The Hastings Dance Studio at 828 East Hastings sits like a bright orange beacon just east of Hawks Avenue in Strathcona. Unless you’re an avid flamenco dancer or table tennis star you might not know much about what goes on inside. For decades, this building has been a community center and hotspot for swing dances, readings, boxing matches, punk rock shows, weddings, and even political rallies. It was constructed with funds collected by the local Veneta society, debuting in 1928 as the Silver Slipper. It was the first Italian Hall in the area, catering to this growing cultural demographic in the area.
Soon after launching, the building’s purpose broadened in scope, blooming brighter as a general community hub. By the 1930s, The Celestial Gents (Canada’s first modern Chinese swing band) were playing here to much fanfare, as were The Pony Pals, an early version of the 1940s BC country band The Rhythm Pals. Various dances and sock-hops geared towards Vancouver’s growing teen population were also a fixture.
Following the Second World War and the forced interment of Japanese-Canadians, the Vancouver Buddist Temple utilized this address as their interim space before moving to their current location a few blocks to the southwest on Jackson Avenue in 1954. By the 1960s, the building had been renamed the Hastings Auditorium and featured a unique neon sign depicting a couple in the midst of a ballroom-dancing. In the 1970s, it continued to operate as a meeting place for a variety of community groups and gatherings, including the Vancouver chapter of the notorious Fair Play for Cuba Committee (made famous by the membership of Lee Harvey Oswald prior to his assassination of JFK).
With the 1980s came another transformation: the venue became well known for alternative music shows. It became a mainstay in the growing Vancouver punk scene alongside other spots such as the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The name changed, too: fans of local bands, including the Pointed Sticks, D.O.A., and Young Canadians (formerly The K-Tels) will remember it as Viking Hall.
The hall was also the site of Charles Bukowski’s last poetry reading outside of the United States. It was in 1979, and entrance cost $6. The evening featured Bukowski’s typical boisterous banter with the 650-person crowd in-between a 17-poem set. Video footage of the reading, thought lost for several years, was eventually organized by fan Dennis Del Torre into a documentary film nearly 25 years later, entitled There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here. Those in the know might also recognize the venue from Dennis Hopper’s 1980 cult classic Out of the Blue, which features a (half) live scene of the Pointed Sticks playing two of their songs for the crowd.
These days the address still serves as a community space. Known as the Hastings Dance Hall, it’s home to Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy and the Vancouver Table Tennis Club. Much has changed inside, but the exterior – aside from a few coats of bold paint and missing original signage – remains much the same. Enjoy a peek next time you’re in the area, and maybe try out a few moves.