Sunnyside Resident Ann Marie Garvin passed away recently at the age of 82.
“Dance is all that’s left that’s real. It’s another world, all yours, and no one can take away the thrill of it.”
Ann Marie Garvin spoke those words to a reporter in 1976, shortly after she had founded her studio on Monterey Boulevard, Dancer’s Synectics Group. They were words she lived by over the course of her long working life–performing, teaching, directing, and choreographing, in San Francisco and beyond.
For 45 years, in the pink-striped building, she taught thousands of dancers, from near and far, her particular fast-paced jazz style and much else as well. Many Bay Area dancers studied with her, such as Ed Mock, Snowy Winter, Greg de Silva, and Craig Innes. Jazz dancer and instructor Ann Barrett noted in an artist’s bio how performing in Ann Marie Garvin’s ‘Dance Between the Lines’ had been invaluable to her understanding of choreography and theater, and for that she was “eternally grateful.”
In assembling and choreographing her own companies of dancers, Ann Marie Garvin rode the crests of several trends, including the push for a greater diversity of body shapes and skin colors in dance that happened in the Bay Area the late 1970s.
“The distinctive thing about Ann Marie is her disregard for height, or color of skin. She is unaware of anything except this: Can they dance? So [her] company has tall and short, plumpish, tan, black, white, but all marvelous dancers.”
Although this quote from 1981 was from Garvin’s own mother (and business partner at the time), another less sympathetic reviewer a few years later noted the same thing. When Garvin took her hit show “Dance Between the Lines” to Los Angeles, after more than four successful years in San Francisco, Los Angeles Times dance critic Lewis Segal didn’t dig the look. After panning the show, he added with a sneer:
“This company is full of tiny men, giant women, and people with problematic physical proportions (such as being unusually gangly, wide-hipped, or short-waisted). Thus they have made themselves a professional career in dance against the odds.”
What that critic disparaged, Garvin and her company of dancers celebrated, because what mattered was the thrill of it all—and thrills come in all shapes, sizes, and colors in this town.
Ann Marie Garvin was born in 1937 and grew up in the house at 301 Joost Avenue in Sunnyside. Her grandfather Charles McGuire built that house in 1926, full of unusual custom woodwork and cabinetry, after having first built the one at 328 Joost. He worked as a ship captain later in life. His daughter Margaret Ann McGuire married motorcycle cop Leo Garvin, and Ann Marie was their first child.
Garvin took ballet lessons from an early age, part of a therapy to correct a club foot she was born with.
At the age of eleven she began teaching dance, and had her own school of dancers by age sixteen. She attended San Francisco State University and Berklee School of Music in Boston, always keeping up her dance lessons wherever she went.
The Gypsy Life
In 1961, she performed in a review at Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, in “Roma di Notte”, one of Barry Ashton’s many themed productions at the club. In 1962 she performed at the World’s Fair, the Seattle Expo.
There she met her husband-to-be, musician Jim Rousey, with whom she had a long distance relationship for three years, before getting married. “I call it a Ma Bell romance,” she said in 1971, of the constant exchange of phone calls, letters, and tape cassettes.
In the mid-1960s she performed with a review called “Viva Les Girls” in Las Vegas. Here is a photo with some of the dancers, when they performed in San Carlos.
In 2016, I talked with Garvin about her life during these years and she told me it was “a typical dance gypsy’s life—you go where the work is.”
A Company of One’s Own
About 1967 she formed the company The Garvin Dancers, performing at various Bay Area locations. (See list at the end of this article for more detail.) The big break came with Jack Aufricht’s Club Universe Show, which was a multi-media extravaganza that performed all over the US, including Hawaii, on a circuit of private clubs for members.
The show, called “People,” went public in 1971, performing at the Palace of Fine Arts. Garvin choreographed her company of eight women and two men, who performed in the midst of a projected slide and film show. It touched on cultures from all over the world, with singers and actors also working to bring the stories to life. The show evolved over two years, getting more elaborate as it went.
