Celebrating International Dance Day in the GS Community

April 29, 2022

Columbia GS has long been home to an expansive community of professional and retired dancers from all walks of life who have chosen to continue their academic journeys alongside others who share similar nontraditional stories. In honor of International Dance Day on April 29, which celebrates the diversity and beauty of all dancers worldwide, we’re highlighting some of the wonderful dancers who have graced Columbia’s campus.

Michael Novak '09GS

Growing up in Chicago, Michael Novak '09GS was drawn to the arts from a young age. Finding his passion in dance, he took classes at a nearby studio and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet at the age of 18. After developing stress fractures in both of his shins, Novak stepped away from the dance scene to heal and enrolled at GS at the age of 23 where he studied dance and dance history. In 2010, he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company (PTDC) as a company dancer and recently became artistic director of the company following the death of Paul Taylor in 2018.

Columbia Magazine’s Managing Editor Rebecca Shapiro featured Novak in an article titled "Leap of Faith," an article discussing his future as Paul Taylor’s successor. Most recently, Novak invited GS alumni and students to attend a special PTDC performance at the New York City Center.

Alicia Graf Mack '03GS

Alicia Graf Mack '03GS moved to New York City when she was 17 years old to join Dance Theatre Harlem under the tutelage of Arthur Michell. From the moment she stepped on stage, her breathtaking performances set her apart from the rest and she quickly became one of the most well-known, loved dancers in the city. Graf Mack came to GS in 2000 after suffering from a devastating knee injury, taking time away from dancing to focus on her academics. Majoring in history, she specialized in the history of dance, enrolling in a few dance classes at Barnard and engaging with the Black Students Association and A Time to Dance on campus. After graduation, Graf Mack went on to join the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and, most recently, she was named director of the Dance Division at The Juilliard School. 

Columbia Magazine’s Beth Kwon wrote an article about Graf Mack’s return to the stage, "Pointe Taken". GS also recounted her history at Columbia as she began her transition to lead the Dance Division at Juilliard.

Desean Taber '23GS

For Desean Taber '23GS, the lack of diversity, inclusion, and change in the ballet industry led him to pursue a degree in social anthropology at GS. From a young age, Taber dedicated his life to dance, joining the Boston Ballet at the age of 19. However, he never felt completely at home. Recognizing the systemic issues and injustices in ballet, Taber used his experiences with dance to fuel his studies in anthropology. With a focus on indigenous peoples and communities, he hopes to give a voice to those in marginalized communities. Last fall, Taber walked during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) for designer Rachel Comey. He remembers how empowering and accepting the experience was for him after coming from the world of ballet, where he’d never really felt like he fit in.

Read more about Taber’s experience with NYFW and how he hopes to bring the feelings of empowerment and acceptance he experienced on the runway into his everyday life.

Jonathan Criswell '21GS

Jonathan Criswell's '21GS path to GS was anything but traditional. Growing up, Criswell moved around a lot, leading to a feeling of instability that, along with anxiety and depression, led him to drop out of school. After a year of wandering, it was ballet that provided Criswell with the stability that he sought. He began his training in Hawaii, moving to Los Angeles to complete his ballet studies before joining the Atlantic City Ballet Company. In 2008, he dramatically shifted his career path by joining the U.S. Marine Corps, and seven years later, found himself ready to return to academia. At GS, Criswell majored in political science, embracing the community as a member of the GS Student Council (GSSC) and the University Senate. 

In March of 2021, GS spoke with Criswell about his journey to Columbia in an article posted on the website.

Carrie Walsh '16GS

Before joining the GS community, Carrie Walsh '16GS had a full career as a professional dancer in Europe. Though Walsh began ballet lessons at the late age of 13, her dedication to and joy in dance led her to join the Royal Ballet School in London only three years later. Performing with the Royal Danish Ballet, the Norwegian National Ballet, and the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Bordeaux, among many others, Walsh embraced her short professional career as a ballerina and knew exactly what she wanted to pursue after retirement: medicine. From a young age, Walsh had always loved the sciences, so when her application to GS was accepted she bid adieu to ballet and began her journey towards medical school. In 2016, Walsh graduated from Columbia with a degree in neuroscience and behavior, and is currently a resident in the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency at Mass General Brigham. 

Walsh discussed her experience as a professional dancer turned premed student at Columbia in an article on the GS website.

Eleena Melamed '06GS

Eleena Melamed '06GS enrolled at GS after retiring from her career as a professional ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre and the School of American Ballet. In her studies at Columbia, Melamed repurposed the skills that she had learned over her years in the dance studio, applying her discipline and determination to her coursework. Melamed majored in political science, interning with ABC News and NBC News to explore a career in broadcast journalism. Additionally, she worked with nonprofit companies based in the Middle East as a supplement to her studies. Melamed graduated as the valedictorian of her class in 2006 and is currently a Principal at top private equity firm KKR.

Melamed spoke about her time at Columbia and her transition back to academia in an article for the School of American Ballet.