Bay Area Icon Frank Shawl Passes

10/09/2019

Co-founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

Frank William Shawl, co-founder, with the late Victor Anderson, of the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, died at home on Friday, October 4, 2019 at age 87. Their Shawl-Anderson Dance Company was a renowned dance repertory group in the 1960s and 1970s.

Frank Shawl, photo by Gregory Bartning
Frank Shawl, photo by Gregory Bartning

A native of New Jersey, Shawl studied at the New York studio of May O'Donnell, a Martha Graham soloist who had become a choreographer and director of her own New York City-based company. O'Donnell had a less competitive, more inclusive style of teaching than Graham, that was based on nurturing and collaboration. Shawl and Anderson wanted to spread that spirit beyond New York. With that goal in mind, in 1958 the two men settled in Anderson's native Bay Area and opened the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center above a liquor store in Berkeley. Shawl and Anderson taught all classes for several years.

Shawl appeared in concert with the legendary modern dance pioneer Charles Weidman and returned to New York to assist Ms. O'Donnell. In 1962, he and Anderson founded the Shawl-Anderson Dance Company, which went on to perform to national and international acclaim for the next fourteen years.

By 1968 their classes had outgrown the one-room dance school, and Shawl and Anderson bought a Craftsman house across the street and transformed it into four studios. Today, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center is Berkeley's oldest performing arts institution.

Kate Weare, Bay Area native and founder of the New York-based Kate Weare Company, said, "Frank Shawl taught me about good dancing, and showed me what good aging looks like. He never stopped performing brilliantly or taking class. Vibrantly interested in and ignited by young artists, he never condescended, he believed in our potential, and he was honest, bracing, loving and generous of heart."

"Dance and love were the compasses of Frank's life," says Shawl-Anderson Board President Steve Siegelman. "That spirit lives on day after day at Shawl-Anderson and in the hearts and bodies of the thousands of dancers whose lives he gently shaped."

A celebration of Frank Shawl's life is planned for the near future in Berkeley, California. Information will be available at shawl-anderson.org. His family asks that donations be made in his memory to the Frank Shawl Legacy Fund at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center.