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Brenda Way

Headshot of Brenda Way, who smiles joyously.
Courtesy ODC Dance

California Connection:

b. 1942

  • Longtime Bay Area resident


Biography current as of induction in 2024

Brenda Way is the founder and artistic director of professional dance company ODC/Dance and creator of the ODC Theater and ODC Dance Commons, community performance and training venues in San Francisco’s Mission District. Through her dance company, school and theater, Way has inspired audiences, cultivated artists, engaged community and fostered diversity and inclusion through dance.

Way began studying dance as a young girl at the School of American Ballet and Ballet Arts in New York City under legendary choreographer George Balanchine. She helped create an inter-arts department at Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music in the late 1960s and launched ODC there in 1971 before relocating to the Bay Area in 1976.

Over the last 45 years, Way has choreographed more than 85 pieces for numerous institutions, including commissions for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, San Francisco Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Equal Justice Society, San Francisco Girls Chorus and Cal Performances. Her work “Investigating Grace” was named an American Masterpiece by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011.

Way is a national spokesperson for dance, has been published widely and has received numerous awards, including Isadora Duncan Dance Awards for both choreography and sustained achievement. She is a 2000 recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and has enjoyed 40 years of support from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2009, Way was the first choreographer to be a Resident of the Arts at the American Academy in Rome, and in 2012 she received the Helen Crocker Russell Award for Community Leadership from the San Francisco Foundation.

Known nationally for entrepreneurial savvy, ODC was the first modern dance company in the United States to own its home facility, the ODC Theater, built in 1979 and expanded in 2010. In September 2005, ODC also opened the ODC Dance Commons, which houses ODC/Dance, ODC School, administrative offices and the Healthy Dancers’ Clinic.

In 2009 ODC/Dance was selected by the Brooklyn Academy of Music to tour Way’s work internationally through the U.S. State Department’s inaugural DanceMotion USA tour. Way recently added filmmaking to her list of accomplishments with “Walk on Air,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the feature-length “Up for Air/Decameron,” all brought to the screen during the pandemic. Way holds a Ph.D. in aesthetics and is the mother of four children.

View more inductees from the 17th class, inducted in 2024.