Dancing the Semesters Away with Orchesis

Inside Columbia’s largest student-run dance organization.

Sherry Chen, BC ‘26 has lived and breathed dance for much of her life. Yet, Chen sought a less competitive dance environment in college. Orchesis provided that space for her. 

“Orchesis is such a great opportunity for you to pursue both choreography and dance,” says Chen, who has participated in Columbia’s “largest student-run dance organization” for three semesters, “whether you’ve been dancing all your life or you’ve never danced before.” 

Columbia’s Orchesis teaches students a variety of dance styles to perform at their semesterly showcase. The core of their mission is that they accept everyone. The Orchesis website notes, “dance is and should be for everyone” and “hopes to inspire and cultivate a love for dance in any student on Columbia’s campus – regardless of previous dance experience.” Over 200 students have the opportunity to select from and participate in 14 various dance styles, which are choreographed by students on the Orchesis E-Board. 

Chen danced lyrical contemporary ballet and participating in dance competitions before college, where she said everything had to be perfect. Chen wanted to try new dance styles in college in a less competitive dance environment – in particular, one where she could continue her craft and try out her jazz techniques. Chen explained how, before Orchesis, jazz dance wasn’t her strongest suit, and there were rarely spaces to test her skills without being “stressed out about counts or precisions.” 

Although Chen admitted she struggled at first being placed in an advanced dance, she found the choreographer’s “understanding and patien[ce]” the highlight of the experience and vital to her growth. “I ended up having the time of my life,” says Chen; she also saw massive improvements in her jazz dance skills. 

Aside from its inclusivity, Chen’s favorite part about Orchesis is “knowing that all the people involved are just passionate about dancing rather than focusing on technique or how great they are.” 

Orchesis holds auditions at the beginning of every semester–and don’t be intimidated! Sherry described the audition experience like Shark Tank, but the choreographers pitch to the dancers. 14 choreographers perform snippets of their dances, which dancers rank (up to three). Attendees are filtered into dances according to their preferences. 

Chen says Orchesis is a great place to make friends and “try out new things you’ve never tried before.” At the end of each semester, students showcase their work in Roone Auditorium. This year’s Orchesis performance is this Friday, November 17th. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself signing up to join. 

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