Founded in 1971 by Artistic Director Brenda Way, who trained under the legendary George Balanchine, ODC originated as Oberlin Dance Collective—named after Oberlin College in Ohio where Brenda was on faculty. The adventurous artists loaded up a yellow school bus and relocated to San Francisco in 1976. Brenda's goal was to ground the company in a dynamic, pluralistic, urban setting.

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.