Dancers petition for more spaces

In response to the January closure of several campus dance studios and performance spaces, members of Yale’s undergraduate dance community are banding together to press the University to address the ensuing space shortage, which they say is severely hampering their ability to put on shows.

The Alliance for Dance at Yale — an umbrella organization representing over 450 students in 15 different groups — plans to present a petition requesting increased University resources after spring break, said Anna Goddu ’09, who is orchestrating ADAY’s efforts to lobby the administration.

Student dance group Danceworks practices in the common room of Berkeley College. Groups like Danceworks are rising up in protest against the lack of practice space.
Jonathan Jimenez
Student dance group Danceworks practices in the common room of Berkeley College. Groups like Danceworks are rising up in protest against the lack of practice space.

The petition asks the University to subsidize the renting of off-campus theater space for the remainder of the semester, to renovate rehearsal spaces in Berkeley and Davenport Colleges to make them safe for dancing, and to build another theater space suitable for dance, possibly as part of a more expansive performing arts center.

In January, the University barred dance groups from using the Off-Broadway Performance Space and the Berkeley and Davenport dance studios because their floors are not designed to absorb shock. Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle told members of ADAY in a meeting last week that Yale will install a sprung floor in the Off-Broadway Theater over the summer, and that any new theater spaces the University builds will feature dance floors, Goddu said.

“We’ve had to sort of sneak our way into studios that aren’t technically available or hold really informal rehearsals in a hallway somewhere,” she said. “It’s sort of been ridiculous.”

Available rehearsal spaces are currently limited to two studios in Payne Whitney Gymnasium, a small studio in Trumbull College and a small ballroom in the Theater Studies building, Goddu said. She estimated that Yale’s 15 dance groups require an average of 125 total rehearsal hours a week.

Four of the groups — A Different Drum Dance Co., YaleDancers, Rhythmic Blue and Danceworks — are renting off-campus performance space this semester, Goddu said. Different Drum member Gabriella Pinto ’07 said renting space at the ECA Theater on Audubon Street is costing her group around $5,000 for the semester.

“We are lucky that we have been saving for this kind of eventuality, because there are a lot of other groups that have nowhere to perform, because they don’t have $5,000,” Pinto said. “Some groups literally have nowhere to go.”

Pinto said she understands the administration’s concerns about the spaces at the Off-Broadway and in Berkeley and Davenport, since students often injure themselves dancing on the hard, unyielding floors. But she said the University should set aside more funding for dance groups as a stop-gap measure until it can renovate the prohibited spaces or build new ones.

YaleDancers was forced to cancel a second show it had scheduled for this semester because it had nowhere to perform, Rachel Geronemus ’08 said. YaleDancers rehearses in Payne Whitney, she said, where it is hard to reserve time, and in the Trumbull studio, which is too small to fit all the members of the group.

ADAY has arranged a meeting with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg after spring break to discuss subsidizing student use of off-campus studios, Goddu said. Trachtenberg said the University is supportive of undergraduate dance organizations but has limited funds to devote to them.

“We’re putting down a dance floor at the OBT, but that’s not going to satisfy everybody,” she said. “Everybody would like more of everything. We do what we can.”

In addition to requesting an increase in the number of usable campus dance facilities, the petition asks the University to introduce for-credit dance classes into the curriculum and hire faculty to teach them. All other Ivy League schools except the University of Pennsylvania retain faculty and teach classes in dance, Goddu said. At Harvard University, the recently opened Harvard Dance Center maintains 12 faculty members who teach 16 classes, including two for credit, she said, and Columbia University, which offers a dance major, teaches a total of 50 classes on the history, theory and technique of dance.

“If all the other Ivy League schools are offering this, clearly it is academically rigorous enough to be offered at Yale,” she said. “I think it might take a couple years before the University becomes really responsive to adding that to the budget … It’s an uphill battle.”

Deputy Provost Charles Long said that while there is no “theoretical reason” that the University could not create performance dance classes for credit, such a decision would have to go through the faculty. Yale has made a similar move with music classes in the past, he said, but the program would represent a departure from the traditional curriculum.

“It’s wonderful to do or to have, but it isn’t really part of an intellectual education,” Long said. “You could imagine having a couple credits in things that are sheer performance, but how much is too much?”

ADAY members raised the idea when they met with Suttle, who seemed resistant to the proposal, Goddu said. In addition to ADAY members, about 120 non-dancers and about 10 professors and alumni have signed the petition, she said.

ADAY plans to present the petition to Suttle, University President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey.

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