Folk Dance Club de-recognized by ASA

Six-decades-old club comprised mainly of alumni, staff, and community members forced to move to another space

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The International Folk Dancing group dances to Eastern European music as groups organized in lines and circles in La Sala Oct. 28.
Kevin Ly–The Tech

The MIT Folk Dance Club, which sponsored Israeli, contra, and international dancing groups for the past sixty years, is no longer recognized as a student group by the Association of Student Activities as of Nov. 1.

Without the status of a student group, the club no longer has the privilege of reserving spaces on campus or officially using the MIT name.

The club was de-recognized because it did not meet the requirement that at least 50 percent of its members must be students, Becca Black G wrote on behalf of the ASA executive board in an email to The Tech.

The different dance groups operated independently but shared equipment, according to Amitai Lipton, coordinator of the Israeli folk dance group, in an interview with The Tech. The Israeli group had more than 500 people on its mailing list and a weekly attendance of 50 to 100 dancers. Most of those dancers were community members, MIT alumni, faculty, or staff.

However, only a handful of students were involved, according to Rina Wagman, one of the non-MIT-affiliated leaders of the Israeli folk dance group, in an interview with The Tech.

The ASA voted to de-recognize the Folk Dance Club Oct. 26. It only recently became aware that the club did not have a 50 percent student membership. “This is not a process without precedent; past groups have also been derecognized after a lack of student involvement has been brought to the ASA’s attention, and the decision is made after following standard ASA protocols,” Black wrote.

Approximately 50 student groups will be de-recognized by the ASA by the end of this year due to not complying with guidelines. According to Black, many of these were de-recognized because they failed to complete the annual spring re-recognition process. 

At the last meeting of the Israeli dance group Oct. 31, members expressed their appreciation for the club and regretted that it would no longer be held at MIT.

“It uses my brain a lot, but a different part of my brain. Sometimes I come up with theorems here because I’m less stressed,” David Karger, EECS professor and a member of the Israeli dance group since 1983, said in an interview with The Tech.

More than 500 people signed a petition in support of the Folk Dance Club. Comments included personal stories about how the club impacted its members.

“I was an undergraduate here, and MIT folk dancing had a great impact on my life, my connection with the community, and the formation of a personal interest that I have continued past undergrad,” Brian L. Ross ’11 wrote in the petition.

“MIT was famous not only for its intellectual offerings, but for the way it enriched generations of students from around the world in cultural experiences. It saddens me to think of this school treasure coming to an end,” Joan Hantman, a previous coordinator of the Israeli dance group, wrote.

The deep impression that the club leaves on its membership and community may contribute to its low student ratio. “Those current students who do come, become enthusiastic, learn how to dance, etc., typically graduate, and then [it] actually [counts] against us if they continue to participate. It's a real Catch 22,” Janet Baker, co-coordinator of the international dance group, wrote in an email to The Tech.

After the Folk Dance Club’s de-recognition, the Israeli, contra, and international dance sub-groups are looking for new venues. The Israeli dance group has temporarily rented a location in Brookline but is looking for a place closer to campus, Sara Timoner, one of the group’s leaders, wrote in an email to The Tech.

Changing locations will place a financial burden on members. “Through MIT’s generosity, we haven’t charged admission for over 50 years. Moving to Brookline means we have to pay a rent, so we have to charge admission,” Lipton said.

The dance groups are also considering seeking recognition as an alumni group or merging with other student groups, Timoner wrote.