In this age of start-ups, we hear every day about innovative ideas pursued with singular passion. Some of them are legendary. Two brainy guys get together in a garage to try to create a personal computer, and Apple is born. A local college grad comes home to find the family farm on the brink of failure. He convinces his parents to try something new and Straus Family Creamery, the first organic dairy west of the Mississippi, is established here in West Marin.
It was that same creative spirit, that same kind of innovation and the courage to pursue it on a shoestring budget, that birthed and maintains the Dance Palace—one of the liveliest community centers in the Bay Area and an irreplaceable resource for West Marin. Though the Dance Palace didn’t grow into a technological or agricultural phenomenon, it has matured into a dynamic and multi-faceted organization providing space for classes, performances, meetings, feasts, festivals, and community events of all types.
Located from 1971 until 1988 in a downtown Point Reyes Station storefront, the Dance Palace was christened by its founders, a collective of modern dancers from Berkeley, who chose the name as a kind of nod to the Palace Market across the street. Today’s Dance Palace at the corner of 4th and B Streets was built by a paid crew of two professional carpenters supported by dozens of community volunteers who contributed thousands of hours, first to raise money, then to raise the roof on the new structure.
After all this time, the Dance Palace can no longer be called a start-up, but it still glows with the spark ignited by its founders and kept burning by countless supporters over the years. Unlike some other startups, it continues to operate on a modest budget in a time when building and grounds maintenance can be very costly, and other expenses continue to rise.
The originators of the Dance Palace may have been dancers, but today’s small paid staff and volunteer board of directors must be jugglers, adept at finding affordable ways to continue to provide a safe, friendly, and environmentally sound facility while keeping camps, classes, and rental fees as low as possible.
It isn’t easy.
Currently, about 40 percent of the Dance Palace’s annual budget comes from some 535 individual and family memberships and special contributions. The remainder of the budget must be raised from competitive grants and space rentals.
Despite these uncertainties, the Dance Palace is committed to responding to diverse community needs with programs for kids (Summer Camp, Baby Gym, Kids’ Musical theater); programs for seniors (weekly luncheon, Friendship Circle, OLLI); support for community meetings; the lobby art gallery; Latino cultural programs; and more than 90 annual performances and events that include dance, theater, film, and lectures. And did you know that no one is turned away for inability to pay? Some 180 scholarships are awarded each year for classes, performances, and summer camp.
All of this is costly. How can the Dance Palace continue to innovate, to welcome today’s new ideas, and still remain financially sustainable?
It’s hard now to remember a time before laptops or a day when organic milk wasn’t available in the grocery store—we simply take them for granted. It’s also hard to imagine a time when the Dance Palace wasn’t around, and—we’re only human—sometimes we take the Dance Palace for granted, too.
The Dance Palace isn’t just a building. It’s more like a centrifugal force that can’t be quantified without also taking a measure of those who use it and those who support it financially. For more than four decades, people of all ages—people like you—have gathered to learn, create, explore, and celebrate at the Dance Palace. It’s a community center. A cultural center. A children’s center. A senior center. And much more.
Some might call it a phenomenon. Help keep the Dance Palace phenomenal with your generous support!
Elisabeth Ptak, who lives in Inverness, is a former member of the Dance Palace’s board of directors.
The Dance Palace is having a party to introduce Alison Marks, the new executive director, and the whole community is invited. Dinner will be provided, but in the age-old tradition of neighborly (and Dance Palace) gatherings, dessert will be potluck. Bring your spécialité! Nov. 8, from 5 to 7 p.m.