Popularity of dance exceeds resources



After two nights of performances in the space she spent a week painstakingly preparing, Camele-Ann White ’03 went to bed happy. But early the next morning, with two performances scheduled for that evening, she rolled out of bed to help another group take over her stage.

Between the Friday and Saturday night performances of the show she choreographed, directed, and danced in, White found time to squeeze in working as the publicity director for “Stand Up and Dance,” a charity fundraiser performed by the Alliance for Dance at Yale, or ADAY. She also had to find a space to squeeze the performance into.

“They hadn’t been able to find a space, so I loaned them the theater,” she said. “I had to go in Saturday morning and help set up their lighting and make sure my dancers’ props and costumes were safe and out of the way. They performed in the afternoon and cleaned up and we set up again for my show that night. It was a little crazy.”

For White, the day perfectly illustrated the problem with dance on campus: “It reflected the energy there is for dance on campus and the demand there is for more space and university support,” she said.

Dancers express almost universal concern over the lack of dance space and programs at Yale — and the tensions these shortages put on what they call a thriving dance community.



A room of one’s own

When Konjo!, a group that performs traditional African dance, held rehearsals on the ninth floor of the gym, members got more than just dance practice. Some got unexpected lessons in combat.

“We’ve had to share the room with other random groups, once with fencing, another time with Tae Kwon Do,” said Najah Farley ’03, the director of the group. “It’s weird to rehearse a dance while the people next to you are fencing.”

The story of too many dancers and too little quality rehearsal space is a familiar one. Most Yale dancers agreed the most desirable rehearsal spaces are the two dance studios on the fifth floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium. But they must share the space not only with each other, but also with other clubs, sports, and classes.

For Candace Douglas ’04, co-president of Danceworks, the aggravation comes not from the clanking of nearby sabers, but from the glares of impatient ballerinas waiting to use the same studio.

“At 5:30 on the dot they’re in the room, not even giving us a chance to finish what we’re doing,” Douglas said.

As dance becomes more popular at Yale, the situation only worsens.

Alyssa Greenwald ’03 said she realizes that by founding a new dance group last fall — Groove — she created more competition for the same limited space.

“All the dance groups suffer a little by the formation of Groove,” she said. “They have to give up an hour or two of rehearsal space.”

Evelyn Malave ’05, the ADAY dance group liaison, assigns rehearsal time and space in the gym based on availability of rooms and requests submitted by dance groups. Each group gets only a few hours a week in the coveted studios, and are otherwise relegated to the ninth floor studio — a long, narrow space that is hotter and smaller than many dancers would like. Space is reassigned each semester, and Malave said she tries to rotate groups through the most preferable times and places.

But the problem is more one of convenience than of space, said Anya Raredon ’04, the executive director of ADAY.

“It’s hard scheduling rehearsals, but I don’t think there’s too much of a shortage,” she said. “People tend to perceive it as a shortage because they only think of fifth floor space as rehearsal space. It’s a matter of being creative with where you’re willing to rehearse.”

Alex Jean ’03, the rehearsal manager for Rhythmic Blue, knows about getting creative. He said he has held rehearsals in the Silliman dance space, squash courts, and even in the halls at Payne Whitney. On Sunday he rehearsed in the hall of the gym’s third floor while swimmers dripped water over his impromptu dance floor as they passed by.

Unfortunately, even after making use of their creative rehearsal space, the question for many groups remains — where to perform the pieces perfected there?

“The lack of performance space is really an issue,” said Farley, whose group has experimented with having shows in small auditoriums at the medical school. “Dancers pretty much live to perform and to have a performance very far away or in a small space is hard.”

All dancers pointed to one space as the best the campus has to offer: the Off Broadway Theater, which boasts dressing rooms and its own lighting and sound systems. Unfortunately for the dancers, they’re not the only ones who feel this way.

This semester there were 28 proposals from dancers, thespians, and filmmakers vying for the Off Broadway space, said Jim Brewczynski, the supervisor of undergraduate productions and special events. But only 18 of the groups were able to be accommodated this season, leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

YaleDancers moves their performances off campus, fundraising so they can rent performance space. Nicole Ries ’04, co-president of YaleDancers, said Off Broadway is small for dance performances, in high demand, and not as well suited for dance as the space they rent at the Little Theater off Audubon Street.



Dance for credit?

