The Sundance Association 2020 - THE YEAR IN REVIEW

The Sundance Association for Country-Western Dancing is dedicated to providing education in and opportunities for dancing for the LGBT+ community and its friends, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, though our reach extends globally. As an all-volunteer and community-supported nonprofit organization, the Sundance Association fosters individual growth and passion, encourages volunteerism and philanthropic giving, and strives to create an inclusive and welcoming community.

We are best known for Sundance Saloon, normally hosting dozens of participants for lessons and dancing every Sunday and Thursday in San Francisco. We produce an annual four-day country-western dance weekend, the Sundance Stompede, that attracts hundreds of folks from around the world. And we hold many special events in the larger LGBT+ community throughout the year, including dancing at San Francisco Pride, at the Castro Street Fair, at Jane Warner Plaza at Castro & Market Streets, and on RSVP cruises.

In 2020 all of our usual projects came to a screeching halt.

This is a story of determination and survival during the year of the coronavirus, how we adapted, and how we even found silver linings along the way.

PRE-PANDEMIC • January–March, 2020

It's almost hard to remember now, but 2020 started off as a normal year of dancing. It was beyond our wildest imaginations that our world would be turned upside down in just a few months. Sundance Saloon carried on with lessons and joyous dancing every Sunday and Thursday. In case you've forgotten what it was like, here's a promo video from early in the year, compiled with footage from Sundance Saloon on January 12, 2020.


And here we are enjoying a sunny winter day dancing at Jane Warner Plaza, in the heart of the Castro in San Francisco in January.


Sundance Saloon offered country-western lessons and dancing aboard the RSVP Caribbean cruise in February, with not a care in the world. A cruise! In February! Can you imagine?


It wasn't until early March that it became clear that the novel coronavirus was becoming an urgent public health emergency in the United States. Sundance Saloon took many precautions to try to create as safe an environment as possible, including symptom screening of attendees, touch-less entry payment and coat-check, required hand-washing upon entry, multiple hand sanitizer stations, disinfection of the main ballroom ... and this touch-less Barn Dance.


The concern surrounding Covid-19 escalated rapidly. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic. On the morning of Thursday, March 12, we made the difficult decision to close Sundance Saloon. This was to be volunteer manager Rob Ollander-Krane's last night at Sundance before moving to Palm Springs. Instead of the planned celebration, we went to the club only to take down our set-up from Sunday. Here's a photo of Rob folding the last of the flags in an empty ballroom.

Sundance Saloon closed on Thursday, March 12

We figured we'd probably be closed for what? A few weeks? The following week the San Francisco Bay Area became the first place in the country to issue a stay-at-home order, followed a few days later by all of California, and then most of the rest of the country. It eventually became clear that this wasn't going away any time soon. In May, we made the decision to postpone the Sundance Stompede from Labor Day weekend in 2020 to Memorial Day weekend in 2021.


Like many other organizations throughout the country, Sundance rapidly figured out how to have a greater online presence. Ingu's garage was transformed into a studio. Webcasting equipment was sold out everywhere (along with toilet paper), but we were able to coddle together what we needed. On March 22, our first live-stream line dance lessons were broadcast over YouTube Live and have continued weekly since then. We have archived every broadcast, which means we now have line dance lessons posted for nearly every line dance in our repertoire. Not only has our Sundance Saloon Online Live program helped keep our community together, but it has brought in new folks from all over the country.

Here is the archive of our first Sundance Saloon Online Live broadcast from March 22.


And here's a high-speed video of the transformation from garage to studio, a one-hour process condensed here to three minutes. It wasn't until June that it became comfortable or even allowed to have such luxuries as a set-up helper and a guest instructor over to participate.


After the first Sundance Saloon Online Live broadcast, we thought it would be fun for folks to submit videos of themselves dancing at home, and then assemble them into a composite video. These "Shelter-In-Place Composite Videos" became highly anticipated additions to our video library on Facebook and YouTube, and another great way to hold our community together. It was also fun to see these develop from relatively simple compilations to more complex presentations as video editing skills progressed.

The composite video that most exemplified the times is this video of the new line dance "Black Like Me," choreographed by Ingu specifically as a response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd in late May. The song is "Black Like Me" by Mickey Guyton, a powerfully moving country-western ballad with lyrics that would resonate with anyone who grew up feeling different from others.

Want to see more shelter-in-place composite videos? Check out our YouTube playlist.

Or, here is a list of the individual videos with links:

GIVE OUT DAY • June, 2020

Much of our energy in June was focused on Give Out Day, a fundraising platform for LGBTQ organizations sponsored by the Horizons Foundation. Prize grants of up to $10,000 were given to the organizations with the greatest number of donors to their Give Out Day campaign. Our community really came through, and when it was all over, we had raised over $22,000 from over 1000 donors, enough for a second-place finish in our category and an additional prize grant of $5,000.

SUNDANCE IN THE PARK • June–December, 2020

In mid-June San Francisco began to relax its Covid-19 related restrictions to allow small-group organized outdoor activities for up to twelve people. The plaza in front of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park looked like it would work, and we began dancing there on Thursday evenings. We were never sure if we were really allowed to be there, so it was comforting that the museum security personnel and the park patrols saw us there every week and did not object to our presence. We were careful to keep our sound levels low and to make it clear we were faithful to social distancing and face mask requirements. After having no opportunity to dance with each other for three months, this new experience was exhilarating!


