Groups Now Free to Practice in Hearst Gym

Photo: The swing dancing DeCal practices at 234 Hearst Gym. The gymnasium has recently been open for student groups to use at no cost.
Evan Walbridge/Staff
The swing dancing DeCal practices at 234 Hearst Gym. The gymnasium has recently been open for student groups to use at no cost.

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They have practiced in the cold and dark, in the cramped corridors of Dwinelle Hall and on Lower Sproul Plaza's unforgiving concrete.

But as of Jan. 18, registered student groups can reserve space in the Hearst Gymnasium to gather and rehearse free of charge seven days a week. This opportunity is a result of the Hearst Gym Utilization through the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative program - the product of a collaboration between the ASUC, UC Berkeley's Physical Education program and Cal Recreational Sports.

According to ASUC Auxiliary Director Nadesan Permaul, 33 different groups have requested to use the five rooms that have been provided in Hearst Gym - which include two basketball courts and three dance studios - in the past month. The rooms are available for reservation from 9 p.m. until 12 a.m. during the week and from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. during the weekend and can house a total of 335 people.

Lawrence Lawler, student union director for the auxiliary, said although any student group can use the space, martial arts and dance organizations have been the primary users thus far.

The initial idea for the program developed nearly a year ago by Graduate Assembly President Miguel Daal, current ASUC President Noah Stern and then ASUC President Will Smelko, according to Daal. It will be paid for through the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative - a campaign to revitalize Lower Sproul approved by students last spring.

"Our feeling was, if these fees are already being collected, the benefits should be felt by students immediately," Stern said.

He added that the dance and performing arts community was an obvious group that would benefit from designated indoor practice space.

Although the campus is currently home to dozens of dance and performance groups, no consistent space has been available for them to practice. However, Stern said the Lower Sproul renovation project plans include a permanent practice space.

"Not having mirrors is difficult enough, but not having a hardwood floor to practice on is pretty much a deal breaker," said graduate student Ariadne Schulz, member and former president of the campus Argentine Tango Club.

Some students said that dancing on concrete - which groups do while rehearsing on Lower Sproul - hinders specific techniques and hurts the body.

In addition to physical improvements such as mirrors, hardwood floors and lighting, the program will also benefit groups financially and organizationally.

"Anything we can get for free, we want," Schulz said. "We used some of the rooms last semester, but had to pay."

Junior Kristen Lee, executive director of swing dance group Lindy on Sproul, said being able to reserve rooms has motivated the club to establish regular practice sessions. She said they previously struggled to establish a regular location for afternoon and evening practices - alternating between the lobby of Dwinelle Hall or a member's house.

"It was very chaotic," Lee said, adding that the group continues to seek additional space because the limited available time in Hearst Gym does not always meet their exact needs.

Though the program has received some publicity, the need for a more concerted effort was discussed at the ASUC Senate's Feb. 2 meeting.

"We need to do a bit of a better job publicizing it," Stern said. "I'm tempted to go out at night and approach the groups one by one if I need to."


Madeleine Key covers student government. Contact her at [email protected]

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