The Dance Palace History

The Dance Palace is a non-profit community center providing a wide variety of educational, recreational, cultural and community services to children, adults and seniors in western Marin County. The Dance Palace serves as the central community facility for the small, semi-rural coastal villages of West Marin including Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Olema, Nicasio, Marshall, Bolinas and Stinson Beach. Originally founded in 1971 as a studio for dance, in an historical building referred to locally as the "Old Palace", the Dance Palace has developed into one of the most active community facilities in the Bay Area.

The Dance Palace was established by seven young people who blew into town in 1971, looking for a personal and artistic home. One of the founders, Carol Friedman, was it's Executive Director for 37 years, and retired in 2008. Dan Mankin served as Executive Director through 2014. Another, Nancy Hemmingway, West Marin’s community librarian, is still active in the life of the Dance Palace. According to Nancy Hemmingway, they were “seven idealistic dreamers who found we were capable of doing wonderful crazy things and getting people in cahoots with us." Today the Dance Palace is run by an interim Executive Director Louise Franklin, and three part-time staff people, Kelly McRae, Rick Didia, and Sue Rahmer.

The Dance Palace began on Main Street, in the old Point Reyes Emporium building (now housing Cabaline) - a building that was without heat through the first winter. The young troupe ; struggled with the landlords (Gregory Val Goeschen and Alice Carrell) throughout the winter, keeping warm by wearing lots of clothes and hovering around the gas cooking stove, until they finally agreed to install heat. In spite of the temperature, early events included movies, dances, folk dancing classes for Tomales High School students, and the very first Holiday Crafts Fair.

In early 1972, Marin County Building Department inspectors closed the building down due to numerous code violations (including the existence of only one toilet shared by male and female alike). After extensive negotiations, and with the assistance of local residents Sim Van Der Ryn, John Burroughs and Michael Whitt who each donated a month’s rent, the Dance Palace re-opened with new wiring and a variety of other improvements. Finances continued to be rocky, until July of that year, when 4th District Supervisor Bud Barr, to the astonishment of his colleagues and the Dance Palace group, rammed through a pasted together proposal to provide $5,000 in County funding to support the Dance Palace. That year also saw the formation of the Palace Players, directed by Gene Ptak and Michael Jayson, presenting its first production: Muzeeka by John Guare.

The Palace Players continued to present exciting and unusual theatre productions including its first musical in 1974, Tom Paine. That year, photographer Art Rogers unveiled his first exhibit of Point Reyes Nation, a collection of photographs that includes many wonderful historical shots from the Dance Palace’s history, some of which will be featured in the Jack Mason Museum exhibit. Historian Jack Mason tangled with the Palace Players in 1975, when the group presented the West Coast premiere of the then-unknown playwright Sam Shepard’s Tooth of Crime. The poster for the show, which contains some nudity and rough language, included a warning for parents to leave their children at home. Unfortunately, the warning, which itself used a four-letter word, offended Mr. Mason and other Point Reyes residents and business people. Some posters were torn down, and the Point Reyes Downtown Businessmen’s Association (as it was then called), called a special meeting to discuss the matter. Ultimately, the play’s director Gene Ptak, Dance Palace Director Carol Friedman, Jack Mason and the Association were able to discuss the matter, with Jack Mason attending the show and writing a rather positive review for the Point Reyes Light. Performances were standing-room only throughout the play’s run. The show’s cast included current residents Charlie Morgan, Lisa Doron, Cathy Llewellyn and Steve Marshall.

Those were boom years for theatre at the Dance Palace. The Palace Players presented exciting productions including Threepenny Opera and Tango, and the Hot Tomales Theatre Company was formed and showcased works including The Rose Tattoo and A Streetcar Named Desire. According to a Point Reyes Light headline in 1975, “theatre is alive and well in West Marin.” More recently, Cubit Productions presented a variety of musical and theatrical shows at the Dance Palace, garnering Bay Area theatre awards for their production of Closer Than Ever which debuted at the Dance Palace in 1994.

Theatre Lunatico, directed  by Tina Taylor, was the resident theatre company at the Dance Palace from March 2005 until June 2011. Working exclusively with local actors, and with Inverness musical director, Laura Alderdice, the company produced and created 10 innovative and entertaining theatre productions dedicated to promoting West Marin artists.

