A Dancer's Guide to San Francisco

August 30, 2007
Like the city itself, the San Francisco dance community is eclectic, busy, vibrant, diverse and competitive, with the traditional establishment coexisting happily with renegade upstarts. Dance and city history have long been intertwined, from the dance halls of the Barbary Coast to, 150 years later, the squeeze on dance spaces from the dot-com boom. Interestingly, the birthplace of iconoclast Isadora Duncan was also the setting of the U.S.’s first Nutcracker production. Although it’s only seven square miles, San Francisco supports a vigorous dance community that includes world-class ballet and modern troupes as well as small modern and ethnic dance companies. The scene is constantly in flux, with companies springing up and disbanding and schools popping up as space allows. Here,
highlights select elements that get the city by the bay moving.

The Jewel in the Crown
San Francisco Ballet; sfballet.org
The oldest professional company in the U.S., SFB has, in its 74 years, developed into a world-class ballet company that’s beloved in its hometown. Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson commissions ambitious new works from leading choreographers, gives new gloss to the classics and fine-tunes an international roster of dancers.

The Visionary
Alonzo King, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet; linesballet.org
Artistic Director Alonzo King is a cherished teacher and choreographer to many of the country’s leading dance artists. His renowned company performs his technically and artistically challenging, eclectic contemporary ballets on national and international tours as well as during two home seasons annually. The company is housed in the San Francisco Dance Center (see Schools), one of the largest facilities on the west coast.

The Showman
Michael Smuin, Smuin Ballet; smuinballet.org
Michael Smuin’s ballets, whether dramatic or high on razzle-dazzle, are anything but stuffy or staid. This 13-year-old troupe has an enthusiastic following for its extensive home season as well as its frequent local, national and international tours.

The Pioneers
ODC Dance; odcdance.org
After Artistic Director Brenda Way founded ODC in Oberlin, OH, in 1971, the company moved to San Francisco in 1976 and has been influencing the modern dance scene in the city ever since. Its three resident choreographers—Way, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada—have created a wealth of inventive repertory for the troupe of 10 outstanding dancers. The company has an extensive performing schedule and inspiring financial savvy—its new multimillion-dollar ODC Dance Commons (see Schools) is a magnificent hub for San Francisco dance.

The Mentor
Margaret Jenkins, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company; mjdc.org
In 1970, after a heady career dancing in NYC with Twyla Tharp and assisting Merce Cunningham, Margaret Jenkins moved to San Francisco to start her own company. She has since created more than 75 works, given opportunities to other dancemakers, and trained technically sound dancers. She started Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange in 2004 to pair up-and-coming choreographers with established dancers.

The Communicator
Joe Goode, Joe Goode Performance Group; joegoode.org
Contemporary dancemaker Joe Goode creates experimental dance theater works. The company will celebrate its 20th season this year with a national tour of Deeply There and Stay Together, a collaboration with composer and San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Collaborator
Robert Moses, Robert Moses’ Kin; robertmoseskin.org
Choreographer Robert Moses candidly explores issues of race, class and gender in his athletic, complex works. As evidenced by the name, RMK is a company of collaboration and has commissioned numerous choreographers of varying styles.

The Upstart
Benjamin Levy, LEVYdance; levydance.org
LEVYdance has attracted attention for its emotionally intricate, evocative modern dance works. Founded in 2002, the five-member troupe has already toured to the east coast three times, toured internationally to Lithuania and performed with the L.A. Philharmonic.

The Cultural Historian
Joanna Haigood, Zaccho Dance Theatre; zaccho.org
Artistic Director Joanna Haigood creates site-specific works that, after extensive research into the history and culture of a location, interweave the environment and movement into a rich tapestry. Known for its aerial dance work, Zaccho holds classes in contemporary and aerial dance in Bayview/Hunter’s Point—a tough, bleak, inner-city area of SF. Advanced students perform with Zaccho Youth Company.

The Talk of the Town
Amy Seiwert
Choreographer Amy Seiwert has created works for Smuin Ballet (where she dances), Carolina Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Sacramento Ballet and her own im’ij-re, and was the first woman to win the choreography competition at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Saveur in Canada.

The Kids’ Club
Capacitor; capacitor.org
Jodi Lomask has incorporated aerial and fire dance, motion capture and video into her works for Capacitor, which started performing in clubs and has since moved to concert dance stages. The company has explored such topics as video games and the layers of the earth.

The Guru
Pandit Chitresh Das, Chitresh Das Dance Company; kathak.org
A master of traditional Indian kathak dance, Pandit Chitresh Das has expanded upon the form to create Kathak Yoga and also inventive works that remain within the classical tradition. He also founded the Chhandam School of Kathak Dance, which holds classes in five Bay Area locations
including San Francisco. His recent groundbreaking festival, Kathak at the Crossroads, brought together dancers, musicians and scholars from around the world for three days of performances, presentations and workshops. (For more on Indian classical dance, see DS November 2006.)

The Siren
La Tania; latania-flamenco.com
International flamenco choreographer and dancer La Tania grew up in Spain in a community of flamenco artists. A standout for her fiery, passionate performances and improvisational style, she also teaches workshops and classes at San Francisco Dance Center.