Close to the San Francisco opening date of 2 November 1971, Garvin gave birth to her son, James Lee Rousey, working to rehearse the dancers on the same day. Interviewed at the time, she said, “The cast was making bets that I would give birth on the opening night…but my timing was good, and I escaped that fate.”
A Good Time to Dance
Garvin’s blossoming—from Las Vegas–style revue work to jazz and contemporary dance by the 1970s—was part of the greater explosion of dance in the Bay Area then, bringing fresh approaches to the form. Soon Garvin would join many other dancers who formed small but important companies that diversified the field, pulling the center toward the dynamic edges of performance.
“A dance boom in the 1970s, coupled with the climate and artistic freedom, attracted numerous dancers and choreographers [to the Bay Area and] away from New York, the dance mecca. Dance was already institutionalized in higher education (Mills College, San Francisco State, and the University of California at Berkeley), while at the grassroots level numerous studios opened, offering a wide variety of dance styles….Existing autonomously and at times in precarious financial conditions, independent dancers, teachers, and choreographers created their own organizational structures and support systems….further reinforcing a sense of community among the disparate artists. A defining characteristic emerged, which continues today: ‘Dancers here expect to merge lifestyle with dancing, dancing from the self, for the self and for and with the community.’ ” ‘San Francisco Innovators and Iconoclasts’ Stacey Prickett (2007) 
In 1974 Garvin’s company performed at the Paramount Theater in Oakland with the Pointer Sisters, under the name Synectics Dancers.
This was about the time she opened her studio at 564 Monterey Boulevard, with her family living in the pristinely preserved 1950s-era apartment over the studio spaces below.
The company’s name soon changed to Dancers’ Synectics Group. In 2005, the name of the studio was changed to DSG Studio.
What is Synectics?
In 1960, a man named WJJ Gordon published a book called Synectics, the Development of Creative Capacity. Wikipedia summarizes the ideas this way:
“The creative process can be described and taught; Invention processes in arts and sciences are analogous and are driven by the same ‘psychic’ processes; Individual and group creativity are analogous.”
There is an initial period of generating proposed approaches while judgment is suspended, creating springboards of a sort, which then can be taken starting points for further development.
Although Synectics as a process since Gordon’s book has generally been used by groups of scientists, inventors, or those working in computers, Garvin took this notion of group creativity, and dedicated her company to living out the idea in dance and the choreographic process. It was a philosophical choice that gave a creative dynamic to a very physical art.
In 1976 San Francisco was vibrating with dance. “Dance, the step-child of the performing arts, has come of age….The dance scene [is] expanding and audiences [are] dramatically expanding….A key factor in the growth of dance here is the increasing number of well-trained professionals teaching in the Bay Area now.”
“A Chorus Line” had opened in New York the previous year, highlighting dancers’ lives and work as its theme. Companies and classes were popping up everywhere in the Bay Area.
That year, the SF Examiner did a couple of features, telling readers where to get instruction in the fast-stepping jazz dance form. Garvin’s studio on Monterey was mentioned in both pieces. She had two hundred students in classes each week.
“A jazz dancer today must be versatile” she said, “and must maintain a never-ending search for a new ways to express with the body what the musician expresses with the instrument.”
It’s a Happening
Garvin was never afraid of taking chances. In June 1976, she produced a show with her group at Bimbo’s 365 Club with the aging but revered jazz pianist Earl Hines. The dancers, including the famous Ed Mock, opened for Hines for two nights, with 20 minutes of “flying footwork,” although the music set that followed was a mixed success.
In 1977 Garvin invented another show idea. “A participatory performance/disco happening,” was the description for the show called “For Dance’ Sake.” It played at the Hippodrome Theater on Broadway, with “leotards and tights optional.”
Dance was hot, and you were invited to be a part of it.
