STGh#63 Courier Ives Shouting man by Chris Braga, Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin
Dance - The Straight Story

THE STRAIGHT STORY

STG # 47 Straight Theater Dance Workshop by Dey
Dance is pivotal to the legendary story of The Straight on the Haight.  In May 1966, The Masonic Hall adjoining the 1500 seat theater on Haight Street was leased by James D. Wilson and Associates, DBA Straight Theater Enterprises, to use as office, studio space, housing for the Straight Ashbury Viewing Society, an in-house Graphics department, and The Straight Theater Acting Company. In June, modern dancer Caitlin Huggins and jazz dancer Annette Rice joined together to form the Straight Theater Dance Workshop. All these groups coalesced as the Straight Theater School of Performing Arts. Later brochures show the program growing to include Gloria Toolsey, teaching Ethnic Dance and Katherine Dunham technique, Jamila teaching belly dancing, Jane Lapiner teaching modern, Peter Swain teaching mime, and  a children's workshop led by Connie Williams and Megan Huggins. The Straight Dance Company grew out of Caitlin's popular classes and performed at the Straight and other local venues. Later brochures show Straight Dance members leading many of the variety of classes offered.

The following summer, the Straight was ready for public dance concerts after the installation of a 5000 sq.. ft. dance floor, sound, lights and extensive renovation. An application was made for permits covering health, safety, and public assembly.  After thorough inspection, the city permits were quickly granted.

Finally, we were ready to apply for a Dancehall permit.  This hundred-year-old process brought Dancehall proprietors under the direct control of the Police Department (making bribery and collusion a likely part of the process) but this time, it would be a story of the "King Who Couldn't Dance", with the Chief of SF Police playing the role of the little mouse king.  We were young entrepreneurs and plowed through the red tape. After several postponements, the hearings dragged on throughout the Summer of Love until finally the Chief denied the permit stating that, "Dance would be bad for the neighborhood".

Front-page stories followed the proceedings as we applied to the Board of Permit
Appeals to overturn the Chief's inexplicable decision.  Dame Judith Anderson testified to the positive nature of the Straight Theater and its Performing Arts Workshops to the deaf ears of the all-white Board of aging political appointees.  The politics of the neighborhood's real estate and merchants stacked the deck as "The Straight on the Haight" reveals in detail. After several more postponements, which kept dancing illegal during the first few months of the Theater's existence, The Board of Permit Appeals let the Chief's denial stand.

Outside the hearing room in city hall's marble corridor, Caitlin again pointed out that one did not need a permit to hold a dance class.  Caitlin, Bill and I had discussed this previously as a possible strategy. We now agreed that with The Straight Theater Dance Workshop in business for over a year, it was time to bring these very popular classes to the Big Floor of the Straight, complete with live musical accompaniment.

We began the "dance classes" the weekend of Sept. 29 and 30, starring  the Grateful Dead and  featuring The Sons of Champlin. The predominately red poster showing the Grateful Dead flying had a banner simply stating "Dance" on both sides of the dates but there also was  a companion handbill more to the point featuring a Courier and Ives man shouting the words" Straight Theater Dance Class".  Caitlin led the first public "dance class" at the Straight by inviting the audience/class to warm up and then led some stretches and brief exercises in dance improvisation. She then suggested that the class practice improvisation to the music of the Grateful Dead. Luther Greene's friend. Ann Halprin, the world-renowned director of the San Francisco Dancerís Workshop and originator of public "Happenings", brought her troupe providing a  kinetic segue into the "Sons" set the following week,  "Environmental Dance Classes" were featured on the poster along with "Caitlin Huggins, B.A. Head Instructress". Two weeks later The Ann Halprin Company returned to lead a three-part Kinetic Movement Happening series. This continued to enhance our claim that these were "dance classes".

The police never challenged our claim that these were dance classes. After a few weeks, the claim disappeared off the posters, yet everybody kept dancing til the day the Straight closed. A year later, when Jane Lapiner and the Living Theater took the floor of the Straight to present cutting-edge works, one of which was danced nude, it still did not bring the police to stop dancing at the Straight.
 
 

Semantics Rule and Art Rocks.


Dancin' at The Straight
photo by STE \ IME
Official Dancehall (Keeper) application notice, 1966

 

STGP#10 Naked Mermaids by Lulu - Incredible Fish, Ph Phactor Jug Band, COW, Halpren Nov 3-4
STGp#13 Go Straight Indian Head by Chris Bragga, Kaleidescope, Lightning Hopkins, Catilin Huggins Head Instructress, Sound by Dangerfield Oct 14-15
STGP#15 Work it Out by Luther Justin Greene-Charlatans - COW, Ann Halprin Oct 20-21
STPG#14 Puppet cut out by Terrie Carlie Musselwhite, Wildflower, Ann Halprin Kinetic Catalyst Oct 27-28

 

Straight Theater Stage Phil Lesh and Bobby Weir during Grateful Dead Instructional Set by Ime cSTE/RW
School of Performing Arts Brochure

(L-R) Steven Virgil, Eric, Kevin, Caitlin Huggins Dance Director, James D Wilson, Ama the Poet, Actors and Directors Joe Gostanian and  Oscar Criner
(L-R) Steven Virgil, Eric, Kevin, Caitlin Huggins Dance Director, James D Wilson,
Ama the Poet,  Actors and Directors Joe Gostanian and Oscar Criner

"Haight To Straight Theater"
SF Examiner 6/28/67

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