Regularly-Scheduled English Dance Series
BACDS operates or co-operates seven regularly-scheduled English country dance series on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings as well as Sunday afternoons. If you live in the greater San Francisco bay area, one of our regular English dances is close to you.
The first regular English country dance series in the San Francisco area probably started on October 18, 1970, when Chuck Ward arranged for the use of a dance studio in exchange for providing music at Scottish country dance lessons. Attendees during that first night found Chuck playing and calling, and were greeted by dance manager Norah Hughes. Little did they know that that evening would be the beginning of over thirty years of local tradition.
Peninsula (Palo Alto) English Dance (1st/3rd/5th Tuesdays- Sep-June)
Pianist Kay Thorne and callers Bruce Hamilton and Bob Fraley started this dance series in the late 1970s. During the early years, Bob and Bruce were the programmers and primary teachers. Musicians included Kay, Liz Dreisbach, Greg & Jere Canote, Gary Breitbard, Stan and Susan Kramer, and Vaughan Wolff. Bob writes "In the early years we did a mix of English Playford, English Community Dance Manuals dances, Southern Squares and Big Set, and an occasional contra. As the Playford Balls got more people interested in that dance form, and as the Old Timey musicians headed north, we settled in on just the English dance."
Jody McGeen, whose background in Baroque dance and music inform her lively instruction style, became programmer not long after her arrival in California in 1985. This dance became a BACDS dance in September 1992.
After many years at San Jose's First Christian Church, sometimes happening informally at Joyce and Dave Uggla's house, and five years or so at Flex-It Aerobics Studio in Mountain View. Jody continued to program the dances, with Alan Winston, Lise Dyckman, and Sharon Green calling frequently and occasional guest callers like Mary Luckhardt, David Newitt, and Bruce Hamilton, until fall 2007 when she left the area. Alan Winston filled in as interim programmer until mid-2008, when Bruce Hamilton became available; he was appointed programmer in May 2008.
The dance continued to move north when in September 2010 it moved to All Saints Episcopal in Palo Alto (as Flex-It was to be demolished). At the same the regular dancers agreed to switch to Tuesday nights. Bruce Hamilton is the house caller with occasional guest callers. Bill Jensen is the regular musician accompanied by other guest players.
Berkeley Thursday English Dance (2nd/4th Thursdays)
One of the oldest dances in the BACDS roster, this dance started at St. Clement's Church in Berkeley in 1974. During the years, this dance had made its home at Berkeley's John Muir School, Oakland's Glenview School, and Berkeley's St. Joseph's School before relocating to its current home at Berkeley's Grace North Church (now Christ Church Berkeley) in 1995.
Beginners that arrive early can get a quick lesson; even without a lesson, everyone is encouraged to take a partner and join in. Unlike the Peninsula and Palo Alto English dances, this dance doesn't feature a house caller or band. Instead, dance programmer Patti Cobb (whose predecessors include Alisa Dodson, David Newitt, Charlie Hancock, and Debra Tayleur) draws from a number of local and regional dance leaders, with folks like Alan Winston, Bruce Hamilton, David Newitt, Mary Luckhardt, Sharon Green, and North Bay favorite Kalia Kliban making regular appearances. The fine bands that Patti selects regularly feature such local notables as Shira Kammen, Jon Berger, Charlie Hancock, Craig Johnson, and Judy Linsenberg. On occasion, Patti has been known to take a seat behind the piano. This dance is also the only local English dance to feature a regular Open Band evening. In September 2022 this dance changed from Wednesday nights to Thursdays because of hall availability.
Palo Alto English Dance (1st Fridays)
Started in 1982 by two women whose names have been lost, this dance was originally a monthly event with no primary leader. After a year or so, Bob Fraley was asked to be the regular programmer; not long after that, the dance became a semi-monthly event, featuring local and visiting talent. Located at the Palo Alto Masonic Temple for many years this dance relocated to St. Mark's Episcopal Church Social Hall after pandemic lockdown.
Bob Fraley continued as a regular caller after Jody Distler-Dill took on programming responsibilities for this dance (until her death in 2015); in that year the Fraleys also moved to Eugene OR. Lise Dyckman has been programmer since 2016. For many years the Nonesuch Country Dance Band (founded in 1985 by Stan & Susan Kramer) was the house band; the Kramers since moved to Berea KY. At present this dance draws musicians from the many talented folks in the Bay Area.
