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Legacy Oral History Online Collection

Stanley Kahn

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Stan Kahn (1915-1996) was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on February 2, 1915. The eldest of three children, Stan was introduced early to both dance training and vaudeville performance by his mother who had been interested in a performing career herself. Stan trained in ballet and tap dance with such teachers as Grover Abel, Katherine Duffy, and Louis Dapron. He eventually traveled to New York where he auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet company, failing to achieve a position due to being underage. During some of the Depression years, Stan remained in New York City with relatives and received influential training under the mentorship of vaudevillians Joe Laurie, Jr. and Sammy Burns. Stan's first paying job with Joe Laurie Jr. included a vaudeville tour to New Orleans and New Jersey.

Eventually returning to Oklahoma City after the untimely death of his father in 1928, Stan began teaching tap dance, combining his knowledge of ballet and vaudeville based acrobatics. Traveling to Houston, Texas, Stan continued to teach, choreograph and perform. With the promise of Los Angeles and Hollywood, Stan traveled to California to audition for the Fanchon and Marco dance producing team. The producers immediately hired Stan to run a failing franchise studio in Oakland, California. Stan turned the studio around by teaching many of the classes himself, and eventually met his wife-to-be, Pat Mason, a performer and captain of one of the Helene Hughes line dance teams.

Marrying Pat on New Year's Eve, 1938 during the increased build-up of Hitler's armies in Europe, Stan worked for Kaiser Shipyard #1 in Oakland as an electrician's assistant in the production of warships for the upcoming World War. Though older than most recruits, Stan eventually joined the U.S. Navy and saw action on warships in the Pacific Theater. While Stan was away on various tours of duty in the Navy, Pat continued to teach dance and purchased a studio in San Francisco. During this period, Pat and Stan became parents to both David and Larry Kahn.

After the war, Stan and Pat eventually acquired the Market Street studio in San Francisco which became their influential school of dance for several generations of Bay Area dancers. Stan also became involved with Shipstad and Johnson's Ice Follies as a dance director, increasing quality in choreography and musicality for Ice Follies tours for the next fifteen years. The studio also became a training ground for a series of precision dance teams for both children, mixed gender teens and adult women. Stan also became involved with a new group called Youth of America which toured nationally under his direction. Several other studios in the Bay Area were added to the franchise during this time.

Eventually, Stan and Pat's Market Street studio became a nexus of training for the local and national theater community, including touring artists to the Bay Area such as Broadway's Tommy Tune and local artists such as the San Francisco Ballet's Artistic Director Michael Smuin. Stan participated in the creation of dance routines for the musical film The Cotton Club and the stage musical Anything Goes, choreographed by Michael Smuin. As Pat's health declined in the 1970s and 80s due to several bouts of cancer, Stan continued to teach, direct and perform, including a short featured role in Tales of the City, a television program produced in San Francisco.

After Pat's death, Stan began teaching internationally in Brazil under the sponsorship of Kika Sampaio, who had brought Stan and Pat's dance teaching system to Sao Paulo. Part of Stan's contribution both locally and internationally was his innovative documentation system titled Kahnotation, which he began creating in the 1930s and eventually copyrighted in 1951. This notation system developed specifically for tap dancing has become standard usage in many contemporary studios. Several of Stan's protege's, such as Berle Davis, Pamela Sousa and Sam Weber among others, have gone on to dance careers regionally, nationally, on Broadway, and with internationally touring tap ensembles. Several generations of Stan's students have also created a broad local and regional network of dance performers and teachers.

In 1996, Stan was honored for his contributions to dance by LEGACY Oral History Project's Jeff Friedman and Steve Zee in a performance tribute at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco. Stan died not long after at the age of eighty.

Audio Clip and Transcript

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