Columbia GS Student Forges Unity Between Dance and the Liberal Arts

Performer, choreographer, and instructor Aaron Loux ‘25GS shares how he balances his passion for dance, including a fellowship with the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, with new yet complementary pursuits as a Columbia GS student.

April 18, 2023
Aaron Loux '25GS. Photo credit Beowulf Sheehan.

From the very beginning, Aaron Loux ‘25GS said he felt a pull towards a liberal arts education. As a high school senior, weighing acceptances from Columbia, Princeton, and the Juilliard School, Loux wrestled with the choice between a conservatory education or a liberal arts degree. He ultimately followed his passion for dance to Juilliard, kicking off an illustrious career, including over a decade as a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group. Still, the pull remained. “Throughout my dance career I have kept this desire, this curiosity about if there was some way that I could go and experience that liberal arts education,” Loux shared. “That was one of my first priorities once I was done performing full-time, and what drew me to GS was that there was no other program I could find like it which really allowed an older student to fully immerse themselves in that liberal arts process.”

Since starting at GS in September 2022, Loux has unsurprisingly gone all-in on the collegiate experience, particularly the spirit of intellectual exploration which defines the liberal arts. From testing the waters in potential majors in english and history, to evaluating career paths in health or education, to connecting with the Columbia community through ballet classes with the Columbia Ballet Collaborative and spontaneous conversations with fellow GSers in the GS Lounge, Loux is setting no limits and embracing all opportunities. “I already feel like my time here has been one of intense transformation, just in the way I was hoping for,” he said.

Aaron Loux ‘25GS, with his husband Harry Reis at their wedding. Photo credit Jen Brister.

Loux said that the personal connections made within the GS community have been particularly impactful. “Getting to learn the stories of all these different nontraditional students who are coming back to school, all connected by a similar belief in the transformative power of a liberal arts education, it’s been so inspiring,” he shared. Loux also has another unique form of Columbia camaraderie through his husband Harry Reis, who is a 2L and public interest/public service fellow at Columbia Law School. “Like me, he is also going through a career transition and now having this incredible, intense experience at Columbia,” he said. “It’s been really special to get to share this time of personal transformation, together, and at the same place.”

Even as he seizes all that Columbia has to offer, Loux maintains close ties to the dance world, continuing to perform part-time and teach. He is also currently the CBA-Juilliard fellow at the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, an institute which fosters collaboration between leaders in ballet scholarship and ballet performance. As the CBA-Juilliard fellow, Loux is choreographing a piece for five dancers which will premiere May 1 at Juilliard’s Alice Tully Hall. 

The dance is set to selection’s from the opera Naïs by French composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau, and specifically uses instrumental sections from the opera. While the bulk of Naïs deals with a romantic storyline, some of these instrumental moments accompany scenes set at the Isthmian Games, an athletic competition similar to the Olympics that took place in ancient Greece at the Isthmus of Corinth. Loux is drawing inspiration for his choreography from research he has done on the Isthmian Games, as well as working to adapt original programmatic information from the opera in innovative ways.

“My working title for the piece is a Greek word, Ekecheiria, which means the holding or staying of hands,” he said. “It refers to the protections afforded to athletes in Panhellenic games, when there would be a suspension of hostilities during any conflicts that sprung up, at least to the extent that participants could travel freely to wherever they needed to go.” He elaborated, “I’m hoping to use this exploration of athleticism within dance, and dancers working together, to illuminate the two sides of the coin of competition, both its constructive and destructive elements.”

"One of the things that this experience at GS is opening up is the possibility of coming back to dance from a scholarly approach. I can see myself contributing to it not only as a professional practitioner, but as someone who is thinking about some of the deeper problems or interesting tensions existing within this field.” 

As rich and rewarding as this fellowship experience is, Loux admitted that it is a challenge to balance his professional pursuits with his academic commitments. “I would say this month is going to be one of the busiest months I’ve ever had in my life,” he said with a wry chuckle at the start of April. “I have rehearsals at Juilliard three days a week, I’m dancing for another company as well, I’m still teaching dance, and then I have school and finals. It will be one of the greatest tests of my organizational and time management capacities, but I’m really excited for all of it.” 

Besides his clear enthusiasm and drive, perhaps part of what is propelling Loux through this formidable collection of endeavors is that though they may seem individuated, they are in truth coming together to feed into and compliment one another. “While I’m at Columbia, I want to keep my feet grounded in the dance world, especially while I still have such a close relationship with so many artists in the field, and especially while I can still perform,” he shared. “But one of the things that this experience at GS is opening up is the possibility of coming back to dance from a scholarly approach. I can see myself contributing to it not only as a professional practitioner, but as someone who is thinking about some of the deeper problems or interesting tensions existing within this field.” 

Loux also expressed interest in a broader melding of education and physical art and health, “thinking about helping people in terms of the way we live in our bodies.” Regardless of the ultimate path he forges though, what is clear is that as a GS student, Loux has done a complete 180 from when he was a conflicted high school senior. Where once his many passions pulled him in different directions, he is now empowered to fearlessly pursue all of his interests, weaving them together into a vibrant tapestry of art, intellect, and community. 

Learn more about “Ekecheiria” and its May 1 premiere at Juilliard’s Alice Tully Hall.