Palo Alto English Dance (5th Fridays)
Advanced ECD evenings on fifth Fridays (approximately 4 times a year) started in 2023, and aim for maximum dancing with minimal teaching. Dancers are expected to be undaunted by figures like: double figure 8s, heys for 3, 4 or more in different configurations, triple minor longways formations, and the like. Calling is shared among Alan Winston, Bruce Hamilton, and Lise Dyckman; they will prompt (and occasionally teach) but may dance in themselves.
(Advanced ECD evenings are not the time to introduce friends or family to ECD. However we would love to have newcomers just one week later at the 1st Friday dances.)
San Francisco English Dance (2nd Saturdays)
This dance, which made its first home at the Children's Day School across from Mission Dolores, was founded by Alisa Dodson, Anise Feldman, and Craig Johnson in 1993. From 1996 to mid-2008, it called Noe Valley's Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco home, with Craig becoming sole programmer. In July of 2008 the dance moved to Danceground Keriac (Divisadero at Post). That venue closed at the end of 2016, and the series moved in December to St. John's Presbyterian Church, 25 Lake at Arguello, in San Francisco's Richmond district, close by the vibrant Clement Street corridor.
Like the Berkeley English series, the San Francisco English dance draws from the exceptional pool of talented callers and musicians that the Bay Area is blessed with.
The series occurs on every second Saturday from 7:30–10:00 pm. Doors open with a beginners' lesson at 7:15.
Berkeley Experienced English Dance (4th Saturdays)
Bruce Hamilton started this dance in 1988 as a regular English dance based at Oakland's Glenview School, with Jenny Beer joining as co-teacher in early 1989. David Newitt became the dance's programmer in late 1989, succeeded by Alisa Jensen (now Dodson) who held the post until 1998. Mary Luckhardt became programmer, followed by Lise Dyckman. Current programmer Sharon Green programs this series with an emphasis on extraordinary music. This dance has made its home at Christ Church Berkeley (previously Grace North Church) from the mid 1990s.
Unlike the other regular English dances that BACDS operates, this dance assumes that dancers are already familiar with the basic vocabulary of English country dance figure. This implies that dancers will have a more enjoyable time at this dance if they have attended a couple of regular English country dances beforehand. (However, the "holiday" dances - November and December - are typically open to all.)
San Jose English Dance (2d Sundays Sep-Jun)
Shirley Worth started this dance series in partnership with the First Unitarian Church of San Jose. The series started with mixed English and contra each time, but has turned into a regular English series on second Sundays and contra series on third Sundays. As of May 2016 the English and contra series no longer share management.
As of 2013, dances run from 2:30 - 5:00 pm, with occasional brief workshops or bonus rounds from 5:00 - 5:30. Starting in April 2015, occasional music jams run from 5:00-7:00, initially focusing on tunes from the Portland Collection.
2nd Friday English Regency Dance (2nd Fridays except August and December)
This series is a co-presentation of BACDS and BAERS, the Bay Area English Regency Society. Started by Vanessa Schnatmeier and Alan Winston in the late 1980s, it has been at St. Mark's in Palo Alto since the late 1990s. Usually focusing on dances from Jane Austen's lifetime (1774-1816), the series changes focus to take advantage of visiting talent, and has hosted Andrew Shaw, Nic Broadbridge, Scott Higgs, and Graham Christian as well as couple-dance evenings with Mary Lea and Jacqueline Schwab. BAERS sponsors several costume/formal/festive-dress balls a year, but this series is casual-dress, like the other BACDS dance series. This series is particularly friendly to new dancers.
The programmer is Alan Winston, who is also the usual caller, and the house band is Divertimento - BAERS musical director James Langdell, William Allen, Paul Kostka, and frequent guest musicians. This is an open band series for those who can genuinely sightread. An evening usually has a bit more waltzing than other BACDS series and often includes original reconstructions of dances from around 1800, and one or two cotillions or quadrille figures as well as the usual assortment of longways dances.
Special thanks to Bruce Hamilton, Bob Fraley, Alan Winston, Nick Cuccia, and Ric Goldman for providing the historical information above, and to Vanessa Schnatmeier for collecting the initial information.
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