If you passed by Jane Warner Plaza early Saturday afternoon, you may have noticed a unique sight: a group of line dancers swinging their same-sex partners 'round and 'round to the twangs of country music.
Created in 1999, The Sundance Association for Country Western-Dancing exists for the purpose of preserving the cultural traditions of country-western dancing in a safe and welcoming environment, particularly for those who identify as LGBTQ. Hoodline spoke with Sundance Board Member Jim Warhol to learn more about the dancing, the history, and the group as a whole to see why he finds Sundance to be "the most wholesome gay/lesbian thing I've done."
"We began over 17 years ago, offering dance events with lessons and other social and community events," Warhol, who has been part of Sundance for around eight years, told us. While the all-volunteer non-profit organization has grown and changed venues over time, the core traditions of the group have stayed the same. "At our core, we celebrate country-western dancing and help newcomers learn both partner and line dancing." Sundance is also part of The International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs.
Part of helping newcomers truly enjoy their experience is teaching the many different dance steps. "Our main dances are two-step, country waltz, East and West coast swing, and shadow dancing," Warhol explains. "Sundance covers the many types with dancing lessons at our events, videos explaining each dance on our website, and information on etiquette and safety at the regular events." Part of dancing in a predominately LGBTQ group also adds an interesting angle to the tradition. "It's wonderful because you have more opportunities to lead or follow, and can dance with a different person three-minutes at a time," says Warhol.
Sundance holds regular, bi-weekly events on Thursdays and Sundays at the Sundance Saloon at 550 Barneveld Ave. (also known as Space 550). "For both of those events, we have DJs and dancing, as well as dance lessons during the first hour or so," Warhol tells us. "We also have a monthly Saturday evening event at Beatbox Country (314 11th St.), and a monthly birthday celebration for members on the first Sunday of each month. The birthday dance is great, because you wear a bandana on your neck if your birthday is that month and everyone can dance and cut-in with you." Attendance at the usual events ranges from 85 people on Thursdays to around 200 on Sundays.
Sundance also enjoys a variety of seasonal events throughout the year. "We have a New Year's Eve dance at the Hotel Whitcomb, which has a great dance floor," Warhol says. "We also do outdoor dances at Jane Warner Plaza, the Castro Street Fair, and SF Pride." Warhol particularly likes the outdoor dancing because it's a great way to make the group and dances more visible to people who may not even know about Sundance.
"Our largest yearly event, which sees guests coming from all over the world, is Sundance Stompede. Stompede takes place from October 15th-18th, and celebrates all things country-western dancing through a series of dance events, workshops, and socials." Other events include a Valentine's Day sweetheart dance, an Easter dance, a beach party dance, and a Country Dance-a-thon.
Beyond lessons and dancing, Sundance also does work with and for the community. "We do a number of fundraisers for groups, such the AIDS and Breast Cancer Emergency funds, as well as Positive Resource Center," Warhol explains. "We even raised over $10,000 to help put in a new and improved dance floor at Space 550 and installed it ourselves." Sundance also has some overlapping attendance with other groups in the area, such as the women's group, Texas Rose.
Warhol admires the different types of people who show up for the dances. "We get people from all over the Bay Area," he tells us. "It's great to get them all together and share the love for country-western dancing."
The mixed group of regulars, including straight and LGBTQ people, goes out of their way to welcome people and make the environment safe and friendly. "We were all beginners at some point," Warhol says. "We want to show you that you can have fun and friendly contact with someone during these dances. It's a great way to learn a new, physical skill as an adult, and the classes and inviting regulars really strive to make it fun for every skill level."
There are membership options to join Sundance, but everyone is welcome to attend the weekly dances for $5, a price that has stayed the same since the group was created. There are also occasional free events, such as their recent 17th anniversary party this April.
Coming up later this month during Pride, you'll find Sundance putting on three events. "We start with Saturday night dance at the Hotel Whitcomb, followed by a daytime outdoor Sunday dance in the Pride festival area at Grove Street near Larkin, and finally have another evening dance at the Whitcomb on Sunday as well."
We asked Warhol what he'd say to someone who has never tried or heard of Sundance before. "Just show up and see how fun and relaxing it can be," he tells us. "Make sure you get there for lessons and bring some comfortable shoes that have a little slide to them. Alternately, stop by one of our outdoor events and just watch us to see what we're all about. You don't have to know how to dance and you don't have to bring a partner."
Learn more about Sundance on their website, or even better, head to one of their regular events and experience it firsthand. In the meantime, check out the video below to get a feel for some of the action: