Dancers Combine Love of Ballet
With Academic Pursuits

May 13, 2010Bookmark and Share
Elite dancers are known for their dedication, from rehearsing for hours per day to enduring an intense touring schedule. For years, dancers who have sought a similarly rigorous educational experience have flocked to Columbia’s School of General Studies (GS), Columbia’s undergraduate college for nontraditional students, but there was never an opportunity on campus to continue dancing—until five students formed the Columbia Ballet Collaborative in 2007.
 
Ashley Flood, Emily Hayden, Larissa Higgins, Victoria North and Lydia Walker had all danced professionally, for such companies as the Pennsylvania Ballet, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and the Saxon State Opera in Dresden, among others. Although the students, who are graduating this May, were primarily focused on earning their undergraduate degrees, they also wanted to keep dancing, but even in an artistic capital like New York, few performance opportunities exist for those not affiliated with a professional company.
 
In the summer of 2007 the five GS students founded the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, both as a venue to continue performing and as a way to introduce ballet to the larger Columbia community. With Flood serving as executive director and Walker as artistic director (a role now occupied by North), the founders rapidly took on the administrative side of running a company, writing grant applications and a group constitution.
 
From its first performance, a short program in the Barnard dance studio in the fall of 2007, the collaborative has made an effort to present the work of emerging choreographers, a rarity in the ballet world. A December 2008 New York Times feature story about the group said its contribution to promoting new choreography was “vast already,” and their commitment has only increased with time.
 
“Dancers learn how to identify and pursue our dreams at a young age,” Walker said. “When I came to Columbia I knew what and how I wanted to study. I was prepared to make the most of the many opportunities available here.”
 
Today, the collaborative remains entirely student-run and performs seasonally in Columbia’s renowned Miller Theatre, often alongside professionals from the New York dance community.
 
After graduation, some of the students will continue to dance professionally, while others will travel, apply to medical school, conduct research and teach English in Japan. All agree, however, that a professional dance career offered them unique preparation for an Ivy League education, and that academic experience at Columbia will now take them to greater heights.
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Columbia University mourns the death of Robert Belknap, professor emeritus in the Department of Slavic Languages, who died March 17. An expert in Russian literature, particularly Dostoyevsky, he also taught Literature Humanities in the Core Curriculum for 50 years and influenced generations of Columbia students. For more information, please visit this page.

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