In 1975, the group established the Friends of Dance Palace, a membership organization that supports Dance Palace programs, with annual dues set at $12 per person. In 1976 a $16,000 grant from the California Arts Council allowed the group to purchase its first theater lighting system (some of the instruments purchased then are still in use today) as well as support classes in dance taught by Melinda Leithold and Carol Friedman, photography with Art Rogers, poetry with Diane di Prima, and drama with Gene Ptak.

Incorporation

The Dance Palace incorporated as a fully tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit community organization in 1977, and a year later formed its first board of directors: Nancy Hemmingway, Lynn Murray, Wendy Friefeld, Carol Friedman, Michael Jayson. That year, 175 people joined as members.

Financial History

From 1972 to 1978, the Dance Palace struggled financially, but always managed to sustain itself with the assistance of funding (ranging from $5-6,000 annually) from the Miscellaneous Service Budget of the County of Marin, with the ongoing support and assistance of Supervisor Gary Giacomini. Supervisor Roumiguere usually cast the only negative vote. According to the Point Reyes Light, in a good natured exchange with his fellow supervisors, he couldn’t be persuaded to make the vote unanimous, though he stated, “they are a nice bunch of kids out there.” Warned Supervisor Wornum, “I’d be careful riding your horse past the Dance Palace in the parade next year.”

Financial support also came from a wide variety of innovative and creative fundraisers which have included the annual Dance Palace Auction, A Night in Casablanca, and the world premier of John Carpenter’s film. The Fog. Filming of that movie had caused major disruptions for the Dance Palace and for Director Carol Friedman and Technical Coordinator Michael Jayson who then lived upstairs, including an evening during which filming continued throughout the night and into early morning hours. As apology and a gesture to the community, Carpenter allowed the group the first showing of the film as a fundraiser, and it was a gala evening featuring extensive audience participation and many bottles of champagne.

1979 was the year of Proposition 13, which sent shock waves throughout the county government. That year, county funds were cut substantially, and ten organizations previously funded by the county were chosen by the San Francisco Foundation to be funded through the then-unknown Beryl Buck Trust. Funding from the Buck Trust has continued to help support the Dance Palace since that year (although in increasingly smaller amounts and percentages - in 1983, the Buck Trust provided 55% of the budget, today it provides 14%), with a five-year grant in 1983 making it possible for the organization to do long-range planning for its programs. That year also saw the establishment of a senior luncheon and club, in cooperation with Whistlestop Wheels, which continues to meet weekly on Thursdays. It was also the year of the controversy over Synanon. Over 200 people attended a rare face-to-face discussion held between representatives of the Synanon Foundation and local residents.

Children

As more and more Dance Palace members and friends started families, and had children, the organization began to focus on children’s programs. In 1980, Dance Palace Camp was established, directed by Zea Morvitz and Joanie Cooke, serving 24 kids three mornings a week at the West Marin School. Today, the camp is located at the new Dance Palace and serves 115 children ages 6 to 15, and is directed by Vickisa Feinberg. In 1981, Gene Ptak directed the first production of the Dance Palace Summer Stock Players - William Inge’s Picnic. In the cast was Cindy Goldfield, who now carries on the tradition as director of the program. Summer Stock productions have included Miller’s The Crucible, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Guys and Dolls and Studs Terkel’s Working.

1981 was the Dance Palace’s tenth anniversary year, and the birthday was celebrated in grand style with a big party featuring a huge birthday cake in the shape of the Dance Palace, and a troupe of tap-dancing birthday cakes.

That was also the year of the lawsuit over use of the Buck Trust money. Director Carol Friedman and the Dance Palace, as members of the Marin Council of Agencies (one of the litigants in the suit), were active in the effort to keep Buck funds in Marin County. Friedman testified at the trial, which resulted in the formation of the Marin Community Foundation as trustee for the funds.

English As A Second Language

The growing Latino community in West Marin made the need for English as a Second Language classes important, and in 1985, in collaboration with West Marin Health and Human Services and the College of Marin, these classes were established. Today, the Marin Literacy Project offers ongoing ESL classes in collaboration the Dance Palace, Marin Head Start and Papermill Creek Children’s Corner.

