BearDance celebrates 10 years of partying with purpose

Rich Lopez | Contributing Writer
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Prepare for the beef and fur to be flying as BearDance: Hard Candy takes over Station 4 on Friday night. This also marks the 10th anniversary of the centerpiece dance event for Texas Bear Round-up. What started as a birthday dance party among friends has turned into a landmark celebration of all things hirsute while also making change with donations to area nonprofits.

“We are proud to be contributing [to] not only a social need in the bear community but also raising substantial funds to support our local LGBT charities,” says Mark Trimble. “For 10 years we’ve managed to sustain and grow this party and the funds we raise in collaboration with the Dallas Bears, who run and organize the TBRU weekend.”

Trimble is one of the co-founders of BearDance along with his husband, Ami Sadeh, and friends Darren Graff, Jeff Phillips and Charlie McDonald. That founding board evolved into today’s board of nine, which still includes Trimble and Sadeh.

The event’s growth was swift, clearly filling a need. The first BearDance was held at the former Palladium, now Gilley’s, in South Side. BearDance swelled by its second year, with nearly 1,000 attendees.

With those numbers, the gang felt they could bring it on home to Oak Lawn.

“We felt we had the numbers on our side to convince Caven Enterprises to collaborate with us on using their club, Station 4. They’ve been extremely supportive partners, not only to us but the whole community, and the move to The Strip helped integrate our event into the greater neighborhood that our own community hangs out in and our visitors for TBRU want to explore.

“That move was our biggest milestone,” Trimble says.

Since then, the dance has grown to include special guests and marquee DJs as headliners. This year, the event will be led by DJs Alex Ramos and Barry Harris, with special guest Miss Vanjie of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame. DJ Matt Effect will run the music in the upstairs bar.

Throughout the last decade, BearDance has brought in actor Daniel Franzese (Mean Girls, Looking), bear rapper Big Dipper, Varla Jean, Perez Hilton, Alaska and Cazwell, along with notable DJs Bob Mould (formerly of Husker Du) and HiFi Sean (former lead singer of the Soup Dragons).

Today, BearDance draws a crowd of more than 2,000. The celebrities, the crowds, the draw all make BearDance an institution for the furrily-inclined, but Trimble reminds us of its other achievements.

“We’ve found that the special guest is a value that can broaden our party’s appeal to include the greater gay community while still celebrating the bear community,” Trimble says. “More butts through the door helps us raise more money for our wonderful local LGBT charities.”

The board has been able to increase its sponsorships to more than 33 percent of its budget, which allows for more donations — and it’s always looking for more.

But more importantly, “We’ve raised nearly $370,000 for local LGBT charities, and we expect to exceed $400,000 in total after this year,” Trimble notes.

Among the organizations they have donated to are Resource Center, Youth First, Prism Health (Formerly AIDS Arms), AIN (formerly AIDS Interfaith Network), the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund and the Sharon St. Cyr Foundation.

With all that, they still hope to grow in new ways. Take their newest addition to BearDance, for example.

“Naturally, a challenge we’ve had is to try to outdo [ourselves] or bring something more or different each year, and I think we’ve achieved that,” Trimble says. “Also, [we want to] bring more people together! One idea was to add the Opposites Attract party.”

The mixer is a “party within a party” that happens at the beginning of BearDance that connects chasers and bear hunters with bears who reciprocate their interest.

“Bear world has a lot of bear-for-bear attraction, which can make ‘leaners’ feel left out. We hope this helps those guys find their niche in the bear community more easily,” Trimble says.

“We’ve expanded to add a few smaller events at other bars in the area each year, but our big deal is combining our efforts with the Dallas Bears and their event TBRU.”

As for the future, the guys would like to start taking the party on the road, whether to Houston or to London. Philanthropic efforts are a consideration as well —- at least for Trimble.

“One idea that I’ve had percolating in my head I’ll call the “Wayward Cub Initiative” for lack of anyone hearing of this but my husband Ami,” he says. “This might be a place for gay youth who’ve been kicked out of their homes and need help starting a life in Dallas. Maybe housing and teaching job skills and helping to acquire employment for these youth could be the end goal. That’s just one idea, and I would dearly love to hear from the community of any needs that aren’t being met by our other great charities that support the LGBT community.”

But right now, these guys have a party to plan. Even with all the bigger picture notions and the event’s success, it’s also still what it started out to be — a party for bears by bears that offers something a little more.

“I’m still enthralled to see bears take over the biggest gay nightclub of the city; — it is a sight to behold!” Trimble says. “I love seeing everybody dancing shirtless and so many people losing their inhibitions about what society says should be attractive and sexy. There’s nothing like being immersed in it. There is a joy and sense of belonging that can’t be measured.

“We have an incredible sense of pride that we are doing good while having a good time. That we’ve done it for 10 years is, hopefully, just the beginning.”