The Dinah Mastermind: Mariah Hanson

On the 20th Anniversary of the biggest lesbian party on the planet, Mariah Hanson dishes in her own words

When Mariah Hanson first stole off to Palm Springs for Dinah Shore Weekend ‘88, she had no idea that the dash to the desert with friends would one day become her life work. The San Francisco party promoter produced her first Dinah Shore event in 1991. This spring marks the 20th anniversary of the annual wild week Hanson has been stirring up in Cochella Valley. This is how she got there, in her own words.

First job: “At age 12 I was delivering newspapers in San Mateo. Nothing teaches you customer service like a paper route, I’m telling you.”

First crush: “I was 16. She was a total straight girl.”

High school in one word: “Truant. I cut class all the time, who knows to do what. I probably looked cool but I didn’t feel cool. It’s all about perception. I had my awkward moments, for sure.”

When I grow up: “I thought I was destined to be a freshman college English professor. I wanted to teach so badly, or possibly even a high school English teacher.”

Degree pursued: “I was an English major who bounced from Sonoma State to Santa Barbara. What did I pursue? I pursued parties. I threw the wildest parties in college. Sonoma State University banned on-campus parties because of me. They let me have the cafeteria for my 21st birthday as long as I didn’t serve booze or charge at the door. Of course I had like three kegs of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a few cases of Lonestar. We were all broke so of course, we charged at the door. It was a huge hit, but I got in a lot of trouble the next day.”

First real job: “I got my B.A. in English with distinct honors. I graduated Suma Cum Laude and I was ready to take the business world by storm -- but no one would hire me. I ended up folding clothes at an ESPRIT outlet for five bucks an hour.”

First salary: “When I caught my big break with ESPRIT I was making $18,000 a year. That was up from ten; I was happy!”

Tipping Point : “I ended up screwing up in grad school -- it’s a lot different than undergrad. I know that now. They told me I had to repeat my first year. At the time I was working my butt off waiting tables at Zuni Café in San Francisco. I was completely demoralized. So, I just thought, Forget it, let’s throw a party. For days I’d set my alarm and wake up in the middle of the night to flyer every car around every GLBT club in the city. My first party had 1,100 people at it. On a Sunday! I ended up bailing on grad school. A Sunday party turned into a weekly Sunday club, and then I picked up Saturdays. Next thing I knew, between the two nights and two clubs, I was able to sustain my livelihood without taking another job. That’s what I did, I made a living throwing parties.”

Lesbians are: “An extremely loyal and consistent market. If you dare cater to them, they will support you unfailingly. For much of history, lesbians weren’t looked upon as a marketing asset. Corporate sponsors didn’t believe they had the spending power to warrant ad schemes and products. Soon people began to take note of what a lucrative venture this was.

Lesbian Myth Busters: “I’ve never worn a tuxedo. Although, I did once have a haircut that one might say remotely resembled a mullet.”

The Dinah, Take 1: “My first attempt at producing The Dinah was in 1991. I had secured a contract with The Racquet Club, I’m psyched. I sign it. Give it back. It’s a done deal, right? Nope. They cancelled on me. I never saw it coming. That was my first Dinah. Why did The Racquet Club pull out? I don’t know. I’ll never know. Why do I think? Because they got scared about a gay group. Do I have any proof? No, but in Palm Springs back then we were still an exotic bird. Now we’re double income no kids.”

Mariah's Mantra: “Take really good care of people. I want every single person at one of my parties to feel like a V.I.P. Some promoters want to make you feel like you’re lucky to be there. That’s never resonated with me.”

Empowering Women: “What’s so cool about The Dinah is that women are pampered at these amazing resorts, and they stay in four and five star hotels and are catered to around every corner of what’s typically a straight industry. That’s what makes the whole production a really empowering thing and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Best advice to women in business: “Have integrity and never take no for an answer. There’s always a win-win. Find the win-win. When you get there it feels good.”

What I am: “I've actually trademarked “The Dinah”. I live and breathe The Dinah. It’s my life work. When women think of Dinah Shore, what typically comes to mind is the parties that I have been producing. That is something I’m really proud of.

What I’m not: “I may have created this thing but I’m not the magic that happens. I’m the architect who builds the stage that enables women from all over the world to come together for five days of entertainment and community. What happens is this remarkable flame of inhibition and celebration. It’s this completely wild, crazy weekend that feels unlike anything else. Unless these women are coming with that certain attitude, though, it wouldn’t work. All I can do is work really hard to make sure it happens.”

The Dinah suggested hangover cure: “B vitamin and a bloody mary.”

For Dinah Shore 2010 tickets, hotel information and event schedules visit www.TheDinah.com
Mary Buckheit can be reached at MaryB@flawLes.com

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