Funds Low, Spirits High For Dancers

Elizabeth Keating

By Elizabeth KeatingThe Daily Northwestern

Prof. Laura Wade’s classes fill up in preregistration, dozens of students are perpetually stuck on the waitlist and it’s getting progressively worse. But Wade doesn’t teach an exclusive seminar on a rare topic. She teaches classical ballet.

The Northwestern dance department is essential to this liberal arts university in striking a balance between the humanities and other rigorous disciplines. Yet it’s crippled by a lack of space, time, faculty and funding.

The situation clearly affects dance majors, who lack the everyday rehearsal time they need, but others suffer as well.

Dance is fantastic for physical and mental health. Many students have danced as a hobby for years, but faced with frustrating waitlists, they miss out on a pleasure and a health savior. Dance Department Director Joseph Mills also stresses its academic value as a rare discipline that nurtures human expression.

Ideally, dance classes would be capped at 20 students, but there are 31 in Wade’s Ballet II class – all the ballet barres are full, and some students use chairs for support. Mills said all the technique classes have quarterly waitlists, amounting to some 850 slots per year. Only one of the two deteriorating studios is large enough for adequate performance rehearsals.

Dance majors like senior Laura Duelfer complain that the classes cram in dancers of differing abilities, so no one receives enough feedback. Duelfer said she can’t even warm up for class without being in someone’s way. Another senior dance major, Simone Baechle, said that with minimal and often inferior rehearsal space, she’s had to schedule practices as late as 10 p.m.

Students in NU’s renowned musical theatre certificate program recognize that dance can make a performer, and some worry they’re behind their competitors from conservatories. Less dance training for these students means lower-quality performers in the long run.

Unlike many other departments, funding for dance is not regularized. The dance major is within the theatre program under the School of Communication umbrella, so funding comes from both the Communication budget and extra money earmarked by the university. In recent years it’s been less than what’s desired.

It’s not a cause without champions. Senior dance and philosophy major Victoria Gutierrez was dismayed as a freshman at rehearsing in the department lobby and volunteered to serve on a Dean’s Advisory Committee. There have been baby steps, like funding for the New Movement Project, but it’s past time for an overhaul.

Mills said an additional $10,000 to $20,000 per year could regularize course offerings and add permanent faculty, but only major grants or donations will achieve the department’s dreams, including adding a second floor of studios. Here’s a call to save a suffering gem and bring the glory of dance back to NU.

Medill junior Elizabeth Keating can be reached at [email protected]