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Published on Tuesday, December 5, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Community's Where You Find It
by Stephanie Salter
SITTING IN the bleachers at the Dance Mission Theater on Saturday night, watching a troupe of lesbians perform a new work called "CaveWomen," I kept thinking about the word "community."

Most of us throw it around as if it had some absolute, easy-to-identify meaning. We talk blithely about all manner of communities: The gay one. The straight one. The African American, Latino, Filipino, Pan Asian and immigrant ones. We speak knowingly of the academic community, the civil rights, AIDS, Christian, bicycle, homeless, scientific and vegan ones.

Sillier yet, we often behave as though each "community" were a monolith, made up of people who are first, last and nothing but the characteristics that qualify them for "membership" in their group.

What then to make of all of us assembled around "CaveWomen"?

A heterosexual, I'd come to watch a known lesbian company, Dance Brigade, put on a wild and in-your-face tribute to females who prefer the company of XX chromosomes. Did that make me part of the lesbian community? Because I'd paid for my ticket, thus lending a bit of help to Dance Mission's continuing rent struggle, was I part of the dance community?

How about the young Asian man (not a lesbian) sitting next to me? When the five Dance Brigade dames were pounding away on Taiko drums and a bell, no one stomped his foot any harder or more happily than this guy. And yet, unlike anyone else in the audience, he was wearing a blazer, dress shirt, conservative tie and pressed khakis.

Was he primarily a member of the law or accounting community? From their pre-show conversation, the two thirtysomething men behind me seemed to be members of the dot-com community: A chief tech officer-led coup d'etat, they said, had given everyone at "the teamwide meetings" something exciting to talk about for a change.

But isn't the dance community supposed to be at war with the dot-com community -- and any other group that's contributed to evictions and skyrocketing real estate prices in the Mission District? What brought these men to enemy territory?

A few rows away was a member of the cancer-survivor community. I could tell by her lean frame, tired eyes and bright bandana around a bald head. But the woman who was with her, who whispered in her ear, nuzzled her neck and looked upon her with such love that you could almost hear violins, indicated that both were also bona fide members of the lesbian community. The committed lesbian community.

Then there were the dancers: Five sexy, super-looking women who performed a 30-minute work that is based on the Yoginis of 10th century India but involves a circus knife-throwing act, the aforementioned kick-butt drumming and a great deal of water.

Obviously, all are part of the lesbian and the dance communities. But one is also a member of the Latino community, another of the Asian American. Three are moms with kids in public school. We learned this during the bows, when the Dance Brigade mothers motioned for their children to join them on the dance floor.

On Friday and Saturday, when "CaveWomen" repeats and Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers join to present their new work, one of those public schools -- Buena Vista Elementary -- will be the beneficiary of ticket sales. (This is San Francisco Unified we're talking about; some parents' groups help out by auctioning off quilts or weekends in Napa, others perform in lesbian dance troupes.)

If you're straight, childless, Anglo-Saxon, work a desk job and have two left feet, the benefit could be a great chance to be part of several communities you never dreamed you'd be included in. And it could serve as a reminder of just how monolithic most communities are not.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle


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