The Early Days
The Dance Palace was established by seven young people who came to town in 1971, looking for a personal and artistic home. Founded as a studio for dance in a historic building referred to locally as the “Old Palace,” the Dance Palace formed its roots as an active community hub for West Marin. Early events included movies, dances, folk dancing classes for Tomales High School students, and the Holiday Crafts Fair, which continues to this day.
In 1977, the Dance Palace incorporated as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit, and a year later formed its first board of directors: Nancy Hemmingway, Lynn Murray, Wendy Friefeld, Carol Friedman, and Michael Jayson. That year, 175 people joined as members.
As Dance Palace members and friends started families, the organization began to focus on children’s programs. In 1980, the Dance Palace camp was established, serving 24 kids three mornings a week at West Marin School. Today, the 5 week camp is located at the Dance Palace and serves over 100 children ages 6 to 15.
Children’s programming continued to expand and now includes Baby Gym, Kid’s Musical Theater, Aikido, Art, and Children’s Choir.
A Multi-Use Facility
In 1989, the Dance Palace moved out of the Old Palace building in downtown, and into its current home. The board purchased a piece of property from Sacred Heart Church at 5th and B streets. The Parish had decided to sell their beloved property and use the funds to upgrade their property in Olema. They wanted the site to be used for a community purpose, and the Dance Palace was a perfect match. The move was made possible through the financial and volunteer contributions of over 350 community residents, with over $750,000 raised.
In 1992, the Dance Palace purchased a concert grand piano with the help of a local donor. The outdoor space was also updated. A half basketball court was installed in 1999 with help from local donors. Recent landscaping upgrades in the rear yard have created a great space for outdoor events. The main space is fully equipped with theatrical lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system used for performing arts events.
Over the years, the Dance Palace has hosted many well known artists and experts including political activist Angela Davis, poet Robert Bly, western singers Naomi & Wynonna Judd and pianist George Winston among many, many others.
Here for the Community
Each year, the Dance Palace hosts more than 90 performances and sponsors, co-sponsors or underwrites support for over 480 classes. It also provides free space for about 360 public service-related meetings per year including government agencies, local non-profits, personal support groups and more.
The Dance Palace raises money to provide scholarships for each of the children’s programs and summer camp – no one is turned away due to lack of funds. Approximately 37% of the after school program attendees and about 50% of camp attendees receive scholarships.
The Dance Palace supports the Papermill Creek Children’s Corner preschool by continuing to heavily subsidize its monthly rent on the Dance Palace property, beginning in the early 1990’s.
The Dance Palace also co-sponsors the weekly senior lunch, which has been ongoing for more than 25 years. This provides an opportunity for our local seniors to socialize and receive a healthy meal each week.
In addition to its ongoing community support, the Dance Palace has provided aid during Marin’s biggest natural disasters including the 1982 flood, the 1995 Inverness firestorm, and most recently in 2017 by providing essential aid to about 200 evacuees of the Santa Rosa fires in their time of need.
Through its many years of service, the Dance Palace has built a firm foundation of community support, with the active involvement of its membership. Its engaged Board of Directors, including the development, events, art, and finance committees of the board, provide invaluable leadership to the organization.
The Dance Palace is funded by individual and business memberships, donations, grants and facility rentals. Recent grantors include: County of Marin, William + Flora Hewlett Foundation, Crescent Porter Hale Foundation, Kimball Foundation, Tides Foundation, Common Counsel Foundation, West Marin Fund, West Marin Community Services, County of Marin Fish and Wildlife Commission, Marin Community Foundation, George Lucas Family Foundation.