When Sidra Bell ’01 flipped through the pages of her first blue book — which for many freshmen seems overflowing with possibilities — she instead noticed what was missing.

She found just one class offered on dance technique — in the theater studies department. Bell said she was especially struck by the discrepancy between offerings for dance and the other arts celebrated at Yale.

“The lack of dance was really significant compared to other art forms,” she said. “I wanted to lobby for the administration to offer more dance instruction. It was a shame there was so little offered. There were so many dancers on campus and so few outlets for them in the curriculum.”

The following fall, in 1998, the frustrated sophomore founded ADAY with that goal in mind. Bell said she wanted to prove to the administration that Yale could attract notable names in dance and even establish a dance faculty. She organized the first annual dance symposium, wooing prominent dancers, companies, and choreographers to campus. ADAY hosted its fifth annual symposium this past fall.

But if the goal is an academic dance program, it is not evident that the administration has gotten the message. This year’s blue book advertises 26 courses on visual art techniqe, 15 on musical performance and composition, and 10 on theatrical performance. There are two courses on dance performance — both offered as seminars in the theater studies department.

While there are dance classes offered at the gym, dancers said these not-for-credit classes are insufficient. Douglas said most of the advanced dance classes are fee classes and the classes offered for free are not always high quality.

Bell said that other arts are easier to justify in academia because they have more established criticism, theory, and dialogue. Even outside of Yale, Bell said, dance is the least appreciated of all the art forms.

Ries noticed this disparity when she filled out the Enrolled Student Survey e-mailed to students by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead.

“Dance was barely even mentioned,” she said. “I’m doing 15 hours a week and teaching classes and it’s not something the university recognizes. It’s frustrating.”

Raredon said many other liberal arts colleges have a dance faculty or academic programs, and that the demand for similar programs here is clear, citing the packed postmodern dance class offered through the Theater Studies department last fall. The challenge, she said, is communicating that enthusiasm to the administration.

Raredon said the group sends formal invitations to its events to administrators, “to show them there is energy for dance on campus.”

But Raredon said proposals for a new dance floor and programs have not gained overwhelming support from the administration.

“The responses we’ve gotten have been definitely skeptical and less than enthusiastic,” she said.

There have also been difficulties getting the dancers themselves involved in the campaign, White said.

“There is verbal interest in starting an academic program in dance but very few people are willing to do the grunt work,” she said. “In order to do the work that’s necessary a lot of people feel that they would have to neglect their own groups.”

Without exception, dancers spoke of the pride they have for their own performance group and dance style. But the devotion many dancers feel toward their own groups can be a mixed blessing, making some hesitant to devote much time to community-wide efforts.

A disappointing turnout at this year’s “Stand Up and Dance” may have been due to this attitude, which manifested itself in poor publicity for the event, Douglas said.

“We self-promote for our own group’s shows but we don’t promote any sort of unified efforts,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘I’m just doing the same dance I did last semester and my friends already saw that.’ People don’t tell their friends to come.”

Despite an overall atmosphere of support, Raredon said she has been concerned about a “singular focus” of dancers on their own shows and has noticed many dancers don’t attend other performances.

The problem may be particularly acute for smaller groups with more specific styles, like Konjo! or Ballet Folklorico, which performs Mexican folk dances. Students in both groups said they don’t feel part of a community with the larger groups.

“It’s very rare for those groups to come to our shows,” Farley said, “even though they’ve contacted us asking to do African dance workshops or about their shows,” Farley said.

One of the goals of ADAY is to foster community among the dance groups, Raredon said. Events like the fall symposium and a new spring residency program open to all dancers on campus are designed to bring the artists together.

But some are skeptical about ADAY’s ability to unite such a diverse community.

“The dance groups at Yale are so segregated from each other that having an umbrella organization just doesn’t work,” Greenwald said. “An alliance group often just has to deal with infighting.”

Some groups are looking for more ways to bring dancers together, and this spring, YaleDancers and Rhythmic Blue are collaborating on a dance featuring both groups, said Jean, one of the choreographers and a member of both groups.

White, who originated the idea for the collaboration with Ries, said the work of the two groups is testament to the community spirit of dance on campus.

“There is a strong dance community here and a strong support system which I think is quite fascinating because there’s no academic support for dance at all,” White said. “I’ve found dance to be quite enjoyable here but much more of a struggle than it probably needed to be.”

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