The Innovator
Patrick Makuaka-ne, Na- Lei Hulu I Ka We-kiu; naleihulu.org
This exuberant company’s signature style, hula mua (progressive hula), takes hula to a new level through theatrical, narrative works that are set to a wide range of music. Artistic Director Patrick Makuaka-ne is determined to show that Hawaiian culture extends far beyond Waikiki. An affiliated school holds popular dance classes as well as educational workshops.

Academy of Ballet
2121 Market St
415-552-1166; chamberdancesf.org/academy/

: adult, ballet, men’s classes, pas de deux, pointe
Co-directed by Richard Gibson, a former Joffrey and San Francisco Ballet dancer, this school offers preprofessional training as well as recreational classes for children and a comprehensive adult program. An affiliated student group, Chamberdance, performs in the Bay Area.

The Ballet Studio
128 Tenth St
415-861-5520; balletstudiosf.com

: ballet, boys’ classes, floor barre, Pilates, pointe, preballet, repertory, tap
This newcomer offers comprehensive training based on the Vaganova syllabus, as well as summer dance camps.

Ballet with Miss Tilly
5499 California St

: ballet, children’s, musical theater, Pilates, yoga
Miss Tilly is a San Francisco institution—her classes for young children are so
popular that she’s never needed to formally advertise. Pianists accompany classes for even the tiniest ballerinas.

City Ballet School
32 Otis St

: ballet, boys’ classes, pointe, preballet
City Ballet offers Vaganova-based training led by former Bolshoi and San Francisco Ballet dancer Galina Alexandrova. Student performances are choreographed by
former Kirov dancers and SFB principal Yuri Zhukov.

Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th St
415-826-4441; dancemission.com

: Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Brazilian contemporary, Afro-Cuban folkloric, Afro-Haitian, ballet, bomba, hip hop, Pilates mat, rhythm tap, salsa and Cuban popular dances, salsa rueda, West African/Guinean, West African Sabar dance
Run by dance activist Krissy Keefer, this bustling studio is an eclectic SF dance hub, complete with a 140-seat theater. “So You Think You Can Dance” season 1 competitor Allan Frias is a popular hip-hop teacher.

Genesis Dance Sport Academy
404 Clement St
415-221-7125; genesisdancesport.com

: ballroom
This studio focuses on training young couples to compete in Dancesport at both the local and international ranks, but all levels are welcome. Edyta Sliwinska (partnered with Joey Lawrence on “Dancing with the Stars” season 3) is an instructor, as is her professional partner Alex Mazo (winner of “DWTS” season 1 with Kelly Monaco).

Ming-Hai Wu School Of Ballet
4504 Irving St
415-682-3600; minghaiwu.com

: ballet, character, choreography, jazz, pointe, repertory
This small studio, just blocks from the beach and run by former SFB and Shanghai Ballet dancer Ming-Hai Wu, offers personal coaching as well as training.

Metronome Dance Center
1830 17th St
415-252-9000; metronomedancecenter.com

: Argentine tango, ballet, ballroom, belly dance, Brazilian samba, dance teacher training, East Coast swing, fitness and body awareness, hip hop, jazz, Lindy hop,
modern, salsa, tap, waltz, West Coast swing With group classes in all the major styles, as well as workshops and parties, this studio is a friendly place for novices to learn to dance and for skilled dancers to hone their technique.

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission St
415-821-1155; missionculturalcenter.org

: Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Colombian, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Peruvian, Argentine tango, ballet, belly dance, bochata, Capoeira, cha-cha-cha, Cumbia, Danza Azteca, East Coast swing, flamenco, Fogo Na Roupa (Brazilian Carnival dance), Latin hip hop, merengue, rumba, salsa, samba, tango
This community nonprofit’s mission is to promote all Latino arts.

ODC School/Rhythm & Motion Dance Center
351 Shotwell St
odcschool.org; rhythmandmotion.com

: Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian, ballet, casino rueda, contemporary, flamenco, Fusion Rhythms dance workout, hip hop, hip-hop jazz, modern, Pilates, release technique, rhythm tap, show jazz, tango, tribal belly dance, West African Guinean, West African Sabar, salsa, swing, yoga
When ODC School moved into the ODC Dance Commons, its new multimillion-dollar facility, the school welcomed Rhythm & Motion Dance Center into the space, creating a partnership that enables students to take an array of classes in a state-of-the-art facility.

Pick School of Ballroom Dancing
380 18th Ave
415-752-5658; pickdance.com

: Argentine tango, ballroom, children’s, salsa
Founded in 1961 and housed in the former Alexandria Ballroom, this school trains competitors with the same enthusiasm as couples preparing for their wedding.

Presidio Dance Theatre Academy
1158 Gorgas St
415-561-3958; ppaf-sf.org

: ballet, cardio-kickboxing, character, dance aerobics, folk dances, hip hop, hula, Pilates, yoga
Tucked on a quiet street in the Presidio national park, PDTA emphasizes cultural as well as artistic education.