Doing Some Fast Lines
In 1981 Ann Marie Garvin found herself in the middle of a dance director’s dream come true: her own theater. It was serendipity that landed her there, with a big help from her mother, Margaret Ann McGuire. McGuire happened upon the then-empty Music Hall Theater at 931 Larkin Street, which had been a foreign-film house, and then briefly an invite-only gay disco. (It is now a Chinese-language Christian church.) What if they bought it?
Garvin and her mother signed the $425K mortgage for the theater in December 1980, crossing their fingers that things would work out. Garvin had the idea to do a show-dance extravaganza in a dinner-club setting. In January she put out an audition call, and by April they were set to open. “Dance Between the Lines” was born.
The show was very well reviewed, and the Examiner’s review showed the little man jumping out of his seat every week for the next four years.
Peter Stack of the Chronicle gushed:
“‘Between the Lines’ is a fine piece of dance razzmatazz that should have wide appeal….[It] zeroes in on every staple of show dance—high energy jazz, vaudeville, tap, chorus line, pieces, some near-burlesque routines, some balletic and minimalist/modern segments….It comes on like a gangbuster of entertainment.”
The show was a fast-moving, high-kicking series of show numbers that, loosely speaking, touched on the various aspects of the tough life of a dancer. Behind the scenes, Garvin was acutely aware just how tough it was for a dancer to survive in the city. She always paid pretty well, about $1000 a month, which is only about $2300 now, but then a one-bedroom apartment could run $300, so it was a just-livable wage.
Dancin’ to the Burger Beat
In 1982, the Dancers Synectics Group performed for a McDonalds TV commercial and made some good money doing it. Although I couldn’t find the particular shots of them, I offer this from 1984, full of very short cuts.
Equity in the Lines
With the same sense of fair play that led her to employ dancers of all shapes and colors, Garvin set up the work environment so that all the dancers took turns doing a wide variety of the necessary but less glamorous work of running the dinner theater. Everyone did duty greeting and seating people, doing lighting, food service, cleaning up, you name it—and the rota changed weekly.
Of her twenty or so dancers, Garvin told columnist Dwight Chapin in 1982:
“I’ve trained them and cared about them. They’re special to me. For the most part they’re men and women who were too tall or too short or the wrong color or whatever, to make it other places. So I thought, if I could get this theater, and put them in, the problems would be over.”
For a few years Garvin talked about sending the cast to Los Angeles, to run the show there for a while. Finally in the summer of 1985, that happened. The original cast went off to LA, and a new cast (mostly) was hired in SF. This spelled disaster for the show in both locations. The dance critic at the LA Times, Lewis Segal, panned the show and it shut there in a week.
Back in SF, the newly re-cast show on Larkin Street was reviewed again, this time by Steven Winn, and the enthusiastic little man once jumping out of this chair was now sitting sedately waiting to go home early.
“Now it seems careless and even a little calculating to plop an out-of-breath dancer down…and have him pant about the backstage life….The dancers are attractive, limber, and apparently earnest. It’s the show that feels tattered and a little disjointed now. Garvin owes it to her new dancers, and to prospective new audiences, to rethink the mold.”
By August 1985, “Dance Between the Lines” had its last performance, and the show finally closed after a run of four years and four months.
Watch these videos of three numbers from “Dance Between the Lines,” taken at the end of the run. (Poor 1980s video quality.)
‘Finale’ from Dance Between the Lines, circa 1985:
‘Waiters and Waitresses’ from Dance Between the Lines, circa 1985:
‘Disco Duet’ from Dance Between the Lines, circa 1985:
Teaching Beyond the Lines
In the years that followed, Ann Marie Garvin continued to teach and oversee the Dancers Synectics Group studio on Monterey, and also to conduct dance workshops in other cities. Her desire to train new dancers and to see creative dance performed well never left her, even as health issues interrupted her life.
