award [Izzie] for sound score. We brought the dancers in from Mexico and they felt very at home in the space. Dancers’ Group was so supportive in this cross-border collaboration. Without that support and encouragement to go outside the box, I may have never gone down to Mexicali.  Ultimately, Wayne and Dancers’ Group can be viewed as a conduit. The strength and structure supports so many different people, and that energy flows in and out of the created structure.

After a couple of years of directing and producing San Francisco Trolley Dances Festival, I felt very overwhelmed. I went to Wayne and Kegan Marling and received great support. They helped sustain the project for a few years. I recently worked with Kegan and Wayne for the Rotunda Dance Series in City Hall and it was great to reunite with them. They helped me remember the great people of this city and why the arts are such an important thread in this versatile, political, bold, and creative place. I am so happy I landed here and was able to be filled up with dance, theatre and music! I have had the privilege to collaborate with so many unique people with wonderful imaginations since 1981. Wayne helped open those connections and continues his powerful vision in support of Bay Area Arts.
— Kim Epifano, Artistic Director, Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater

In the mid 80’s I had the great fortune to move my company into Footwork on 22nd and Mission—the birthplace of Dancers’ Group. There I was nurtured, trained, I created and was inspired by some of the best in the field—among them Aaron Osborne, Ed Mock, Rosa Montoya, Vernon Fuquay, Joe Goode and, of course, Wayne Hazzard. It was a time of tremendous growth, of experimentation, passion and boldness….. Dancers’ Group has always been a place of big thinkers and mavericks. I will best remember Footwork as the place where I grew up as an artist, where I discovered the soul of dance with those who would become life long friends. I feel blessed.

My years at Footwork were also some of the most devastating. It was the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic and so many of our friends and extended family were dying. Footwork became a center for our memorials; this part is difficult to bring back into view. When Ed passed away in 1986 it felt as though it had opened the floodgates to grief and loss. Ed was a giant in our community at the time—a brilliant artist and performer. He had such incredible timing…such a sense of the music and divined the most extraordinary characters. His work was funny, dynamic, and irreverent and always poignant. He epitomized the power and greatness of our field. And so did our beautiful Aaron and Vernon who soon followed….. and Joah Lowe, John Henry, Christopher Boatwright, Tracy Rhodes…. so many were taken, Dino Vinti and Frank Everett—and from everywhere. It was a very painful time…. numbing, sad and cruel. It felt like it would never end and in many ways it never has. Losing them still hurts.

But Dancers’ Group has been and is our rock. It has transformed us into one of the strongest dance communities anywhere with love, respect, leadership and powerful creative vision. And Wayne Hazzard continues to be extraordinary. I know where he has been and I know that he proudly stands on the shoulders of those who have deeply changed our lives and our dances. I am proud and grateful to be in his circle.
—  Joanna Haigood, Artistic Director, Zaccho Dance Theatre

Commitment and Acceptance
A few years after I started working at Dancers’ Group, I found myself around a table with the rest of the staff holding a ridiculously large stack of applications for a dance festival in front of me.

We had not really brought the whole staff together for reviewing proposals before, but Wayne and I had talked about how important it felt to have everyone involved in this decision process. I would like to think that Kate Law, Jorge de Hoyos, and Sonia Reiter were as nervous as Wayne and I were about how it might turn out—everyone at the table had friends or close colleagues who had applied, and we definitely all had strong opinions about what dance compels us.

We sat around watching videos and sharing opinions—struggling like all other panels to make decisions about which artists fit that particular program at that particular time. But amazingly, we never really hit any snags. Sure, there were plenty of disagreements about who to include, but everyone was curious and respectful about the other opinions at the table, everyone was guided by the principle that all dance is important, and most importantly – we were all open to being wrong.

When I think of what I love about Dancers’ Group—much of it is encapsulated in those three things that held us together during that panel: a deep respect for everyone at the table, a commitment to all styles and forms of dance, and the acceptance that mistakes and failure are part of every decision. I would see these in action daily over the years—planning sessions for Bay Area Dance Week, selecting photos for In Dance, conversations with presenting partners, and so on. And I continue to see them shine in everything the organization does.

Being a part of Dancers’ Group was the best job I’ve had. Partly because Wayne is a tremendous mentor and leader, partly because of the sushi birthday parties, but mostly because I belonged to a group of dancers taking action to better our community by encouraging others to make art, to take risks, to dream big, to fail and then try again, and to just be seen. As an artist, it’s rare to have a cheerleader like that. I’m honored to have been a part of it for as long as I was, and lucky to know it will continue to be there for all of us —hopefully for many, many more years. Happy 30th!
— Kegan Marling, choreographer, photographer, consultant

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.