Beloved Master Choreographer/Teacher/Performer Ed Mock (1938-1986) was an adventurous innovator, and no holds barred, unorthodox, soul-baring, conjurer performer who excited, amazed and consummately entertained and moved audiences all over the world. Recognized as among the Bay Area’s most influential artists, Ed Mock played pivotal roles including Founder of the Ed Mock Dance Studio (1978-1982), and Artistic Director of Footwork Studio (1983-86); Director and Choreographer of Ed Mock & Dancers; and Hoodoo Master Modern/Afro/Jazz instructor at studios throughout the Bay Area. A playful and demanding dance teacher, Ed Mock turned out hundreds of highly professional dancers. In addition to these roles, Ed’s varied career included performing and training with Katherine Dunham, Jimmy Payne and Gloria Unti.
Born in Chicago, Ed began performing as a boy on the tables in his family’s pool room, tapping out steps for the customers. He was an all-around high school athlete, but he devoted his life to dance because as he told an SF Examiner reporter in 1980, “I just love body movement, it was all just movement for me, and sports was just a function of that. I just was always aware of my body in a sort of a dance sense. I never try to tell anybody it’s an easy life, but not a day has ever gone past that dancing didn’t make me feel good emotionally and spiritually”. With no formal dance training, Ed began performing in Chicago nightclubs, an experience he always described as having an indelible imprint on his style. “I mean you’re dealing with people who are drinking” he said, “so you have to entertain.”
In his mid 20s, he began training with such Chicago dancers as Jimmy Payne, Anna Nastif, but eventually decided to move west to San Francisco. He worked for three years in a training program for teachers under Gloria Unti at the Performing Arts Workshop, and followed that with a stint at ACT where he taught and performed. He also appeared sporadically in the Jon Hendricks’ musical, Evolution of the Blues, which ran for five years in a Broadway Theater in San Francisco. Ed eventually got his own teaching space at 32 Page Street and local dancers started flocking to him. “Oh, I know, I attract those crazies,” he once said. “Those ones that are just mad for dance.” An Ed Mock dance class was exquisite torture. He could be withering his tongue, and he drove his charges sometimes unmercifully, but since his goal was so obviously to achieve perfection, his students kept coming back. And he had the gift of being able to always find the right moment for a joke to break the tension, causing the class’s energy to soar that much higher.
As a performer, Ed knew absolutely no bounds. His companies, including the Ed Mock Dancers and The West Coast Dance Company, were known for their tight, well-drilled fluidity and their jazzy insouciance. But it was as a solo improv performer that Ed reached his zenith. He had a stock cast of characters, including “Sister God Freida,” a street-person Jesus freak who would flash from angel to devil in an instant and excoriate the audience for its sins. He could change personas almost as fast as his feet could move and he simply dared audiences to keep up with him. In 1980 and 1981, Ed went to Florence and Venice at the invitation of the Italian government to perform two of his pieces, Festival of Fools and Black Mischief. Italian audiences, it was reported, were thrilled.
Ed was elected to the Bay Area Dance Coalition Hall of Fame (posthumously in 1988). “All I’m doing is using my craziness to show you an element of your own,” he told the SF Examiner in 1980. “As an artist, you have a duty to comment on these things if you have the gift to do it”. Ed had the gift to an inordinate degree, and he had an unsurpassed love and reverence for his medium. “See, there’s nothing harder than dancing,” he once said. “It requires an incredible one-mindedness, and that’s the thing about it you just can’t top…..But that’s also part of the excitement of it, taking those risks. You just have to stay out there, barking at the moon constantly. When the spirits visit you, you have to say, ‘Take over spirits….When you have those moments, you can do anything.’”
Ed Mock taught and performed up until weeks before he died from AIDS-related complications on April 25, 1986.