At UC Santa Barbara, a parking garage has turned into a practice location for some multicultural campus dance and performance groups.
Parking Lot 22, a five-level car parking structure on the outskirts of UCSB’s campus, was not designed with the intention to accommodate dance practices. But Registered Campus Organizations (RCOs) that have difficulty securing funding from the university — like Taara, a Bollywood-fusion dance team, or Raíces de mi Tierra, a folklórico group — can often be found practicing there on weeknights.
“Unfortunately, space is limited, especially for groups with specific needs, such as performance groups – dance and theater. [Student Engagement And Leadership] has been working to expand general assignment space, and that includes taking advantage of the Santa Barbara climate to create more space outdoors. Some space is limited to use by specific departments, which includes the performance spaces,” UCSB Media Relations Manager Kiki Reyes said in a statement to the Nexus.
“Classes also take precedent over RCOs, but SEAL works to accommodate the needs of our student groups. RCOs are encouraged to reach out to [Student Engagement and Leadership] to share their concerns and needs so that we can best advocate and support them,” the statement continued.
UCSB Department of Theater and Dance Production Manager Daniel Herrera said that while on-campus dance facilities can be used by non-dance major groups, “during the school year, our rooms are usually booked for the dance students to do the work needed to complete their curriculum. These rooms are less of a ‘practice room’ and are more the only place where our students can complete their curriculum.”
Taara Co-Captain and third-year environmental studies major Anannya Deshmukh said their group — a dance team that travels to compete each year — receives no funding from the university and pays for all expenses, including costumes, storage, travel and practice space, through dues and fundraising.
Once a week, on Saturdays, the group pays the $20 per hour fee to practice in Robertson Gym — which has rentable practice spaces in the Recreation Center complex — because it’s an indoor room with mirrors and hardwood floors. But, from Mondays to Thursdays, they practice at night in Lot 22, which comes with a variety of challenges, including the weather, the lack of mirrors and the groups practicing around them.
“The parking lot has five levels. On an average day, there’s two or three dance teams and two or three bands and they’re each on a different level, playing their own music at varying sound levels,” Taara Finance Chair and second-year financial math and statistics major Sunaina Karunakaran said.
“Along with a cold weather situation, if we have to do floor work or anything like that, It’s not great to do floor work on the hard parking garage like concrete floors, which is painful and it makes it really difficult, especially when the parking lot is full every single time we want to practice and it’s cold,” she continued.
Because Taara is an all-women team, they’re technically not “open to everybody,” which disqualifies them from Associated Students (A.S.) Student Engagement And Leadership (SEAL) funding that could potentially pay some of their fees, Deshmukh said.
“Associated Students does not fund any organization whose membership is contingent upon gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, fellowship, GPA, ideological beliefs, talent, athletic or mental prowess,” the A.S. PowerPoint presented to on-campus clubs seeking funding reads. “[The A.S.] Finance and Business (F&B) Committee may fund activities or events for groups provided they are open to all UCSB students.”
According to A.S. Senator and F&B Committee Chair Adam Majcher, F&B can only offer funding to identity groups that are open to all students who self-identify as a member of that group, per SEAL rules, which, according to Majcher, contradicts Taara’s policy of being a women and non-men performance group.
“If they say that only women-identifying students or female-identifying students can join, that’s technically inclusive, because anyone can identify as a woman,” he explained.
While Deshmukh said that they thought Taara’s audition process would also disqualify the team from funding, Majcher said that F&B funds sports teams that cut potential members after tryouts, which is fine as long as there’s “no discrimination” based on identity.
Majcher suggested several possible solutions that A.S. could implement to provide performance groups with practice facilities, including offering them practice space in the currently-unused Pardall Center or allocating them money through the Isla Vista Arts program. Currently, he said, it’s easiest for F&B and A.S. to offer funding for groups to put on events that are open to all students.
Raíces de mi Tierra is able to annually obtain funding to rent out Campbell Hall for their spring showcase, which is open to all students free of charge so they maintain their SEAL funding eligibility, according to their director. But, the practices leading up to the showcase and year-round are mostly held in Lot 22.
“It does have to be free to the public, which is really, really frustrating,” Raíces de mi Tierra Director and fourth-year sociology major Marlene Gonzalez said. “We’re not allowed to sell anything. We can’t charge people to come in. And that’s just a waste because we have to pay over $200 for a storage unit outside. It’s not even in the school, [because] the university doesn’t provide us a space to store our costumes.”
Raíces de mi Tierra is open to all students and could qualify for F&B funding to offset some of their costs, Majcher said. But, the process of applying is convoluted and difficult, according to Gonzalez.
“Supposedly, we could get covered the rental fee to use [Robertson] Gym, but it’s just such a long process to actually talk to these people and having to argue our case of why we deserve funding, so it’s just been really difficult,” she said.
