Were the budget cuts to South dance necessary? Students reflect on the valuable program


Photo Credit: Nancy Nair

Company 2 dancers gather before performing at “Super Soccer Saturday,” September 17th, 2022. With recent budget cuts to the program, dance performances like these could be in jeopardy.

Jade Masiée-Albers, Staff Writer

For the first time in the 11 years of South High Dance, budget cuts have greatly affected the program. This year, the number of dance classes offered per day have been reduced from five to three, decreasing the hours of its only teacher by 40%. Dance is a vital outlet for many students and a key part of South High’s community, but with such limited space, fewer students will have the opportunity to participate.    

Last spring, the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) district (specifically the school board and superintendent), required budget cuts to arts programs including dance. They claim that this was necessary in order to have enough money to pay for their contract with the Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT) following the teacher’s strike. Yet, upon closer inspection of the MPS budget, it appears that these cuts were unnecessary.

What laid the groundwork for the decision to cut arts programs was the district implementing a priority based budget in 2018. This allows the school board to favor subjects such as science, math and english over the arts. Another reason why these cuts are questionable is the fact that MPS received 261 million dollars worth of federal pandemic relief funds to be used over the course of three school years through 2022-23. The MPS Finance and Budget Department stated, “We will also consider using some of the federal dollars to ensure staffing levels and ensure continuity of existing programs and services … using a portion of the federal [pandemic] funds to stabilize the district’s budgets is allowable under the American Rescue Plan and likely will be part of helping us realize the district’s short-and longer-term goals.”

In addition, MFT states that the school board could take $2.4 million in reserve funds to pay for the negotiated pay increase and still have a standard amount of 8% remaining in reserve funds (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/14/22). “I think dance is misunderstood sometimes by admin … and I think they don’t understand the value of the daytime curricular program or the role it has in our community,” said Nancy Nair, the dance program director and teacher.   

Another reason the school board claims budget cuts to the arts is necessary is significantly lower student enrollment in MPS in recent years. Despite this, there were actually high enrollments of students signing up for dance last year at South in all five classes. “We had a person who’s in charge of scheduling telling the admin that the [dance] classes were full and that it shouldn’t receive cuts, and [last year’s admin] just ignored it,” Nair said. The budget cuts caused there to be limited spots available for students since there were fewer hours of dance offered per day. Bernice Trenou, a junior who has been dancing at South since her freshman year said, “Not everybody has the chance to be in dance…I know a lot of people that want to be in it but couldn’t because all the classes were already full.”   

In years past, the five dance classes offered per day consisted of Dance 1 and 2, and Companies 1, 2 and 3. These classes provided varying levels of dance, including anywhere between an introductory level class to college dance preparatory classes. This year, there are only three classes offered including Dance 1, Company 1 and Company 2. “Some of the impacts are that we don’t have the ability for students to be placed according to their experience level, so there aren’t as many opportunities for students to learn at their appropriate level as we have previously had in the past,” Nair said. She explained how in one of her dance classes last year called Company 3, which consisted of mostly juniors and seniors, had a distinct, pre-college level curriculum that prepared students to dance post-high school, seek out college programs, and even dance professionally if they desired. This class is no longer an option this year. Before the budget cuts, there was a place for everyone: the students who had a lot of dance experience, and those who just wanted to check out the class.  “This year, everyone is all mixed together and I don’t think everyone’s needs are met like they were in the past,” Nair explained. 

Given the current mental health crisis among students, dance maintains mental health and well being. Senior Natalie Jenson who has been dancing at South since her freshman year said, “It’s what got me through a lot of hard times because dance and the dance community have always been there for me.” She continued, “The budget cuts have affected me by almost taking that away from me and completely changing the dance program.”. Another dance student, senior Mini Preston shared how she thinks of dance class at South as a safe space. She has been involved in the dance program at South for four years and has been dancing for fifteen years in total. “I don’t like to talk a lot, so when I dance, I can allow myself to let go of my bottled up emotions, since I am not very expressive to other people.”  

Every year, the dance program puts on an event called “Swing Night,” as a collaboration with band and orchestra. This has become a tradition at South for several years and consisted of live music and swing dance performances. This year, due to the cuts, Swing Night will likely be cancelled. “Now, I only have half of the dancers that I’ve had in the past, and I have half of the time.” Nair says. She now spends half her time teaching dance class and the other half of her day being a substitute teacher. Nair mentioned that another problem was that we lost the band teacher from last year because the entire position was cut. Sophia Butler, the remaining music teacher, is now covering for both band and orchestra, which not only doubles her daily workload, but also makes it more difficult to prepare for Swing Night. 

Dance at South has thrived in the past when there were supportive administrators who were passionate about the arts. Nair is hoping that with a new principal this year, there will be increased support for dance, and that the principal will build the program back up. “I really would just want the whole thing restored because .6 is always going to be compromised and tough.”