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    The LGBT Bar Scene’s Only Organized Sport

    tonyNext weekend, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band whisks Sugar Plum wannabes away for a tropical island vacation for its 2014 Dance-Along Nutcracker®: Frosty’s Hawaiian Holiday. The island getaway takes place next Saturday and Sunday, December 13–14.

    Conducted by Artistic Director Pete Nowlen, the Dance-Along Nutcracker is the Freedom Band’s annual DIY holiday bash. Since 1985, costumed audiences have stormed the dance floor of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for this Bay Area holiday lollapaloooza, making it a contender for first flashmob in history. Imagine a mosh-pit with tutus, fairy wands and ballet music, and you’ve got the picture. Anyone with a yen for a good plié can strap on a tutu from the Tutus R Us Boutique in the back and leap onto the dance floor while the Band performs Nutcracker faves like “Waltz of the Flowers,” “Russian Trepak” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

    Only the “Suite” portion of Tchaikovsky’s ballet (the fairyland dances prominent in Fantasia) is arranged for concert band. So the show is rounded out each year with music on a theme. In between dance-along numbers, actors and dancers tell the story, sing a song or dance in cast feature numbers.

    Created by June Bonacich, this year’s show goes all Don Ho-ho-ho with a mashup of holiday and Hawaiian-themed music like “Aloha Oe Waltz,” “Mele Kalikimaka” and the “Hawaiian War Chant.” The Merry Ukuladies, a trio performing in the Bay Area since 2007, add the strum of ukuleles to the musical mix. When Frosty breaks out of an enchanted gift, the snow-white sands turn snowy, and Clara and Fritz have to think fast to restore the tropical climate.

    The production features both new and familiar Dance-Along faces. Flynn DeMarco directs the cast and plays Father Stahlbaum in this year’s show. DeMarco first joined the Dance-Along Nutcracker for 2011’s Clara’s Magical Mystery Tour! and directed last year’s Nutcrackers of the Caribbean. He recently won a Best of Theater Bay Area Award for costume design for the Thrillpeddlers’ Pearls Over Shanghai and has performed in productions at San Francisco theaters like Theatre Rhino, Artful Circle Theatre and the Hypnodrome.

    Joe Wicht (aka Trauma Flintstone) is back this year to play the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer. Wicht has been a Dance-Along Nutcracker institution since he sang “Hannukkah in Santa Monica” in 1999. Wicht is a prominent figure in the local cabaret scene, tickling the ivories for what’s billed as the Last Piano Bar at Martuni’s, and co-producing the Cabaret Showcase Showdown with Katya Smirnoff-Skyy.

    Carolyn Carvajal, veteran of the San Francisco Opera Ballet, has choreographed many of the DAN’s most memorable moments, including the Swan Lake Hershey’s Kisses. She’s back with her dancers, providing dance numbers like the Holiday Airport Pas De Deux and Frosty’s Hawaiian Tap Dance.

    New to the show this year are 2014 Best of Theater Bay Area winner Noah Haydon, playing Fritz Stahlbaum, and Zelda Koznofski, playing Clara. Kathy Hennig, a long-time member of the clarinet section, plays Mrs. Stahlbaum. Also joining the cast are Kelly Collins and the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco.

    The Saturday evening Gala goes tropical with a pre-show cocktail reception, holiday nosh and classic Hawaiian music performed by White Ginger Lei, featuring interpretations of beloved songs by artists such as Bing Crosby, Elvis, Keola & Kapona Beamer and Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole. They even travel with dancer Christiana Maffei performing traditional hula interpretations.

    So pull out your grass skirt, your lei necklace and your toe shoes! You’ll have a tropical time!

    Trumpet player Heidi Beeler has been a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band since 1991. She is also a founding member of the Dixieland Dykes +3. For more information, please visit www.sflgfb.org or www.facebook.com/sflgfb Only one organized sport takes place in our bar scene. That sport is pool table play, and there is a strong organization in San Francisco that sponsors tournaments and related events. It’s the San Francisco Pool Association (SFPA at www.sfpapool.org). Play is on Tuesday nights with 2 seasons a year. The association’s theme is “unity in sportsmanship,” and it is a nonprofit entity.

    The organization has been around since 1978. It currently houses pool play at about 20 different venues. There are around 215 players in the association, and it only costs $60 for one season. With that cost, all games are free, and you also get a membership in the West Coast Challenge (WCC) and Billiard Congress of America (BCA). WCC consists of gay pool associations from San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. Collectively, they host 2 tournaments a year. Expansion to include Sacramento and Portland is being considered. In January, there will be the 70th anniversary event in San Francisco at the Hyatt Embarcadero. San Diego will be hosting the one after that next July.

    In the current season, there are 6 divisions of 6 teams each. The divisions are mixed in skill and are not ranked. There are 4 to 7 players on any given team. Games start at 7:30pm on Tuesdays, with an hour of practice beforehand. They end at around 10:30pm with 16 games a night. The schedule is posted online. The playoffs are underway now, as they run from late November through December. A new season begins Tuesday, February 3rd.

    Because the games take place in local bars, spectators are encouraged to cheer on the players. Certainly there are strong social aspects to the sport, and people can enjoy alcoholic beverages during the play. Not all events are held in bars, as the Hyatt and the Billiard Palacade in the Mission are also used for competitions.

    It is easy and cheap to go onto the website and enroll in the association. Women are encouraged to participate as much as men. One team is exclusively women, and there is a local tournament just for women. In fact, one local player won the women’s national championship in the BCA in Las Vegas last year. (Note that the BCA is not a gay players association.) Several association members participate in the Las Vegas event annually.

    There are a variety of types of games sponsored by the SFPA. One type is called a Hi-Lo tournament, where the higher-ranked players get paired with lower-ranked players for a competition involving 2-person teams with alternating shots called “Scotch Doubles.” One fun game is called a Turkey Shoot, where all signed-up people get to take one shot on a rotating basis. If you miss 3 consecutive shots, the player is eliminated, and this continues until there is a champion.  The Turkey Shoot is part of the end of season party. There are also individual tournaments, a nine-ball tournament, and other types of competitions.

    I recently spoke with current SFPA president Ray Smith. He said that he participates because he loves going to the different venues and meeting and spending time with the players. I could tell he takes great pride in the quality and breadth of this long-running organization.

    There is probably not a more easygoing and pleasant group of players in any sport compared to pool play. If you are looking for something that often fits into the bar scene and is not too strenuous, but requires skills and a competitive nature, then consider trying out the SFPA to see if it fits your interests.

    Tony Jasinski is the former president of the San Francisco Gay Basketball League.