Sat 10 Sep 2011
A merry throng of West Marin residents turned out Friday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Dance Palace Community Center. Carol Friedman, who lived over the Dance Palace in its original location, was executive director for most of its history.
“The Dance Palace was established by seven young people who blew into town in 1971, looking for a personal and artistic home,” according to a history printed by the community center.
“One of the founders, Carol Friedman, was its executive director for 37 years and retired in 2008.” Dan Mankin, who had been among other things a juggler, acrobat, and clown, was then hired to take over her job.
“Another [founder], Nancy Hemmingway, West Marin’s community librarian, is still active in the life of the Dance Palace. According to Hemmingway, [the founders] 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 full-time executive director Mankin and three part-time staff: Noele Kostelic, Jerry Lunsford, and Margarita Echeverria.” Originally located in the Point Reyes Emporium building where Cabaline is today, the community center moved to its present location in 1989. The new 4,700-square-foot auditorium and kitchen were built with donations, grants, and volunteer labor. The site was purchased from Sacred Heart Parish, which used the money on its new church in Olema. The original chapel is now a wing of the Dance Palace and is used for smaller activities. Soon after the Dance Palace got going in the 1970s, a group calling itself the Tomales Bay Explorers Club began entering elaborate floats in each year’s Western Weekend Parade. Many of the floats parodied news of the day — such as Imelda Marcos’ vast collection of shoes or the King Tut exhibit then in San Francisco. Local tap dancers calling themselves the Fabutaps accompanied the float, and on Friday they gave a reunion performance. However, soon after they started their routine — dancing to a CD of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes — the CD began sticking. Luckily, one of the Fabutaps had a backup disk, so after an amusing interruption, everything came off as planned, and the audience loved it. Parodying Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song, current and former directors, along with Dance Palace staff, sang: “Forty years and still going strong…. Dancing here is so much fun.” Scoby Zook, president of the board, received a kidding salute in the form of the Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit Leader of the Pack. A history of the Dance Palace displayed for Friday’s anniversary reveals how much of the community center’s early history consisted of coping with government regulations. In addition, some of the performances in the old Dance Palace building raised a few eyebrows. When the Palace Players gave the West Coast debut of playwright Sam Shepard’s Tooth of the Crime, Inverness historian Jack Mason and some Point Reyes Station merchants objected to its poster that included the phrase “No sh-t.” (See green box above.)
After some negotiations, Mason and the merchants dropped their objections, and in his Point Reyes Light column Funny Old World, Mason said he liked the play but was puzzled by an actress’ baring her chest. Nor was it the only time an actor or actress made a brief appearance in the buff at the Dance Palace. But that was back in the good old days.
The Dance Palace Kids Musical Theater performed two songs Friday. The masters of ceremony for the anniversary party were Claire Peaslee and Josh Espulgar-Rowe, a 4th grader at West Marin School. Fourth graders from West Marin School, who were coached by Dolores Gonzalez of the school staff, provided a great rendition of the Mexican Hat Dance. Performing the Russian Hand Jive were (from left) Dan Mankin, executive director of the Dance Palace; director Loretta Farley; former executive director Carol Friedman; and musician Ingrid Noyes.