Facilities

In 1983, the owner of the Dance Palace building, Alice Carrell, put the building on the market. After long and intensive discussions, the Dance Palace Board of Directors decided to try to purchase the building for a permanent home, and secured the owner’s verbal agreement to the transaction. Grants were received from the San Francisco Foundation ($150,000) and the Senior Center Bond Act ($40,000), and a capital campaign to raise funds from the community commenced. In 1985, after many months of long and hard work, Carrell changed her mind and decided not to sell the building. According to Director Carol Friedman, “Alice’s decision was devastating for us at the time, but in the long run, it was the best thing that every happened to the Dance Palace.”

What emerged from the Dance Palace Board was an even greater commitment to finding and securing a permanent home. The Board investigated the possibility of a joint venture with the Lion’s Club at the Red Barn, or purchasing the old Sandcastle building, but ultimately chose to purchase a piece of property then owned by Sacred Heart Church at 5th and B Streets. The Parish, after many years, had decided to sell the beloved property (on which was housed the old church) and use the funds to upgrade their property in Olema, and offered the property for sale to the Dance Palace, wanting it to be used for a community purpose. The Dance Palace then embarked on a long process of planning and fundraising. Ground was broken for construction in May of 1989. Construction was overseen by architect Jim Campe and a small hired crew, led by Jeff Long with Chris Helfer, with many community residents volunteering time wielding hammers and paintbrushes to make the building possible. The campaign and construction period featured the slogan “Be There!” with a picture of a hammer on t-shirts and buttons, as well as a marvelous Western Weekend float featuring a huge hammer. (The very first Dance Palace parade entry featured Carol Friedman, Suzanne D’Coney, Nancy Hemmingway, Lia Graveson and Deborah Henson-Conant tap dancing on the back of a flatbed truck to Don’t Fence Me In; the announcer greeted them as “our local hippies”). Jazz on the Half Shell, our jazz and oyster festival, originated as a fundraiser for the Dance Palace building and continues to this day as an annual summer tradition.

In 1989, the Dance Palace moved into a new 4700 square foot facility made possible through the financial and volunteer contributions of over 350 community residents. Over $750,000 was raised in the campaign and the property is now owned without debt. In 1991, the entire project was completed with the construction of the lobby, which is now used on an ongoing basis for art exhibits organized by the Dance Palace Art Committee.

With the move, weekly class and meeting usage has increase by 60%, and weekend event usage increased by 17%. The main space is fully equipped with theatrical lighting, dimmer board, and acoustic panels and curtains; the church building is being renovated to provide more light and better insulation. Both are in almost constant use. By 1991, membership had increased by 18%, and today there are 650 household Dance Palace members. In 1992, the Dance Palace purchased a concert grand piano, and initiated an ongoing series of quality classical and jazz concerts in West Marin. In 1994 and 1995, the Dance Palace was one of six Marin agencies chosen to receive targeted funds from PG&E's corporate gift to United Way.

During the Mount Vision Fire in October 1995, the Dance Palace became a central gathering and meeting place for the community and for fire victims. The space was used as an emergency medical clinic, an office for the Fire Department, an information center, and for numerous community meetings and workshops presenting information and providing assistance to people.

The First Dance Palace Trivia Bee was launched as a fundraiser for the Dance Palace in 1996, with Winston Wolf’s Interlopers winning the grand prize. Since then, the trophy has been held by The Four Guys, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Lucasilm/ILM, and KWMR.

Outdoor Activities

Input from the community led the Dance Palace to focus on full use of all its outdoor space. With support from Pacific Bell, West Marin Community Resources, and the Inverness Garden Club, new outdoor recreational facilities including a half-basketball court, volleyball net, and ping pong table were installed in 1999. A complete landscape plan to create a park-like area and atmosphere for the community was completed in 2003.

Today, the Dance Palace presents 120 special cultural and recreational events per year; sponsors thirty-five classes per week; and serves over 2400 people per month. The Dance Palace Community Center is open seven days per week, with affordable use fees for classes and events. Over the years, the Dance Palace has hosted performances and lectures by many well-known artists and experts including political activist Angela Davis, poet Robert Bly, country western singers Tammy and Wynona Judd (who did their first public performance at a Dance Palace Talent Show), jazz musician Art Lande, folk singers Ronnie Gilbert and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, actor Peter Donat, cabaret singer Weslia Whitfield, the Flirtations, California Cajun Orchestra, the Klezmorim, Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater, jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, Hawaiian slack key guitar master Led Kaapana, and jazz storyteller Rhiannon. Classes and programs have included aikido, yoga, aerobics, English as a Second Language, writing, singing, theater improvisation, international folk dance, African dance and drumming, ceramics, acting, and senior support and discussion groups.

