Yale’s dance community may be faced with the choice of whether to dance under dangerous conditions or not dance at all, after the recent closure of several campus studio and performance spaces due to safety concerns.
In January, the University decided to close the Off-Broadway Performance Space and dance studios in Davenport and Berkeley Colleges to all high-impact dance groups, determining that the spaces’ floors are unsafe. The dance groups now barred from the spaces are struggling to find areas in which to practice and perform, and some dancers said they think the administration is unfairly burdening dance over other art forms.
The floors in both the Davenport and Berkeley college dance studios were deemed unsafe for dancing because they are not designed to absorb shock. Dance studios typically use sprung floors to protect dancers from injuries when they jump and do other floor work. Tap groups were excluded from the prohibition because the administration determined that tap should not be considered high-impact dancing, but most of Yale’s 10 undergraduate dance groups are included under the ban.
Deputy Provost for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs Lloyd Suttle said the safety concerns were brought to the administration’s attention in December, and the administration evaluated the validity of the concerns before closing the Off-Broadway to high-impact dance groups. They made the decision to close the spaces in the first week of the spring semester.
Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld said the safety concerns allowed for little debate about whether to close the Davenport studio.
“It’s a safety issue, so it isn’t a discretionary issue — we very much wanted to have a dance floor,” he said. “This is really safety first.”
Members of dance groups said the closures, even if they are based on legitimate safety concerns, make it difficult for them to schedule adequate rehearsal time. The closure of the Davenport and Berkeley dance studios leaves just four studios open on campus — one each in Trumbull and Branford and two in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Members said performance opportunities are also unfairly limited by the decision, as groups such as A Different Drum routinely use the Off-Broadway for performances.
Meaghan Lafferty ’07, president of A Different Drum, said the closure of the facilities has caused problems for her group.
“We had scheduled multiple rehearsals there before we learned that we could not use it,” she said. “We then had to find a different space and time for those dances to practice.”
Although the two remaining dance studios in Trumbull and Branford are popular, some dancers say the spaces are too small to be useful for rehearsals with more than eight or nine people. While the Trumbull studio is newly renovated and has a proper dance floor, dancers have a hard time moving around in such a small space, making rehearsals difficult, Lafferty said.
The closure of Off-Broadway to dancers does not reduce available practice space, but it has limited the performance spaces available. Lafferty said A Different Drum has to pay upwards of $3,500 to perform at the off-campus ECA Theater.
While dancers said the possibility of injury should be taken seriously, some said performing in an unsafe area is better than not performing at all.
“Concrete floors like the one in OBT are a liability to the University, but I think that Yale has a responsibility to correct the problem of unsafe floors rather than take away opportunities for dance at Yale,” said Kate McNeece ’07, business manager for A Different Drum. “Given the choice, we would rather dance on an unsafe floor but be able to perform if the only other option was depriving us of performance space.”
Suttle said he is working with architects to install a dance floor in part of the Off-Broadway during the summer, which would allow dancers to perform in this space again, though he said other options would have to be weighed when considering upcoming renovations.
“You have to make a choice,” he said. “For example, in multipurpose rooms, you can’t dance and play basketball on the same floor. If it’s built for basketball, the floor is too rigid for dance; if it’s built for dance, the ball won’t bounce.”