Courtesy of Gabrielle Niederhoffer

For Gabrielle Niederhoffer ’23, the decision to take a gap year came from her love for the dance and theater community at Yale. As a former dance studies major, Niederhoffer’s time at Yale is divided between the Dance Lab — a Yale initiative that promotes community, cross-disciplinary collaboration and activism through dance — and the stage, where she choreographs musical theater performances. When faced with the prospect of returning to a Yale with few in-person artistic opportunities, Niederhoffer instead decided to craft a year of dance of her own.

Unlike many students on leave, Niederhoffer is spending her gap year in New Haven. Even though straddling this in-between status has been strange — especially since most of her friends are still taking classes, Niederhoffer said dance has become her connection to her Yale community.

“I absolutely love teaching,” said Niederhoffer. “I honestly feel like I was dancing more this semester than any other semester at Yale. Just because I had the time to.”

Niederhoffer co-presides Taps, an on-campus tap dancing group and leads weekly in-person dance sessions with members at the Beinecke Plaza. This year, Niederhoffer said member participation in Taps has increased in comparison to past years.

“I think people were craving social interaction,” Niederhoffer said. “Especially for the first years, it was such a great opportunity for them to just meet new people and dance with each other and share their passions. People really enjoy it and it’s a good way to socialize safely.”

Niederhoffer is also acting as the dance studies assistant for Emily Coates, director of dance at Yale. As assistant, Niederhoffer has continued to work in the dance department by conducting projects in the Dance Lab.

Niederhoffer said she and Coates have been close since her first year, when the two were randomly chosen as an advisor-advisee pair. Niederhoffer noted that Coates has helped her bring her own dance vision, a festival showcasing vernacular dance, to light.

Niederhoffer conceptualized the festival during her first year to highlight vernacular dance, which includes jazz forms like tap, swing and the Lindy Hop. Through the festival, Niederhoffer hopes to incite conversations about the relationship between an overwhelmingly white demographic of tap dancers and the Black history of vernacular dance and jazz music.

Before the pandemic, the festival was meant to be Niederhoffer’s senior project. But Niederhoffer now envisions the festival as a set of master classes which will be open to both the Yale and New Haven community. She hopes to work with the Schwarzman Center’s current artist-in-residence, Dormeshia.

Beyond her involvement with Yale, Niederhoffer teaches weekly jazz classes in the parking lot behind her New Haven apartment. She conceived the idea the week before spring break. Even as Yale closed its campus to students and countries around the world imposed lockdowns, Niederhoffer continued to conduct virtual dance sessions over the summer. Her regular attendees are not professional dancers but Yale community members who are exploring themselves in new ways through dance. As a result, Niederhoffer is able to dance with greater numbers and different groups of people. 

“People who’ve never danced before would come every week, and it was so cool seeing them improve throughout the entire semester,” Niederhoffer said.

Niederhoffer also has remote administrative roles for two dance companies located in New York: a dance company called Battery Dance and an artist-driven arts administration organization called Pentacle. She is working in the marketing and financial departments, respectively. Both positions have given Niederhoffer insights into arts administration, her intended career field. 

“I love dancing and I love being an artist and being creative but I never wanted to pursue dance professionally,” says Niederhoffer. “I love engaging and creating art so being able to do the business side and organizational side of things to create art is what I want to do.” 

Niederhoffer said that despite managing several projects at once, she has been able to dedicate the most time to dance this semester. In a typical semester, Niederhoffer had to balance her classes and rehearsals. Now, she said, life is more about focusing on the present. Taking time off from choreography at Yale has also allowed her to focus on the process more than the final product.

Yet Niederhoffer does miss the rhythm of university life. Reflecting upon the social atmosphere of dining halls, she said she found social interactions this semester less spontaneous.

“Overall it’s been a good learning experience,” she said. “I feel that all Yale students like to know what their next step is, so it’s nice not knowing where I’m going to be.”

Students in New Haven can email Niederhoffer if they are interested in joining her weekly classes.

Marie Sanford | karla.sanford@yale.edu

MARIE SANFORD