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Legacy Oral History Online Collection

Unti Audio Clip and Transcript

Unti Audio Clip

Interviewer: Sheila Pressley

SP: How did your work with teens begin at Telegraph Hill? 

GU: Umm, the room that I had was next to a pool hall and the teens used to constantly play pool.  As the teenagers and children and adults would go through the door, they’d see them, and I’d let them watch every so often.  Then, one day, three teens came to me and asked me if I would teach them Karate.  I said, "I did not know Karate, but I’d teach them Yoga," and they didn’t know what that meant.  We went into the dance room, and I was pretty sure that I’d never see them again.  I didn’t know really what to do because, in the past, I was teaching mainly middle class young girls, and the adults were basically from the middle class and we’d have one or two boys in a class, if we were lucky.  You know, I mean this was around 1954, you know, and not like today.  And so I put music on, I put Kabuki music on, and they did these crazy movements in there kind of screaming, yelling, and throwing themselves all over against the wall.  And I thought, "Wow."  You know, and I didn’t know what to do, so I said, "That’s great," and they left, and I didn't see them for two weeks or more because they immediately were put in "juvi" [Juvenile Hall], for what reasons I didn’t know.  Then the head of the gang, three of them, came to me in my office there, and they wanted to know what was going on.  I thought I’d never be able to relate to them because they had their leather jackets on.  They had all the attitudes, you know.

SP: Now these were African-American teenagers? 

GU: No, this group was mixed, it was really interracial.  It was mainly Filipino, Chinese, a few Latinos and African-Americans.  So there were mainly African-Americans, Chinese and Filipino and scattered one or two white and scattered Latino.  And they were all young men who were in a club called The Monarchs, but actually it was a gang, you know, that was called The Monarchs. 

GU: So anyway, I looked at them and I thought, "Great, what am I going to do?"  I felt that, you know, I couldn’t relate to them, I didn’t know.   I never taught an inner-city, drop-out gang kid in my life.  So, I brought them in the dance room and I said, "Okay, make up any movement sequence you want, anyway you want, of any sport, and I’ll come back and try and guess what it is."  (laughter)  And I thought, "I’ll never see them again."  They brought me back [in the room], and they had the most incredible sequence.  Not only was it creative, you know, stereotypic, not just dribbling a ball and put the ball, you know, miming the ball into the . . .  What do you call it?

SP: Basketball hoop.

GU: But . . .  I can’t remember now, but it was really unbelievable.  I was shocked, and that had a beginning, middle and an end.  So it was already framed in some kind of aesthetic experience that they were going through.  I had absolutely nothing to do with it because I did not even believe that they would stay in the room let alone do anything.  So we got . . .  That became the marriage between myself and that whole group called The Monarchs.  There were about twenty-four males there.  I lived and breathed with them morning, noon and night.   I mean, you could not do this kind of work, if it was just once a week after school or going into a school one hour a week or something of that nature.  You lived it; they were there.  They were living in the Center all the time.

 ©Museum of Performance + Design



Gloria Unti
Unti Audio Clip and Transcript