We hear all the time that Yale does quite well at the Oscars in terms of nominations. From admissions tours to emails from Yale, we’re constantly reminded of the capable alumni who have come from the Yale theater scene. It’s something of which we are, and should be, proud. We have a culture that promotes the arts, and it doesn’t just stop at acting.
Yale arts, particularly a cappella and acting, are well developed. I think there’s some truth in the claim that we’re one of the best schools — at least among comparable non-specialized schools — for those activities.
However, I would say that we are one of the weakest schools for one particular area of the performing arts: dance. Full disclosure, I do dance, so I may have a particularly vested interest in this topic. But I do think it’s generally agreed upon that our dancing community is not as strong as our a cappella or acting communities.
That isn’t to say that we don’t have talented dancers who are comparable to the best at any other school. But overall, the dancing culture at other schools, such as Princeton, is much more robust. In terms of break dancing — the culture that I’m most familiar with — Harvard and Princeton’s clubs are far more established and host more events than ours.
It’s understandably difficult to promote dance culture specifically. With so many specific styles, it’s not like singing, playing an instrument or acting, where practicing one skill translates into another without much difficulty. Someone adept at playing classical guitar doesn’t have to relearn the guitar to play rock.
Dancing is different. My breaking, someone else’s fan dancing and another person’s ballet are largely not interchangeable. Me becoming a better breaker would have roughly no effect on my improvement as a contemporary dancer. That makes it difficult to have dance classes in the same way you have bass classes. And while taking lessons for an instrument can count as class credit, most dance styles are not offered as classes for credit. The classes that we do offer are usually quite limited in scope and often not practice, but rather theory, oriented.
Furthermore, many forms of dance can only be practiced in particular spaces shared by everything from Wushu to Pilates to Zumba. The spaces are in high demand and often coordination can prove to be difficult. Furthermore, not all dance studios are able to host all groups — sometimes due to space requirements, other times due to footwear restrictions.
I’m not saying that we should suddenly build 10 new studios, although I wouldn’t complain if we did. But there are little things Yale could do to promote dancing. Princeton offers a separate certificate program specifically for dance. Although we don’t have something like Princeton’s certificate program, we could potentially offer more classes in more varied styles of dance that focus on practice rather than history or theory — although the latter two subjects are still important.
In addition, increased access to funding may help the community grow. The dance community extends beyond Yale, and for many organizations, travelling and competing is just as valuable if not more valuable than merely putting on a show in a non-competitive setting.
Currently, the dance groups that I know of don’t have access to any funding for travel, so going anywhere requires them to pay out of pocket. But other groups, such as the debate association, get funding for travel and thus can compete regularly. For many naturally competitive forms of dance, this deprives the groups of valuable experience. Certainly, Yale would not ask its debaters to exclusively debate each other. Sure, you can get better, but competition provides the impetus for improvement.
Overall, Yale isn’t the worst in terms of its treatment of the dance community. But Yale never wants to be just “not the worst.” We strive to be one of the best in every field. The actions that would greatly help Yale’s dancing community wouldn’t be too much of a burden, and I think the arts would grow greatly if we implemented a few meaningful measures.
Leo Kim is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.