Community Support

Through its years of service, the Dance Palace has built a firm foundation of community support, with the active involvement of its membership and volunteer Board of Directors. Financial support for our basic operating expenses and programs comes from membership dues and contributions, fundraisers, earned income, and grants. Donors have included the Marin Community Foundation, California Arts Council, United Way, Marin Charitable Association, Marin Youth Commission, Esprit Foundation, Morris Stulsaft Foundation, California Council for the Humanities, Autodesk, Inc., Summer Youth Project, West Marin Thrift Store, Dolphin Fund, Target Stores, California Arts Council, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, United Way, Rex Foundation, Pacific Telesis, Gannett Foundation, Chevron U.S.A., Lucasfilm, Fireman’s Fund Foundation, Milagro Foundation, Jenifer Altman Fund, County of Marin, Gerhard Family Fund, Victor and Lorraine Honig Fund of Vanguard Public Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Board Of Directors History

Over the past 35 years, more than eighty people have served as members of the Dance Palace Board of Directors. They are: Alden Adkins, Kate Adams, Lois Balken, Tom Balogh, Barbara Bard, Nancy Bertelsen, Debbie Burnett, Kate Cadiz, Pamela Campe, Julie Cassel, Melissa Claire, Colleen Conley, Suzanne D’Coney, John Dillon, Jim Donnelly, Terry Donohue, Bindy Durrie, Ann Emanuels, Gayanne Enquist, Burton Eubank, Meryl Evens, Loretta Farley, Hope Foote, Dianne Fradkin, Carol Friedman, Wendy Friefeld, Matt Gallagher, Ann Gessert, Liza Goldblatt, Cindy Goldfield, Steve Hadland, Colin Hamblin, Diane Haris, Nancy Hemmingway, Susanna Henderson, Sara Hobson, Sandra Holland, Mac Holliday, Steven Hurwitz, Michael Jayson, Phil Jonik, Hugo Jimenez-Cameron, Deb Jones, Marty Knapp, Jack Kramer, Herb & Gina Kutchins, Barry Linder, Penny Livingston, Marshall Livingston, Bobbi Loeb, Josh Luftig, Rick Lyttle, Betty Maas, Michael Magbie, Lauri Manarik, Kate McClain, Paul Mellion, Michael Mery, Sarah Means, Sharon Mooney, Connie Morse, Dan Morse, Zea Morvitz, Kate Munger, Lynn Murray, Patty Neubacher, Sky Nelson, Susan Nelson, Elizabeth O'Brien, Cindy Ohama, Martha Olmsted, Christine Owens, Richard Pearson, Karen Pierce, Carlos Porrata, Laury Porter, Susan Prince, Michael Prokop, Elisabeth Ptak, Lila Purinton, Mark Riesenfeld, Karen Riley, Kerry Rose, Angelo Sacheli, Wendy Schwartz, Rishi Schweig, Judd Simmons, Judith Ciani Smith, Suzanne Speh, Eleanor Stern, Susie Stitt, Tina Taylor, Tor Taylor, Ron Wagner, Dorothy Nason White, JoyLynn Wing, Dino Williams, John Wolthausen, and Scoby Zook. The Dance Palace’s first Technical Coordinator was Michael Jayson; since then, Bob Stahl, Dewey Livingston, Tony Ragona, Jon Bernson, Matt Gallagher, Sky Nelson, Jerry Lunsford and Burton Eubank have served ably at the job.

The Dance Palace works to respond directly to expressed community needs and to reach out to all segments of West Marin, encouraging involvement and communication at all levels. A fundamentally multi-purpose organization, the Dance Palace operates as a school, meeting space, theater and gallery. The Dance Palace serves as a unique model of a community center providing a highly multi-faceted program on a small budget through the ongoing participation of committed volunteers.

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