At the conclusion of our Virtual Stompede over the Labor Day weekend we live-streamed a special Sunday evening edition of our Sundance In The Park at the California Academy of Sciences. However this time the security guard at the museum did object to our presence. Fortunately we were able to proceed that day, but we were told not to return. So in September we moved to our Plan B spot in the nearby Music Concourse between the trees.

This proved to be a fine location. While the dirt surface was a little messier, it was actually much more comfortable as a dance surface, and the spacing of the trees made for perfect "pods" to help keep us distanced while dancing. Once again, the park patrol had no objection to our presence, and even seemed to encourage our being there. As the season progressed we had to bring in our own lighting, but it made for a festive environment. And in October we were treated to the newly-installed band-shell stage lights and the operation of the blazingly colorful SkyStar Observation Wheel.


Also in September we were able to secure a bona fide permit from San Francisco Recreation & Parks to dance on the stage of Stern Grove on Saturday afternoons. This new location was fantastic! The stage has a terrific boot-friendly wood surface, and the setting is stunning. In October, San Francisco increased the number of participants allowed for group exercise, and we were able to fit 18 dancers on the stage and still maintain our desired 12 feet of separation. Here's a video from our Halloween event that took place on Halloween itself.


In October at Stern Grove we tried this experiment of a touch-less two-step. It worked surprisingly well and was quite a sweet and joyful moment.


Unfortunately, late in October, San Francisco Rec & Parks discovered that we were dancing in the Music Concourse of Golden Gate Park and objected, so we had to discontinue our use of that location. By now the California Academy of Sciences had reopened, and so we inquired about getting permission to dance on their plaza. To our surprise, they were enthusiastic about the idea and worked with us to make it happen. And so in November we returned to our original location as a fully contracted event on Sunday evenings.

But then SF Rec & Parks also objected to our presence at the California Academy of Sciences. It's not clear what the reasons were, or what subsequently transpired between the museum and SFR&P, but that one special night in November turned out to be our only night there.

VIRTUAL STOMPEDE • September, 2020

Our huge four-day country-western dance extravaganza, the Sundance Stompede, had been scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend. Instead, we produced a two-day "Virtual Stompede" which attracted dozens of attendees. We presented two tracks of live-streamed dance lessons, one for line dancing, and the other for couples' dancing (but generally aimed at solo exercises) – 24 hours of workshops in all. In addition, we had Zoom social events, the live-streamed line dance-a-long at the California Academy of Sciences ... and this wonderful hour of virtual exhibition performances, featuring video submissions from groups from all over the country and some retrospective videos from past Stompedes.


Since June, San Francisco has allowed the production of live-streamed broadcasts indoors with up to twelve people. When the number of daily new cases in San Francisco fell to very low levels, and after we lost our dance location in the Music Concourse, we started live-streaming small-group line dancing at Club Roccapulco. (Our usual Sundance Saloon location had been turned into a temporary storage location, and it was just easier to use Club Roccapulco, which turned out to be a good substitute.)

When we started dancing upon our return to the California Academy of Sciences on Sunday evenings, we moved our Sundance Saloon Online Live broadcasts to Thursday evenings at Roccapulco. This only lasted a couple of weeks, though. After our CAS location fell through, and with the Covid-19 case numbers re-escalating to record levels, we put a hold on indoor events.

Sundance-A-Long live-stream at Club Roccapulco


After we lost our space at the California Academy of Sciences, SF Rec & Parks helped us find another alternate location and offered us Union Square. The timing of this was perfect, as the Square was gloriously decked out in holiday lights, making it a perfect place for a substitute Holiday Ball. On December 9 we live-streamed our "Holiday i-Ball" line dancing to dozens of virtual attendees, and this became another incredibly wonderful and memorable Sundance night.

In early December San Francisco cut the allowed number of participants in such activities from 25 back down to 12. So we created a Holiday i-Ball Part II (December 18) to accommodate the folks from the first part that we had to cancel.

Holiday iBall - December 9, 2020

We made it through 2020 relatively unscathed. We all miss partner dancing, and we miss the camaraderie of Sundance Saloon. But we're grateful to have the outlets we've found. The opportunity to dance in such gorgeous locations as Golden Gate Park, Stern Grove, and Union Square would never have happened were it not for the pandemic. And our Sunday night live-stream lessons have enabled us to reach folks far beyond the Bay Area and welcome them into our community. With the success of our Give Out Day campaign, generous contributions to our ongoing Covid-19 Relief Fund, and renewing and new membership donations, we actually ended 2020 in good financial shape.

We can't end this review without acknowledging all of the volunteers who stepped up this year to help with our Sundance In The Park events, Sundance Saloon Online Live set-up and instruction, Virtual Stompede instruction and workshop moderation, and more. We're also grateful to the folks who sent in submissions for the composite videos. And, of course, to the hundreds of donors who chose to support Sundance during this year of need.

Thanks also to the Horizons Foundation for the $5,000 Give Out Day grant (and the Homebody Fund of the East Bay Community Foundation and the federal Economic Injury Disaster Program for smaller grants); to San Francisco Rec & Parks and the City and County of San Francisco for the use of Stern Grove and Union Square; to the California Academy of Sciences for their enthusiasm and use of their plaza; and to Duc Luu, owner of Space 550 and Roccapulco, for his continued partnership as we get through this pandemic together.

We expect 2021 to be another challenging year. We know it's still going to be many months before we can return to any semblance of normal. (In December we decided again to postpone the Sundance Stompede another year, to Memorial Day weekend in 2022.) But with the continued support of our community, we know we'll get through it, as we move eventually towards a return to normalcy and the re-opening of Sundance Saloon.

Zoom Community eMeeting - May 29, 2020