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Legacy Oral History Online Collection

Gloria Unti

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Gloria Unti (1924- ) was born in Long Branch, New Jersey on June 15, 1924 of Italian-American parents. Though born in the United States, Gloria and her family returned to the Tuscany region of Italy where they had been living. They continued to live in Italy for three years but returned to the Bay Area due to financial difficulties associated with the Depression. She attended Lowell High School in San Francisco where she excelled in athletics.

Gloria studied ballet at the Tomaroff School of Dance and then at the San Francisco School of Ballet under Willam Christensen. She left ballet training because of its limited focus and entered the Mara Alexander School of Drama at the San Francisco Labor school. She also studied modern dance with Mimi Kagan and Graham technique with Welland Lathrop. Gloria attended dance at the Connecticut College Summer Dance Festival workshops, including technique classes with Martha Graham, Jose Limon and Sophie Maslow and composition with William Bales.

After Connecticut College, Gloria spent a brief period in New York City where she auditioned for both Agnes DeMille and Jerome Robbins before returning to the Bay Area with her first husband. After giving birth to her daughter and a divorce the following year, Gloria began to teach dance at various community centers in San Francisco and the YMCAs. She also performed satiric dance/theater skits in night clubs such as the Hungry i in North Beach with Judy Job, from Peters Wright Dance. Gloria performed with her own group, formed from teaching compositions in the community centers. Students of Gloria’s included teenager Margaret Jenkins, who is currently the director of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in San Francisco.

Gloria began working with both adults and teenagers at the Telegraph Hill Community Center in 1954. She experimented with ways to bring movement to both teenage boys and girls that were often members of local gangs, drawing on her experience with improvisation and satiric dance/theater and on her own experience as “an outsider.” 

Gloria then founded the Performing Arts Workshops in 1965 to provide training and performing opportunities in theater and dance for inner-city youth. She went on to further develop her teaching methodology, emphasizing the creative process and performing arts techniques in the development of critical thinking. She trained Ed Mock, among others, and continued performances of challenging dance/theater works which engaged audience's social consciousness about subjects such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Gloria is the recipient of an award from the California Dance Educators Association, the “Honor in the Dance Award” by San Francisco Arts Commission in 1986, and was inducted into the Dance Bay Area’s “Hall of Fame. In 1990 she received Dance Bay Area’s “Isadora Duncan Award” for sustained achievement and, in 1994, was honored with an “Arts Excellence Award” from San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Business Volunteers for the Arts. 

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