Dancers with no home

Dancers with no home
Photo credit: Ai Mitton

Photo credit: Ai Mitton

When Alfonso Nunez, a ballroom dance student, was told this last summer to either leave the McKay Events Center or have the campus police escort him off, his sensible response was, “But sir, we are practicing for class.”

Nunez is one of several ballroom students who find it increasingly difficult to find places on campus to practice routines. Except for BYU, UVU is the only college in the country that offers ballroom as an emphasis for dance majors, according to Scott Asbell, director of the Ballroom Dance Company. In addition, the school’s ballroom team consistently tours all across the map, including competing in and taking home top awards from Blackpool, the most renowned ballroom dance festival in the world.

It therefore seems a little odd that dance majors are so crunched for space that there’s an obvious need for a new building dedicated to the performing arts, and yet not a whole lot has been done at an institutional level to meet this need effectively.

When ballet is using the designated studio space for dance majors, Nunez and his teammates must either practice in the hallways, in the gyms, in classrooms, or even travel off campus to studios in Lindon or elsewhere. “It’s like we’re gypsies,” he said. In his case, when he had summer dance classes held in the McKay Events Center, it only made sense to him and others that the space was also OK to practice in. Confusion set in when they were told to leave or the campus police would be called – and Nunez noted that he knows of other dance students who actually did have a run-in with the police for practicing routines in the McKay Events Center. It seems a bit unfair, especially when the drill team can practice there any time and the culinary arts program even has a restaurant there.

But the drill team is part of the athletics department, which is housed in the center, and the culinary arts bought the space that they use; in other words, if your student tuition doesn’t pay for that space, then your department has to sponsor or pay for it. And according to Asbell, it’s only because of his good relationship with the owner of the McKay Events Center that dancers can use the space at all.
Perhaps they could use spaces their student fees cover – like the Grand Ballroom. However, according to Asbell, Nunez and some other ballroom students, this is – perversely – a prohibited area for dancers as well.

I asked Student Body President Trevor Tooke why. He explained that just as places in the Student Center like the bookstore and the outdoor center collect revenue, the ballroom needs money. While student fees may pay for the Student Center, the school itself must pay for maintenance and care of the building. The Grand Ballroom can be rented out for weddings and birthday parties, but frankly the floor isn’t even suited for ballroom or ballet. “It may be a ballroom, but it’s not necessarily for ballroom dance students,” said Tooke.

That’s understandable, but as the dance department continues to prove its worth, it’ll continue to grow, and space will be an even bigger problem. Tooke agreed, saying that space is a problem that’s affecting everybody. “I feel really bad for the students [in the performing arts],” said Tooke, “especially music students.” He told me that steps are currently being taken to provide temporary spaces for students until the Performing Arts Center is finished – and construction of the Center itself, according to Tooke, is scheduled to begin sometime next year.

Let’s hope so. It seems like for the past few years, UVU’s dance, music and theater students have been eating the crumbs from the table even though our students graduate from the performing arts and then go on to receive international accolades and attention. Clearly some of our best students are in the arts and not necessarily business or science, yet the latter are getting the inordinate local donations and institutional support. The university needs to pay closer attention to students like Nunez.

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