Allow individual students to use artistic spaces

Isabelle Costello

When describing myself, one of my favorite personal identities is being a dancer. Dance is not only a form of self-expression that I use to relieve stress but also a way to make my own money through teaching, a job that I brought with me to Austin and love with my whole heart. 

I’ve lived on campus for 36 days, and in that time, I’ve danced on a racquetball court in Gregory Gym, a TV lounge that shares a wall with the San Jacinto Residence Hall laundry room and my dorm room –– all in an attempt to keep up with the skills that earned me my job and could certainly cost me it. 

After the third time smacking my leg on my roommate’s desk, I finally sat down and tried reserving the dance studio at the William C. Powers Student Activity Center. It’s a beautiful, spacious room with full-length mirrors and ballet barres along each wall, and I had yet to see it ever occupied. 

After a week, however, I was told that reservations of the space were allowed only for student organizations, not individuals –– a decision that baffled me. Aren’t most student organizations virtual this semester, since Austin, UT included, has a ban on gatherings over 10 people, the minimum number of participants an organization must have to be recognized?

The WCP needs to allow students to utilize its dance studio and black box theater on an  individual basis to encourage safe artistic practices this semester. 

James Buckley, the director of facilities and operations for University Unions, explained that the WCP’s policy of offering reservations to only student organizations, not individual students, has been in existence since the building opened.

Buckley said that the WCP “should be open and available to the biggest group of students it can,” which is accomplished by allowing occupation in groups at a time. 

While this logic served students well in past years, the WCP is not exempt from the toll the pandemic has taken on group gatherings. Preventing single students from using its art facilities isn’t maintaining efficiency anymore. It’s keeping students as a whole from using the resources allotted to them.

Undeclared freshman Brooke Haley was forced to shift to online lessons once her hometown studio closed this past spring. Despite being an avid dancer for the past seven years, Haley has yet to dance in a studio since moving to Austin. 

“COVID definitely complicated things,” Haley said. “Dancing in my room is not a great substitute.” 

Aside from space problems, Haley pointed out additional issues that a lack of a studio brings, such as the difference in flooring between a studio and her room or the outdoors –– a subtlety that can play a major role in the quality of dance. 

Haley said she didn’t know any other places to practice at UT besides the WCP studio. Haley isn’t participating in any dance-related organizations this semester, but said she would absolutely use the WCP studio to continue her dance education on her own.

“I think if they have it and organizations can’t meet in person, why not use it?” Haley said. “COVID would be the ideal time to open that up.”

As irritating as it is to hear repeated, this semester is far from normal, and if student behavior is expected to adapt, so must the policies that govern them. Student performers can be flexible — no pun intended — in their artistry, but only once given the space to do so. 

Artistic skill sets are subject to deterioration during the pandemic, especially if essential resources are withheld. UT students deserve a space to practice and maintain the passions that keep them happy.

Costello is a neuroscience freshman from Boerne, Texas.