Tomorrow night, Harvard bodies will twist, swirl and contort to the incendiary notes of techno beats and the virtuoso stylings of a solo bassist. And people will pack the Loeb-Ex Theater to see them. The 700 free tickets to the dance show Ex-rated were given out in days, and the wildly successful production showcases Harvard’s outstanding dance community. Harvard has an astounding 18 different student dance groups. Six hundred people each semester dance in the Office for the Arts (OFA) Dance Program. Harvard choreographers have competed masterfully in national competitions, and the dance programs rival those of many conservatories, even though Harvard only offers two for-credit dance classes.
Yet dance is the least prominent of the performing arts at Harvard. Dancers are plagued by a lack of space, disunity and a generally unhelpful administration. Now that the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study wants to convert the Rieman Center, one of Harvard’s best dance spaces, into a meeting room, these problems will only be exacerbated. Less space means more competition between the already disjointed dance companies for the scraps Harvard hasn’t yet taken.
Dance needs an overarching organization, like theater’s Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Society (HRDC), to coordinate its efforts and connect its artists. The HRDC assigns theater spaces and binds actors, directors, tech crews and producers together in a single network. In the dance community, however, there is little interaction between Harvard’s many companies, and dancers generally stick to one group or another. Instead of one dance organization asking for space, 18 student groups must approach the administration individually. With an umbrella group, Harvard’s dancers and choreographers would speak with one voice.
Once united, a cohesive dance community will be much more visible to the administration as well at the student body. Dancers will be able to move from one troupe to another as the organization connects the presently disparate student groups. They will also be able to press for new and better dance spaces and the revamping of existing spaces, like the inadequate Lowell Lecture Hall.
But, ultimately, the administration must be willing to listen. After Radcliffe reclaims the Rieman hall, only a handful of spaces for dancers will remain. Harvard needs to find a place for its burgeoning dance community, and soon. A renovated Malkin Athletic Center (MAC), for instance, could have new spaces for them. In the short term, the MAC should change its policy that presently keeps dancers out of its practice spaces because they aren’t athletic student groups. Radcliffe could also reach a compromise with dancers, and allow them to use Rieman for dance when it’s not being used for meetings. The Rieman space has been a dance hall for decades; it is not unreasonable to ask for a compromise.
It is clear, though, that an assortment of spaces at the Loeb, in a few houses and at the Office for the Arts is not nearly enough, and administrative neglect of the problem is unacceptable for Harvard’s shortchanged dancers and choreographers. Harvard is blessed with excellent dance coaches and hundreds of passionate undergraduates. It cannot allow a space crunch to crush its budding dance program.