Meet Tai Courtney: Dancing to his own music

By Gina Gareri-Watkins

KSU senior Tai Courtney may have come to dance later than some students, but a background in the arts and an early passion for music helped with his successful transition. Tai played the bassoon, clarinet and cello as a student at Davidson Fine Arts in Augusta, Georgia and planned to become an orchestra director until a career-changing experience four years ago at a local Latin dance club. “After a couple of times dancing, they said I had a natural talent and asked me if I wanted to be a dance instructor,” said Tai. “I love to try things that are new. I found there were more opportunities to dance, and the more I danced, the more I loved it.”

Tai became a Latin and ballroom instructor and found his way to Kennesaw State University on the advice of family. “My cousin came here before me and just raved about it.” Tai enrolled as a theatre major and dance minor in January 2006, but switched to dance when the major was made available in 2008.

Tai remembered when he was “saturated with music. I had no idea what ‘jazz’ or ‘modern’ dance was, and little idea what ballet was.” Now a skilled dancer, ballet serves as the cornerstone of Tai’s academic and professional career plans. “I chose ballet as my concentration because—for me—it’s my biggest challenge, and I want to conquer it. Once you get a step, it’s so rewarding.” Tai admitted he may be more physically suited to modern dance but continues to study ballet. “Ballet is the foundation of concert dance, and when I go into my art form as a modern dancer, I’ll have that foundation.”

He has been a member of the KSU Dance Company since Fall 2007 and has performed in “42 Feet Off the Ground,” “Incubus” and most recently, “Adumbration.” He described “Incubus,” KSU’s 2008 entry in the American College Dance Festival, as his favorite performance. It was also his first time at a national dance competition. “It was phenomenal. I got to see other people outside of my community who were just as passionate as me.”

Tai attributes his success at KSU to its supportive setting, as he is impressed by the instructors’ willingness to develop each dancer. “The acceptance of each dancer, regardless of ability, plays a huge role here. I truly believe the instructors have a commitment to the students.” In addition, Tai loves the diversity that the campus and dance program offer. Social Dancing with Hylan Scott is a favorite of his classes. “Ballet is all about technique, but Social Dancing introduces a personal element that is so intimate. It’s definitely more organic.”

Starting late in his dance career sometimes means Tai has to work harder than other students, but he loves the experience. According to Ivan Pulinkala, director of the dance program, “Tai is an extremely motivated and hard working dance major. He has made significant strides due to his strong desire to learn and grow.” Currently choreographing his second student dance production, Tai’s music background is an asset during the process. “It was so easy to catch up with choreography because they go hand-in-hand.”

Tai’s current project is the April 27 student choreography showcase, featuring seven dancers under his direction, and is one that reflects his personal faith and fascination with world cultures. He described it as “how I feel about power struggles and the human need to worship.” Pulinkala admires Tai’s work. “Tai has shown great potential as both a performer and choreographer, one of four student choreographers whose work be featured in the April showcase.”

He will spend his summer still on campus, continuing to perfect his craft, as he plans on taking dance classes and preparing for eventual auditions outside of Kennesaw. Next year’s post-graduation plans include relocating to New York where he hopes to dance professionally. “My ultimate goal is to compose for my own dance company so I can choreograph to my own music.”



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