Garvin was a fiercely determined dancer and teacher. She held fast to her desires and her love of joyful movement that lifted free of earth-bound gravity—for herself, for her dancers, for her students—it didn’t matter, as long as someone is dancing “for the thrill of it.”
Ann Marie Garvin Rousey (1937–2019)
Partial List of the Work of Ann Marie Garvin, dancer, director, choreographer:
- 1961: 365 “Roma di Notte”, Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco
- 1962: Performer, Seattle Expo
- 1966-1967: “Viva Les Girls” Las Vegas, San Carlos.
- 1967: Montreal Expo [?]
- 1968 June: Lori’s, Redwood City
- 1968 August: “The Heyday of Burlesque” Sacramento
- 1970-1971: Club Universe Show with Jack Aufricht, Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
- 1971-1972: “People” with Club Universe, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other locations.
- 1974 July: Performing with the Pointer Sisters, Paramount Theater, Oakland.
- 1976 June: Earl Hines collaboration, Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco.
- 1977 August: “For Dance’ Sake” Hippodrome Theater, San Francisco.
- 1981 April – 1985 June: “Dance Between the Lines” The Music Hall Theater, San Francisco
- 1985 July-August: “Dance Between the Lines” Roxy Theater, Los Angeles
- 1983 August-Sept: “High Tech” The Music Hall Theater, San Francisco
- https://www.hinduswing.com/artists.html ↑
- A trend noted in a New York Times feature on SF Dance scene, 16 Aug 1981. https://www.nytimes.com/1981/08/16/arts/san-francisco-dancers-look-to-the-east.html ↑
- Mildred Hamilton, “Dancing for your Dinner,” SF Examiner, 20 Dec 1981. ↑
- Lewis Segal, “‘Dance Between the Lines’ at Roxy,” Los Angeles Times, 1 Jul 1985. ↑
- Margaret gave birth to a second daughter in 1947, Celeste, who later took her own life in 1965. ↑
- Dwight Chapin, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” SF Examiner, 29 Jul 1982. Also Mildred Hamilton, “Dancing for your Dinner,” SF Examiner, 20 Dec 1981. ↑
- “Dance Time,” SF Chronicle, 21 Mar 1948; “Teen Days: Journeys to Summer,” SF Examiner, 26 Jul 1953. ↑
- Susan Berman, “Therapy led to a Career,” SF Chronicle, 28 Oct 1971. ↑
- Susan Berman, “Therapy led to a Career,” SF Chronicle, 28 Oct 1971. ↑
- ‘San Francisco Innovators and Iconoclasts: Dance and Politics in the Left Coast City,’ Stacey Prickett, Dance Chronicle, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2007), p239, including a quote at the end from Eleanor Rachel Luger, “Taking Care of Business,” Dance Magazine, January 1977, p26 ↑
- Read more in this article: Vincent Nolan, ‘What Ever Happened to Synectics,” Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol.12 No.1, March 2003. PDF here: http://s3.spanglefish.com/s/27309/documents/whathappened.pdf ↑
- Carolyn Evans, “The Bay Area in Dance,” SF Examiner, 25 Jan 1976. ↑
- Garvin quoted in Carolyn Evans, “The Bay Area in Dance,” SF Examiner, 25 Jan 1976 ↑
- John L Wasserman, “On the Town” SF Chronicle, 14 Jun 1976. ↑
- Audition notices, SF Examiner, 25 and 28 Jan 1981. ↑
- Peter Stack, “Show-Dance Supperclub Debuts in SF,” SF Chronicle, 25 April 1981. ↑
- Garvin quoted in Dwight Chapin, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” SF Examiner, 29 Jul 1982 ↑
- Garvin quoted in Dwight Chapin, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” SF Examiner, 29 Jul 1982. ↑
- Steven Winn, “ ‘Dance Between the Lines’ Gets Too Cute,” SF Chronicle, 14 Jun 1985. ↑