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NATIONAL PROFILE The Dinah turns 20: Talking with Mariah Hanson
by Micki Leventhal
2010-02-10

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Club Skirts Presents The Dinah celebrates its 20th anniversary March 31-April 4, and if you are a woman-loving-woman and don't know what The Dinah is you are likely old-school, sports-free, crunchy-granola, nightclub-free or have been living under a rock in terms of popular culture—or a combination of several or all the above.

For those not in the know, The Dinah is by far the largest of a number of celebratory events that have grown up around the Ladies Professional Golf Association ( LPGA ) tournament held each spring in Palm Springs, Calif. In 1972, singer and television personality Dinah Shore founded the Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Championship and the golf weekend and surrounding festivities became forever associated with her name. The vibe between lesbians and women's golf being what it is, Sapphically-inclined women have for decades trekked to Palm Springs to see and be seen—and perhaps play some golf. By the late 1980s, folks were beginning to slowly open their closet doors and the growing party scene was attracting thousands of women.

The year 1991 arrived and so did Mariah Hanson, a young San Francisco-based nightclub promoter. She had built Club Skirts, a successful business that produced women's parties, making good money for herself and the clubs, and bringing together hip young lesbians during the emergence of Lesbian Chic.

"I came in when the lesbian-chic movement was taking off. It got a lot of flack in the beginning because it was perceived as a sell out," said Hanson. "But for me it is just this progression toward our liberalization and our liberation. We shouldn't be homogenous. We really need to let people be who they are within our own community."

Hanson had been to Palm Springs during the golf tournaments, scoped out the growing but decentralized party scene and thought she could do better. She did, attracting 1,200 women to the first Dinah. For many years, Club Skirts teamed up with the Los Angeles-based Girl Bar, but that partnership split in 2006 and since then Hanson has focused on making The Dinah the event for the annual Lesbian pilgrimage to Palm Springs.

She appears to be successful. According to her press release, in 2009 The Dinah welcomed more than 10,000 women, a number that represents about a 50-percent market share for the weekend lesbian festivities.

"What I try to do is throw the best event that I can and then I look at what I did last year and I try to outdo it. If you make your customers feel good and comfortable and welcome and you create an environment where your customers feel very accepted and you have a lot of choices in programming, that's going to resonate with our community. And I try to book talent that speaks to a pretty broad demographic and every year is different."

For the 2010 event, Hanson and her crew are once again working with "a great comedy show" and "emerging artists," although at the time of the interview Hanson demurred from sharing many details. With a past performer lineup that includes Sophie B. Hawkins, Pat Benatar, Margaret Cho, Joan Jett, Carmen Elektra, Suzanne Westenhoefer, The Pussycat Dolls, Betty!, India Arie, Kathy Najimy, Sandra Bernhardt, Indigo Girls, En Vogue and—just last year—Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Hanson clearly has a commitment to top talent and a remarkable instinct for identifying the Next Hot Thing.

In addition to the entertainment events, of course, are the parties: pool parties, cocktail parties, dinner parties, dance parties and "go-go" parties. There are also the Dinah Comic , wet T-shirt, "Hottest Lesbian" and the lube-wrestling contests.

Despite the admittedly bacchanalian atmosphere, there is also a political/cultural motivation for Hanson, who sits of the board of Equality California and is a staunch supporter for marriage equality.

"I've been pioneering sponsorships for 20 years and, at the beginning, sponsors weren't putting money into the lesbian market at all, barely into the gay market. Now it's a sponsor's dream market and that translates into good for the community. Advertising changes paradigms," said Hanson.

While the perception of LGBT activism might be more subtle with The Dinah than outright political organizations and PACs, "everything we're doing is positive and its end goal is civil rights," said Hanson. "You've got a town like Palm Springs, a Republican town that would not contract with me until six months out because they didn't want to commit to a lesbian group if they could get any other business. Now all of a sudden, whether it was because we made so much money for them or maybe it's because this group is so great, they fight [ to book the event ] . It's just really fun and uplifting and empowering; these hotels love this group. All those little things add up. Yeah, it's a party, but it's more than a party."

The acts at this year's event include Salt-n-Pepa, Rosie O'Donnell and Ke$ha. See TheDinah.com .


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