Sundance Saloon celebrates 20th anniversary
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Sundance Saloon, a twice-a-week event for LGBTQ fans of country western music and dance, celebrates its 20th anniversary Sunday, April 8, with a free party.
"When the group of us started this 20 years ago we honestly thought this would be a short-term project," co-founder Ingu Yun told the Bay Area Reporter. "We never imagined how Sundance Saloon would grow and how important it would become in the San Francisco LGBT community. Its reach has become international."
Yun, who is gay, recalled Sundance Saloon's origins.
"In 1997, I was part of the Bare Chest Calendar," he said, referring to the popular charity fundraiser. "I decided that I wanted to do something special in the community that year. So I enlisted the help of the other calendar men, and we held a fundraising event that was a country western dance. The event was called Hoedown '97. It was a big success and raised $4,000 for the AIDS Emergency Fund. We attracted 300 people - it was a lot of fun."
The event's success made Yun realize that there was a need for a space where country western fans could gather and enjoy themselves.
"Word got around to party promoter Audrey Joseph," he recalled. "She contacted me and wondered if we might want to start something in the back room of the Pleasuredome Club on Sunday nights. I got a bunch of friends together to make this happen. We opened on April 12, 1998, and did well. The community really appreciated having a new place to do their country western dancing."
After a year Joseph decided to quit. "We initially thought that would be the end of it," Yun said. "But then we came up with the idea to form a nonprofit, which was based on the cultural and educational aspects of what we offer."
Joseph fondly recalled the early days of the group.
"I can't say enough about Ingu and the Sundance patrons and crew," Joseph, a lesbian who has long been a part of the city's nightlife scene, wrote in an email. "They are amazing and provide our community with a most needed outlet for those who love country western dancing.
"They started back in the King Street Garage space of Townsend and immediately my staff fell in love with them," she added. "They were respectful and filled with joy. I am so grateful that they are still around serving our community - a very special organization to be sure."
Yun, 61, said that no one involved in running Sundance Saloon has any desire to profit from it.
"We do it for love," he said. "Not only are we a nonprofit, we are all volunteer. We have raised over $400,000 for other nonprofits over the past 20 years."
Among the organizations that have benefited from Sundance Saloon's nonprofit Sundance Association are the LGBT Asylum Project, Transgender Law Center, Openhouse, the National Center For Lesbian Rights, and Shanti Project. Yun said he was proud of what Sundance Saloon has accomplished.
Officials at Openhouse, which provides housing and other services for LGBT seniors, said that support from groups like Sundance Saloon is critical.
"We are fortunate to have been a beneficiary of Sundance Saloon, we are enormously grateful to them for their support," Natalie Summers, Openhouse's mission engagement manager, wrote in an email to the B.A.R. "Social interest groups like Sundance Saloon that enable the widest range of LGBT people to come together to share a passion whilst building community must be celebrated and preserved. We congratulate them on marking their 20th anniversary, and hope they stomp, slide, and strut for many more years to come."
Yun said this weekend's party is just one of several special events.
"We'll be celebrating all month," Yun said. "We're having a big party on April 8. We'll have dance lessons as usual. Four performance groups are coming: Sundance Bandits, Vima Vice Squad, Barbary Coast Cloggers, and Clogging Express."
Yun added that there would also be an outdoor dance party Saturday, April 7, at Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro.
"I always like to make sure that for many people Sundance Saloon is much more than a club to go out and have fun," Yun said. "It's a place where they finally feel they belong, a place where they fit in. A place where men and women and people of all ages mix comfortably. A place with a deep sense of community. Over the years I've had people tell me that Sundance Saloon was life changing for them."
Yun said that while the Sundance Saloon events have a full bar, the focus is not on alcohol and the majority of attendees do not consume it. As a result, people in recovery can feel welcome.
"And while some may enjoy a beer or a drink or two, no one drinks to get drunk," he said. "It's just incompatible with dancing. So it's a setting where many people in recovery can still feel comfortable: even though alcohol is available, the environment makes it relatively easy and acceptable to abstain."
The group's annual Sundance Stompede, a four-night country western dance extravaganza, takes place November 1-4.
Yun added that he was pleased with the fact that the original $5 admission fee to Sundance Saloon for the Sunday and Thursday lessons has never gone up.
"But we'll offer free admission for the entire month of April," he said.
Sundance Saloon's 20th anniversary party will take place from 5 to 10:30 p.m. at 550 Barneveld, at Space 550, in San Francisco. Guests must be 21 or over with ID. For more information on April's special events and the Saloon's regular dance parties, visit www.sundancesaloon.org.