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    Donna’s Chronicles: “We woke to the sad news…”

    By Donna Sachet–

    We awoke to the sad news of the death of Olivia de Havilland, a star of the silver screen who truly represents the last of her kind, the passing of a theatrical giant, and the end of an era. Known to some as merely the Academy Award nominated co-star of Gone With the Wind, she enjoyed over five decades of success in Hollywood, including dynamic roles in Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), The Heiress (1949), My Cousin Rachel (1953), Light in the Piazza (1962), and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), eventually winning two Best Actress Academy Awards, and expanding into live theatrical and television roles as well. Although this legendary actress is gone, her many performances will be available to the devotee and uninitiated as long as film is cherished. Much will be written about her personal life, her favorite charitable efforts, and more, but personally, the death of de Havilland somehow mirrors some of the losses incurred by the current pandemic.

    One of the activities we most miss is dancing. We’re talking about the big clubs, the special themed nights, those regular gatherings of smiling faces on a crowded dance floor, rising and falling with the music skillfully orchestrated by a star DJ. We participated Sunday night in Brian Kent’s PLAY T-Dance, a virtual party to close out a virtual Dore Alley Street Fair. That’s right. Dore Alley was virtual and this dance party was virtual. DJ Russ Rich provided fabulous music and Brian’s team staged lighting and performance art, augmented by glimpses of individuals and small groups of people dancing at home, many dressed as if for Dore Alley. It was so gratifying to see familiar faces, to hear glorious music, and to feel the tug of the dance floor once more.  There was even a charitable element as PLAY T-Dance raised money for Folsom Street Events, which has long supported a variety of local beneficiaries with their various events. As the party ended, many signed off with comments about rejoining on a real dance floor soon. It is anyone’s guess how soon that may be.

    Unlike the death of a Hollywood actress, the death of Gay dance clubs is much more personal. We are fortunate enough to remember many of the great clubs of San Francisco. We may have just missed I-Beam, but we danced many an hour at Audrey Joseph’sPleasuredome and Universe. We relished in Janine Shioto’s weekly Fresh at Ruby Skye and the many themed nights of Gus Bean at 1015 Folsom or Sound Factory, and smaller events at Brian Kent’s BeatBox. Who can forget the appearance of a beloved diva at the peak of a night of dancing, the crowd surging forward and the diva delivering the performance of a lifetime?  Sometimes the call of the dance floor took us outdoors at SF Pride, Folsom Street Fair, or White Parties, or to London’s Heaven, Paris’ Les Bains-Douches, Palm Springs, Fire Island, The River, or a packed Gay cruise ship. Or sometimes we settled for smaller venues closer to home and danced more briefly at The Café, Beaux, or Badlands. Since arriving in San Francisco from New York with vague memories of Studio 54, The Tunnel, and The Saint, dancing has been a part of our night-time revelry, finding camaraderie and release with like-minded people amid flashing lights, fog, bubbles, and more. But when Pleasuredome closed and many of us danced there that final night from dusk until dawn, we knew that other clubs did exist and other venues would open. When Audrey opened Mezzanine, we saw many of the same faces at the door, behind the bar, and on the dance floor. But now, what happens next?

    As Sunday’s virtual PLAY T-Dance demonstrated, we can have fun with each other although physically distant, even in the privacy of our own homes, but so much of that enjoyment is reliving a very different experience from the past. We loved getting to know the doorpersons, the coat check attendants, the promoters, the DJs, the special effects creators, and more and more gaining their recognition and familiarity. Gradually earning the right of skipping lines, entrance to VIP lounges, and visiting the DJ on stage was a rite of passage. Finding the perfect people with whom to share the experience of a dance floor became paramount. Experiencing the dynamic of hundreds of fellow dancers surging to an uplifting familiar song is irreplaceable. We’ll never forget the magic of descending the steps of the Rotunda of City Hall wearing a train whose edge still lingered on the top step as we hit the last step assisted by 16 shirtless men bearing flags and then dancing beneath the dome at Don Spradlin’s Reunion! Can nights like this ever happen again?

    We applaud the many efforts online, trying to fill the gap while we all rethink nightlife in San Francisco, but where will it all lead?  Big producers with multiple events for thousands, star DJs who fly around the world, and performance artists, whether singers, dancers, flaggers, or others, cannot survive solely in the ether of the internet. Major events are only possible when attended by huge groups who pay a price that creates the financial feasibility of that event. As many of our fellow dancing enthusiasts are saying, we are willing to try different ideas in the meantime, but those ideas must come forward quickly. Do we dance in smaller groups connected by video monitors? Do we explore holographic techniques? Do we dance surrounded by some kind of protective bubble? Or have big dance events gone the way of Olivia de Havilland?

    During the week, we plan to replay some of our favorite de Havilland films, maybe in the company of a few good friends. We can’t wait to hear certain lines delivered with acidic panache or to see perfectly fitted costumes and expertly lit sets. We long to be transported to another place and time through the magic of Hollywood.

    We also long to be transported as only a pulsing dance floor can to a different place and time where music is the connection, smiling faces are the company, and a group dynamic takes over. At last year’s Folsom Street Fair, we headed upstairs to a friend’s party where we could watch the dancing in the street below from a rooftop balcony. As daylight waned, a DJ reminded everyone that the party would end shortly. And then, after a last song, “Dancing Queen,”if we remember correctly, the music ended and the crowd slowly dispersed. Has that music played for the last time? We can close our eyes and dance again at Pleasuredome, Civic Center, or even the EndUp, but when we open our eyes, what will we see?

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at empsachet@gmail.com

    Published on July 30, 2020