Renaissance Ballroom
285 Ellis St
415-474-0920; renaissanceballroom.com

: ballroom
Renaissance Ballroom specializes in training couples to dance at their weddings, although a complete schedule of private and group lessons is also available for those not headed to the altar.

San Francisco Ballet School
455 Franklin St
415-553-4642; sfballet.org/school/

: ballet, character, contemporary, music, pas de deux, pointe
One of the preeminent schools in the country for training professional ballet dancers, SFB School provides rigorous training for students who are accepted by audition. A challenging summer program draws dancers from around the world.

San Francisco Dance Center
26 7th St
415-863-3040; linesballet.org

: Afro-Colombian, ballet, belly dance, body work, classical Chinese, flamenco, floor barre, fusion, hip hop, jazz, modern, modern ballet, release technique, rhythm tap, salsa
Founded by LINES Ballet (see Companies) and Directed by Alonzo King, this school holds more than 100 classes a week and houses the LINES Ballet School and a BFA program with Dominican University of California.

San Francisco Youth Ballet Academy
3149 Vicente St
415-731-2237; sanfranciscoyouthballet.org

: ballet, jazz, yoga
This school offers preprofessional and recreational training incorporating French and Russian styles of ballet, and a resident student troupe.

Shan-Yee Poon Ballet School
403 Arguello Blvd
415-387-2695; poonballet.com

: ballet, character, creative balletic movement, jazz, tap
Toddlers to adults study at this school known for good training and an inclusive atmosphere.

Star Dance Studio
300 Moraga St
415-564-1200; stardancestudio.net

: acrobatics, ballet, core-strengthening, hip hop, jazz, lyrical, salsa, modern, tap
This family-run studio offers a multitude of classes on a semester basis, produces elaborate recitals and participates in competitions.

Studio Gracia
19 Heron St
415-307-4782; studiogracia.com

: Afro-Brazilian-Contemporary, Afro-Cuban, belly dance, Brazilian drumming, hip hop, modern, rueda, salsa-casino, tango, tribal
This lovely converted warehouse space houses a range of courses for all levels.

Sunset Academy of Dance
1337 Irving St

: acrobatics, breakdancing, children’s, hip hop, jazz, tap
Popular Sunset Academy teacher Darnell Carroll directs the groups Jr Posse, Impact and Da Click out of this school.

Bay Area National Dance Week
This 10-day celebration of dance each April offers free events including performances, open rehearsals, classes and workshops at venues throughout the Bay Area.

Bay Area Tap Festival
A week of classes, workshops and discussions culminates in the Bay Area Rhythm Exchange, in which showstopping performers share the stage with live jazz accompaniment each summer.

Carnaval San Francisco
Every May, San Francisco’s Mission District hosts a multicultural celebration featuring dance, music and a parade.

Dance Repertory’s Vision Series
This annual performance series each March brings high school and college dance students to the stage to perform the work of emerging choreographers. School groups are mentored by professionals and assigned a dance “buddy” company.

Isadora Duncan Awards (the “Izzies”)
The Izzies honor excellence in performance, choreography and contribution to Bay Area dance and give divergent elements of the dance community an opportunity to celebrate in the annual free awards ceremony in April.

Retail Dance Festival
Dancers delight unsuspecting shoppers with performances in store windows and inside boutiques during this weeklong event, held biannually.

San Francisco Aloha Festival
This festival, held each August, celebrates Pacific Island culture with performances by dance troupes and workshops in arts and crafts and island cuisine.

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival
A mosaic of dances from around the globe share the stage in this festival, held every June. The range of movement styles, from clogging to Mexican folk dance to Balinese dance, is inspiring.

San Francisco Free Folk Festival
Founded in 1976, this June festival offers performances in music and dance in a variety of folk styles.

San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest
Groups big and small, professional and amateur, from the U.S. and abroad share the stage each November for this two-program show that brings audience members to their feet.

Stern Grove Festival
This esteemed festival of free outdoor dance and music performances celebrates its 70th season this summer. San Francisco Ballet is a regular.

Trolley Dances
In October, this free festival (with MUNI trolley fare) takes place on public transportation with five professional companies performing at select stops.

WestWave Dance Festival
Each July, this festival combines a half dozen choreographers on each of the multiple programs, giving the dancemakers a chance to have their work seen without selfproducing and audiences a chance to see a variety of approaches.

Women on the Way Festival
Held in January, this annual event showcases the works of female choreographers, with multiple dancemakers sharing each bill.

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
This free series offers outdoor dance and music programs in the summer months, featuring major players in dance, music and opera, and has included a “ChoreoFest” of programs combining multiple dance companies.

Dancers’ Group
In addition to serving as a clearinghouse for information about the Bay Area dance community and creating the newsletter In Dance, this nonprofit organization provides grants for small companies, acts as a presenter and administers the Parachute Fund for dance artists facing AIDS or other life-threatening illnesses.

San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum
Started more than 60 years ago as a private collection, SFPALM now encompasses more than 2 million items relating to Bay Area performing arts, including the archives of many local arts organizations. Its exhibitions have focused on America’s dance treasures and George Balanchine’s career, and an interview series illuminates celebrated dancers and choreographers.