Dance Senior Tristen Sanborn on Tap, Teaching, and Taking on Life After Columbia

How navigating opportunities in Dance had led to happiness.

For Senior Dance BFA Tristen Sanborn, gymnastics was not the answer. Sanborn’s mother, a director of gymnastics at a Minnesotan multisport facility, had hoped that an interest in gymnastics might take; it was a hope she fostered by introducing Sanborn to the sport at a tender age. “I did not like it,” Sanborn says with a laugh. “But when they expanded and opened up their dance facility, she just kind of threw me in and I liked it and I stuck with it.”

Soon, Sanborn identified his style of choice, tap, and took every opportunity to immerse himself in the world of the greats. “Seeing old footage online of Jimmy Slide and John Bubbles and all the pioneers of tap dance that really shaped the field…I was like, ‘Wow. I can do that. I can try to do that too,’” he recalls. Sanborn quickly expanded his training beyond his family’s reach and, by the age of 13, was awarded scholarships that took him as far as New York where he could deepen his training.

The trip to New York proved formative: “It was in New York that I thought for the first time that this could be something that I would want to do for a career or for my whole life,” he says. Armed with that knowledge, Sanborn began researching colleges with strong dance programs. He had heard of Columbia from fellow classmates at his high school, and after a trip to campus with his parents he fell in love with the vibrant, high-energy, fast-paced world of the institution and the city. He knew: Columbia was the place for him.

Once enrolled, Sanborn found a community of like-minded passionate artists and a faculty dedicated to his success. He recalls, for example, the personal and professional support of Assistant Professor of Instruction Kelsa Rieger-Haywood. Sanborn notes that Rieger-Haywood “takes great value and really truly trying to understand her students and genuinely know them and appreciate them as humans,” and is one of several Columbia instructors who stand out for their compassion, kindness, and dedication to their craft.

Once at Columbia, Sanborn also auditioned for and became a member of the We Are Collective, a company dedicated to “creat[ing] a safe, communal space for all kinds of artists - beginners to professionals - to come together and express their movement.” The We Are Collective is made up of recently graduated Columbia students, members of the wider Chicago dance community, and, like Sanborn, existing students who take this space to explore their art and engage in collective expression.

When not in class, dancing with the We Are Collective, or auditioning, Sanborn also works as a teaching artist for the Joffrey Ballet, bringing dance to Chicago schools. After graduation, Sanborn plans to continue teaching, dancing, choreography, and exploring new performance opportunities. And to prospective students who are aspiring dancers, Sanborn encourages them to consider Columbia and to take the leap. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he says. “There’s always a way to figure it out.”