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Cruising Back in Time

A walking tour and dance performance serve as a guide to the leather scene and sex clubs of SoMa’s past.


You know that open-concept co-working space where web millionaires are busy upscaling, iterating, and crushing their world-disrupting apps? Or that organic wine bar on Folsom? Those used to be gay cruising hangouts—part of the so-called Miracle Mile. Now they’re the asphalt stage for SoMa Now and Then, a walking tour/dance performance from choreographer and dancer Joe Landini and director Amy Lewis. The project, which runs from November 12 through December 4, takes audiences on a tour around Folsom Street between 5th and 12th Streets for a history lesson on 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s leather culture, interspersed with dance performances that describe Landini’s life in the sex club scene.

Site 1: The Powerhouse
The Powerhouse is one of the last remaining leather bars in the area, and, oh, Landini says, if its walls could talk. “It has a back room, and in the old days, that’s where you came in if you wanted to have sex,” he says. “There was all this etiquette, a very ritualistic way of doing it—eye contact, body language, the whole etiquette of public sex. It’s a really fascinating experience explaining it to someone who hasn’t experienced it.”

Site 2: Freeway underpass, Morris Street
The tour and dances are scored by music and narration that the audience stream through their cell phones, which will no doubt confuse many passersby. “We’re in the middle of this alley, under the freeway, listening to the story about me learning to [have anal sex],” Landini says. “So there I am walking the length of the street shifting my pelvis, and meanwhile, the audience is listening to this whole story of the mechanics of it.”

Site 3: Brush Place
Many gay men were displaced from the area around Brush Place and Hallam Street after a fire on Folsom Street in 1981, an important milestone in the city’s queer history. Plus, it’s cool to look at. “Visually, it’s really beautiful,” Lewis says. “All that brick—it has a sort of old, blue-collar feel.”

Site 4: Ringold Alley
Landini says the strip was a well-known cruising area when he first moved to San Francisco from Concord in the 1980s. Revisiting it now, however, he says, “it’s like walking through a city of ghosts. It’s a crazy experience to walk by a storefront and say, ‘This is what this used to be.’”


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco 

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