Dance Away's weekly festivities fill the halls of the Unitarian Society on Friday nights.
Paul Wellman

This year, both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a Friday. That means a chance to celebrate the holidays by taking part in one of Santa Barbara’s time-honored traditions: Dance Away.

Founded in November 1978, the improvisational dance hall has taken place at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (1535 Santa Barbara St.) nearly every Friday night without fail since its inception. Though it’s sponsored by the church, it’s a secular event, with a mission to provide “music and an environment : conductive to creative movement, vigorous physical exercise, joyous emotional release, and a sense of community, unfettered by such requirements as partners, conversation, artificial stimulants, patterned dance steps, or strict dress codes.”

Thanks to a rotating pool of eight deejays and a changing cast of participants, what you’ll find on entering the church’s Parish Hall varies from week to week. You may hear the deep beats of electronica or the whine of sitars, catchy new dance tracks or classic Madonna anthems. What you won’t find is dancers falling in step with one another or observing ballroom comportment. At Dance Away, dancers of all ages move spontaneously, responding to inner impulses.

Dorothy Holland, chair of the Dance Away committee and a participant for the past 32 years, explained, “I love to move to music, but I don’t like to be told how to move. My body already knows.” Holland added that she appreciates Dance Away’s safe, welcoming environment. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” she said. “Everybody is happy.”

On the average Friday night, about 40 dancers will pass through Parish Hall between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., some staying from the first track to the bitter end, others coming for a quick dance before heading out to their night’s next event. The recommended donation of $6 for adults and $2 for children pays for Dance Away’s staff, who keep the space safe and inviting, and keep an eye on everyone’s belongings via a unique checking system: car keys, shoes, and extra layers get stored in numbered paper bags for safekeeping. For more info, visit


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