Opening Moves

On Thursday last week the Harvard Dance Program pirouetted into the new school year as their new premises next to the Quadrangle Recreational Activities Center (QRAC) were officially opened to the Harvard community. The ribbon was cut at 7:00 p.m. before the eyes of a crowd of people, some affiliated with the dance program and some just dance aficionados eager to enjoy the rehearsal of José Limón’s “Suite from a Choreographic Offering,” by the Harvard Contemporary Dance Ensemble, which followed the ribbon-cutting.

The new Harvard Dance Center houses a large, state-of-the-art 4100-square-foot studio with overhead skylights, a full technical booth and a wall of electronic tiers of 200 seats as well as another smaller studio, offices, dressing rooms and a green room.

“It was a huge commitment on the part of FAS,” Elizabeth Bergmann, the Director of the Harvard Dance Program, says. “I think everyone coming in is bowled over by how well it’s been done.”

Dance students at Harvard seem to agree: Sonia K. Todorova ’07, a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dance Company (HRDC) and a choreographer for Dancer’s Viewpointe, explained how significant an improvement it was to be working in a purpose-built space rather than the “old gym.”

“Now we have a facility that was thought out from the very beginning as a dance facility,” she said. “There is expensive Marley flooring…that they say is good for any type of shoes [to dance on].”

Raymond W. Keller ’08, a dancer in the Harvard Ballet Company (HBC) and the Harvard Contemporary Dance Ensemble (HCDE), also mentioned the floors of the new center.

“One of the big advantages of the new space is that the floors are sprung so they’re a lot easier on dancers’ knees,” he says. “It’s like the difference between jumping on a wood floor and on a concrete floor.”

“I really like the dressing rooms,” Alison L. Drew ’07, a member of the Mainly Jazz Dance Company who is also taking classes at the dance center through the Office for the Arts (OFA), says. “In Rieman we used to get changed in the stairway or bathroom between acts.”

Designs for the space did not always sit so smoothly with the Harvard dance community. In March this year, after the dance center conversion went $500,000 over its $4 million budget, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) administration decided to cut the air conditioning out of the construction plans for the project in order to save money. This move caused uproar amongst both student dancers and the program administrators as they envisioned a future of sweaty practices and humid performances.

“There were a series of protests,” Todorova says. “Initially they didn’t settle the matter as nicely as it is settled right now.”

However, the outcry persuaded the administration to back down and the new center has arrived fully equipped with a total climate control system.

The Harvard Dance Center takes the place of previous dance spaces in Radcliffe’s Agassiz House and the Rieman Center, which were lost when it was decided in 1999 that the buildings would be returned to the Radcliffe Institute. There was a five-year grace period for the Dance Program, during which they started to look for a new space.

Some coordinators were worried about the eventual selection at 66 Garden Street, though, thinking that the trek out to QRAC might prove a deterrent, or at least a nuisance, to some dancers.

“We were worried about moving out this far,” Bergmann says. “But there is not a lot of property in Cambridge…the architect said that he wanted to make a place so beautiful that [students] would want to come, and it is beautiful, it’s exquisite.”

Although the dance community might ideally desire even more practice and performance space for its growing population, for the time being at least most people are satisfied with the improvements and increase in space that they have managed to secure in the new Dance Center.

Drew described the difficulties of finding a good place for student dance groups to practice in before the Center was built.

“There are 23 dance companies on campus, which basically shows how much dance time is needed–each one needs rehearsal time for an hour a week,” she says. “House dance spaces are generally small…We needed a big studio with proper mirrors and no support beams in the middle.”

She also mentioned the benefits that the large studio may have for performances, since it is able to seat more spectators than previous recital spaces.

“We had sold out shows in Rieman,” she says. “It will be good if as many people that want to come can come [to performances].”

Todorova agrees that the new Center is a success.

“The dance community is generally happy, as now we have an additional studio and so more space,” she says. “The dance program as it was wasn’t going to be able to function any more [without the new Center].”

The Harvard Dance Program is home to courses ranging from ballet and tap to hatha yoga and West African dance, led by an illustrious selection of professional instructors. It also offers Harvard courses for credit; this semester Bergmann is teaching Dramatic Arts 14, “The Art of Movement and Design.”

“We offer a whole array of classes for students, alums, and the Harvard community,” she says.

And the Dance Program is constantly growing in popularity–in the last five years alone enrollment in the OFA’s dance classes has apparently doubled, and estimates of numbers of students involved in dance in one way or another can run as high as 10 to 20 percent.

“Dance is a lifelong enjoyment,” Drew says. “It’s a good source of exercise, a stress reducer, and I know a lot of other companies are culturally based so there’s a sense of community”.

Now that community may be even better fostered and developed as the Dance Program and all its affiliates embark on their new, and hopefully even more successful, life at the Harvard Dance Center.

­—Staff writer Alexandra C. Bell can be reached at