February 28, 2013

Dancing in the dark

The University should support the neglected art form of dance by including facilities in the new Campus North residence hall.

We all have our artistic passions. Whether it’s playing an instrument, singing in an a capella group, or performing in a theater production, we all express ourselves through art. My passion is, and has always been, dancing. As a three-year-old, I would sit my family down to watch me perform whatever 20-minute piece I decided they had to see. At my aunts’ and uncles’ weddings, I would convince the groom that the bride was better off dancing with me. And in high school, I took every dance class I could. Arriving at the University of Chicago, I couldn’t wait to join the vibrant community of dancers.

But there was a problem: I had fallen in love with the wrong art form. Dance on campus is not supported. Even with the opening of the new arts center, dancers struggle to find the right resources. While our musicians have a building of their own, our dancers have a room in a basement equipped with an often-broken sound system, walls with gaping holes in them, and no shortage of bugs. While TAPS (Theatre and Performance Studies) and UT (University Theater) have several co-curricular spaces to practice for their shows, dance groups are forced to fight for leftovers.

Although the Logan Arts Center was a huge step toward encouraging creativity and artistic exploration on campus, it was built without consideration for dance. There is one “dance” room that seems to have been built with dance hardly in mind: It is square rather than rectangular, and it is fully owned by TAPS. In order to access the room, dancers must beg to use it during the few limited hours that TAPS leaves it free. Alternatively, dancers can dance in the empty Performance Hall when it is not being used, again only for a few hours here and there.

Right now, there is a solution: It is not too late to add a dance space to the plans for the soon-to-be constructed Campus North residence hall, which will replace Pierce.

As a first-year asking about where I could dance on campus, I was initially impressed to find out about all the dance RSOs this university has to offer. However, I was astounded to discover that there were very few classes being taught, and that RSO practices were often held in strange locations—like the squash court in Henry Crown.

I learned very quickly that this was because of an extreme shortage of dance space. When we needed extra space to practice for upcoming competitions, we would find ourselves on the scratchy Henry Crown Green Room floor, random alcoves in Ratner, or the carpeted library/lounge in Ida Noyes, and often getting kicked out mid-practice. I frequently camped outside of Ratner’s dance space, hoping to squeeze in practice time when it wasn’t being used by martial arts groups. Adding a dance room in Campus North would solve all of these inconveniences.

This is a simple supply-and-demand problem: There are about 60 hours per week of space available to performance RSOs between BARS (Bartlett Arts Rehearsal Space) and Ida Noyes Dance Room, but about 100 hours per week are needed. Campus North could provide us with those missing 40 hours and more. This new dance space would allow time for dance classes, choreography, and individual artistic projects. With this kind of space, dance would be able to thrive on our campus.

Throughout my time living in Pierce, I have held a few impromptu practices in the basement of the building: a somewhat open space with tiled floors, giant columns in the middle of the room, a bike rack, and boxes that we casually moved out of our way. As uncomfortable and unmanageable as the space was, we would have a blast. After practice we’d get dinner together in the dining hall, hang out in my house lounge, or just sit in TANSTAAFL, a common area in Pierce. Although the space was barely usable, its location in a dormitory with a dining hall allowed for practice to become more of a social event and less of a chore.

As a dance leader, I have spent a disproportionate amount of time planning and managing rehearsal schedules, and I’m not alone. My fellow leaders and I beg each other to share spaces, orchestrate trades, and brainstorm creative places to practice. Currently, we’re working with representatives from ORCSA, who are doing the best they can with a limited supply, but band-aid solutions are not enough. Nothing will suffice until we can get a new space that is absolutely dedicated to dance and dance only.

For this university, I chose the wrong form of art. Had I just pursued piano, I would have practice rooms available to me almost whenever I wanted. Had I done theater, I would have the entirety of UT and TAPS behind me. If I could carry a tune, I could practice singing in soundproof rooms. But I am a dancer. I chose the art that requires a type of facility that, at this moment, the University doesn’t have enough of.

Campus North is our solution. This is why I’ve started a petition to add a dance room to the new structure. This is a petition created with the well-being and safety of future dancers at this institution in mind—created to allow them to one day focus on being great artists, not great logistics coordinators. This is a petition to help dance become just as supported as every other wonderful art form on campus. This is a petition to prevent future dancers at the University of Chicago from feeling like they’ve chosen the wrong art.

Shir Yehoshua is a fourth-year in the College majoring in mathematics and computer science.