At the Rhythmic Blue concert this past weekend, dancers moved in the cramped confines of the Silliman Dining Hall, and audience members stood between folding chairs straining to see them. After the second or third row of chairs, it became impossible to see the dancers’ feet, and viewers perched on microwaves or near coffee machines to see more.
Rhythmic Blue and Yale’s seven other dance groups are far too familiar with this predicament. Yaledancers, unable to find performance space on campus, raised $10,000 to perform at the Palace Theater, leaving the company nearly bankrupt and its dancers dangerously close to paying out of their own pockets.
At a college that prides itself on its involvement with the arts, it seems strange that dance groups are forced to perform in dining halls or risk debt by renting off-campus space.
Faced with a campus-wide performance space shortage, dancers scramble to reserve venues sought by actors and musicians, and we usually lose. Even the new Off-Broadway Theater Space is only reserved for dance one weekend a semester, and when dance groups succeed in reserving it, its limitations make dancing difficult.
Many dance groups end up renting the theater at a local arts high school, which is ironically better equipped for dance than any place at a university with a long-held commitment to the arts.
Thirty years ago, when dance first arrived at Yale, it was seen as a less valid art form than drama, the visual arts or music. In many ways, this had to do with the fact that it had not existed on campus before coeducation, and as a “women’s art form” it was seen as inherently less intellectual.
Despite its presence for the last 30 years and the involvement of more than 200 women and men, dance is still relegated to a secondary status — the “stepchild of the arts.” The three dance studios in Payne-Whitney are literally falling apart. When dancers complain about the plaster falling off the walls or the growing cracks in the skylights, gym officials threaten to demolish the studios altogether when the gym is renovated.
Although students have asked repeatedly for more rehearsal and performance space on campus or support for renting off-campus space, no one seems to listen. The Alliance for Dance at Yale formed three years ago for the purpose of raising awareness of dance on campus and gaining more support from the University.
But despite regular events and a symposium that drew dance companies from around the country and an editor of Dance Magazine, the dancers on campus continue to struggle to rehearse and perform.
Although only a small proportion of undergraduates participate in dance, the problems we face are similar to those of the rest of the Yale community. For 30 years, dancers have been patiently trying to gain small advances. In spite of our efforts, conditions remain the same, and every time we approach administrators we are told something will change — eventually.
There is a fundamental problem in a power structure that does not acknowledge students’ needs when making decisions. At President Richard Levin’s open forum, he implied that students were incapable of understanding Yale’s budget. He is right to say that we do not know the intricacies of the budget (we have never had the chance to be privy to that information), but it is insulting to say that we could never understand.
I do know I rehearse for hours every week in a dilapidated room, only to perform in inadequate spaces that cause injuries. And I can forget about medical support for my injuries because dance does not “qualify” for access to Payne Whitney’s physical therapists. I know I am not alone, for every student group has their own concerns. I am not asking for complete control of the budget — but I am asking for a seat at the table.
Our lack of success in achieving even nominal gains demonstrates students’ basic lack of voice. Across campus, students, faculty and workers struggle to make Yale a stronger, better university by trying to ensure it incorporates their voices.
Until these disparate voices come together, dancers and other members of the Yale community will be unable to accomplish their goals. And the University will not fulfill its potential as a truly great institution until it includes these voices in its decision making process.
Abigail Krasner is a sophomore in Pierson College. She is a member of Yaledancers.