For the 2022 showcase, money was provided for renting Campbell Hall and the storage unit through the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs office. But funding requests for renting Robertson Gym — so that the group would not have to practice in Lot 22, which hampers many of the classic folklórico skirt and shoe movements — were not approved.
“For our particular type of dancing, we have to use these specific shoes that have nails on the bottom … it’s like Mexican tap dancing, in a way. And you can’t use those types of shoes on cement and concrete,” Gonzalez said. “It’s hard because the students then have to rely on practicing in their sneakers.”
Gonzalez, who instructs the students and prepares them for the showcase, said that being unable to practice in the proper shoes or see their movements in a mirror makes learning the style of dance difficult, especially for beginners.
She also noted the difficulty of maintaining their costuming, which is an important aspect of folklórico performance, and the costs of the storage unit — which totals around $2,400 a year — when the group functions on a fundraising and optional dues-only basis.
F&B funding cannot be used for “personal items (i.e costumes or personalized shirts),” per the presentation, so the group pays entirely out of pocket for their traditional outfits.
Raíces de mi Tierra Fundraising Chair and second-year pre-biology major Sarah Rodriguez said that UCSB’s well-touted status as a Hispanic-serving university means little to Hispanic and Latine students who aren’t receiving real support.
“This school loves to call themselves a Hispanic-serving institution when they’ve done nothing. They haven’t done anything to serve us. Not just academic-wise, but even for our own organization,” she said. “How are you going to say that ‘we love our Hispanic and Latino students,’ but not give us any funding whatsoever to make sure the health of our students that are participating in these clubs is OK?”
“How are they comfortable letting us practice in the back of a parking lot at nighttime when it’s dark?” Rodriguez continued.
Health and safety issues have been ongoing for the groups that practice in Lot 22.
“Our competition season is very heavy [during] winter quarter, which is the coldest quarter. I remember last year, I would go to practice wearing three or four layers because it was just so cold, and I couldn’t feel my toes at the end of practice. Even though you’re dancing, it’s just not enough to keep you warm,” Karunakaran said.
Taara Production Chair Keshna Sheth added that the outdoor conditions of the parking lot have meant sickness for several members of the team.
“We’d be in the cold for a lot of hours at night, and once we would get sick we would miss a couple practices, and that would kind of throw off the formations and everything that we were doing. So, I just think being outside negatively impacted all of our health as well,” she said.
Raíces de mi Tierra faced similar challenges with the cold weather.
“We’ve had two or three practices moved or canceled because of the rain, because it’s hard for people to get to practice and we don’t want to get our own members sick,” Rodriguez said. “This past week, I missed practice the entire week because I’ve been sick and I just know going into practice and outside in the cold is going to worsen my symptoms, and a lot of our members feel the same way.”
The number of performance groups using Lot 22 as a practice space was the reason that the drumming segment of Iaorana Te Otea (ITO), UCSB’s Polynesian Dance & Drumming Club, moved away from the area, according to Kirstin Rollins, a fourth-year molecular biology graduate student and organizer of ITO’s drum’s section.
“Initially, we were practicing in a corner where it was more shielded from the sounds of other groups. But, even then, we had a dance group that was right across the lot, and all of their music would come through … So, I ended up moving our practices to a different outdoor location,” she said, noting that groups would fight for space in the lot, even coming in early to tape sections off.
Originally, ITO stayed in Lot 22 despite the crowding to protect their drums from the rain. Now that the weather is clearing up, they have more leeway — but the situation is still frustrating, Rollins said.
“I understand how much value undergrads get from being a part of these different types of clubs and cultural clubs especially have that enrichment of trying to bring about community. So, the fact that there aren’t necessarily spaces dedicated for that can be very frustrating,” she said.
Groups like Taara and Raíces de mi Tierra remain practicing in Lot 22 despite the difficulties for just that reason — the sense of community that their organizations bring them.
Fourth-year economics and accounting major and Raíces de mi Tierra Co-Chair Francisco Navarro said that the group has been the most impactful part of his college experience.
“I really enjoyed the journey, getting to know more about my culture, my people and building a good sense of community here at UCSB,” he said. “UCSB didn’t really feel like home to me, I didn’t really feel like I had a strong community until I joined Raíces de mi Tierra and built all these great relationships.”
“I’m a transfer student. So, coming into UCSB, in general, was very difficult because I’m just like, ‘everyone already has their groups;’ being a third-year, everyone already has their friends,” Taara Logistics Chair and third-year statistics and data science major Aakanksha Cheruku said.
“Joining Taara was a really good experience for me, mainly because I made friends really quickly and we have a very good bond with each other. We’re all of different ages. At the end of the day, we’re all doing different things. When we come together on our Monday, Wednesday, Thursday practices, we all have something to share. We enjoy dancing together,” she continued.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the March 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.