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The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts is home to dance at Cornell.

April 28, 2020

Cornell Temporarily Lays Off 2 Dance Instructors

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Pandemic-related budget reductions have cut the performing and media arts department’s dance faculty in half — two out of the four PMA dance instructors will not return in the fall.

Cornell did not renew contracts for Nicholas Ceynowa and Julie Nathanielsz ’93 due to coronavirus-related financial concerns — a decision that disappointed many students.

The other two dance instructors, Jumay Chu and Byron Suber ’97 M.A. ’10, will continue to teach in the fall, according to the course roster. Chu has taught at Cornell since 1989 and Suber since 1991.

The department chair, Prof. Nick Salvato, performing and media arts, did not respond for comment by the time of publication.

“I’ve been informed that the college has denied the request to rehire me next year (my teaching position is on a 9 month contract) due to the financial/health situation,” Ceynowa wrote in an email to students he had worked with in the past.

The layoffs come after President Martha E. Pollack wrote in an email on April 22 that furloughs and layoffs were almost certain, but the University would try to protect salary and staff benefits for as long as possible.

After receiving his email, many students who had previously worked with Ceynowa were devastated.

“As I read the email to my mom, I started crying thinking of my Cornell experience without a PMA “lecturer” who did so much more than lecture,” wrote Hayden Garniewicz ’22 in an email to The Sun.

While Garniewicz did not take any classes with Ceynowa formally, she was a part of his modern dance company through PMA, performing in the Mini Locally Grown and Locally Grown Dance Festival.

“I immediately texted my friends in the PMA dance community and we all recalled how much of an impact he had on not just our experience at Cornell, but our lives as well,” Garniewicz continued.

However, Ceynowa could possibly return to teach another dance class for PMA in the future.

“The college has “bracketed” my course for the time being, which means it can be offered again in the future, and they have expressed the feeling that they hope this is short-term,” Ceynowa wrote.

Ceynowa played a central role in many students’ dance education, including for Gemma Standley ’21. Ceynowa’s Performing and Media Arts 2220: Dance Technique II/Modern class inspired her to pursue a dance minor.

“[Ceynowa] really cares about every single person he works with, who takes his class or dances with him. He’s so empathetic, and he really shows that he cares,” Standley said.

For his students, the department’s loss felt personal.

“[Ceynowa] is one of the most supportive faculty members I have found at the University,” said Madeline Silva ’22, echoing Standley. Like Garniewicz, she had performed in Ceynowa’s dance ensemble as part of a Locally Grown Dance festival in the past.

Ceynowa is not the only teacher to lose their Cornell dance instructing employment because of COVID-19 related budget cuts — PMA also temporarily laid off Nathanielsz. Throughout her time at Cornell, Nathanielsz has taught Performing and Media Arts 1200: Dance Technique I, although she had to adapt to teaching dance virtually for the rest of the semester.

Julie Nathanielsz has taught at Cornell since the spring 2019 semester, and her one-year contract is slated to end May 15. On April 15, Cornell notified Nathanielsz that the University would not renew her contract for the next year. Nathanielsz said Cornell did not share any information on potential future employment opportunities.

While Nathanielsz understood that the pandemic has led to budget constraints, she said that dance curricula was particularly important to maintain in this unprecedented moment.

“How unfortunate that courses which offer students tools of embodied action and resilience so urgently needed now may be cut,” Nathanielsz wrote in an email to The Sun.

Several students lamented Cornell’s choice to begin with removing PMA classes to meet the University’s projected budget that takes COVID-19 into account.

“It is disappointing that Cornell is taking from the arts first,” Standley said. “I know it might make sense for them from a financial perspective to take from something that may not be as important for them, but I don’t think they understand how important the arts are to so many students.”

Students hope that once the University recovers from the pandemic, so will the PMA department.

“In the event that we can bring things back,” Maria Congenie ’20 said, “the PMA department should be prioritized.”