A Pull Towards Dance Plus a Well-Rounded Curriculum Equals Success

Joy Holder ’23 Joy Holder ’23
Dance student Joy Holder expresses gratitude and passion while reflecting on her academic career at Columbia.

Have you ever been so moved by something that you felt a pull to be a part of it? This is the way Joy Holder ’23 feels about dance. She’s been dancing most of her life and at the age of 13 decided that the pull towards dance was so strong, she would never stop dancing.

Set to graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a BFA in Dance next spring, Holder is grateful for the training she has received at Columbia. “Columbia offers the opportunity to pursue dance in the way that best suits each individual. Here, I have been able to focus on the aspects of dance that are most important to me while taking classes and learning from peers with different experiences and goals, making me a better and more well-rounded creator,” she says.

When asked about her Dance program, Holder recognizes Columbia’s commitment to DEI as an anti-racist institution reflected in the school’s Dance curricula. “This department is one of the leading forces of DEI work within the college,” she says. 

“Our students study a pluralism of forms, meaning they take completely different points of view into their bodies through their physical practice,” says Lisa Gonzales, Associate Professor and Chair of Columbia’s Dance Department. “They learn to organize themselves around the grounded, polyrhythmic elements of West African as well as the vertical and linear elements of ballet. From there, they work through these various principles in their contemporary practice via the study of Hip-Hop and modern dance. It is the complex dialogue between all these forms—in the body—which lays the groundwork for the theoretical and creative process work we do in the department.” 

Holder also points out that Columbia’s Dance program has helped expand her world view without her having to leave campus. “The school brings in different artists from all over the world as a part of the Dance Presenting Series,” she says. “I have been able to take classes with and perform on the same stage as dancers shaping the field from Chicago to the other side of the world.”

She also credits Columbia’s faculty for being a daily inspiration and for engaging and investing in students’ personal and creative growth. “Each member is still an active participant in the dance field outside of the school and demonstrate for us the possibilities that await us with work and determination every day,” says Holder.

One of Holder’s favorite dance projects has been participating in a Repertory Performance Workshop at Columbia where students are able to work with guest choreographers and act as company members with 8+ hours of rehearsal a week. It’s safe to say that Holder’s dedication to dance is paying off. She’s been able to be a part of several faculty concerts and some incredible student works and is currently working on a dance piece to represent the school at the American College Dance Association Conference. “I created this piece for the Choreographic Project class last semester and am now working to adapt it for the conference in a couple of weeks,” says Holder. “Though the process can at times be stressful, it is incredibly rewarding to get to create with such talented peers and supportive mentors.”

“In the studio and out, I feel moved by dance whenever I see it and pulled to do it as a way to express all things to myself and others,” says Holder.

“I have had the privilege of working with Joy in various capacities within the department: as a mentor, as a teacher, and as a choreographer,” says Paige Cunningham Caldarella, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Columbia’s Dance Department. “Joy brings wisdom, insight, and a keen sense of curiosity into everything she does. She pushes her edge in the studio and on the stage each and every time, and her energy is contagious! Her commitment and passion to dance as both a physical practice and a place of creative inquiry is illustrated daily, and her developing artistry is exciting to witness.”

Holder’s advice for others wanting to study dance at Columbia? “My advice is always the same—come in ready to work,” she says. “This program gives back exactly what you put into it. No one here will make you work, but the resources are ready and waiting. That is what has allowed me to find my own artistic voice, discover what is important to me, and learn to take the best care of my body and mind.”



Daisy Franco
Communications Manager