Updated: Mar 1, 2021
By Nicole Kohut
Foregoing her chair in order to sit on the floor, accumulating balls of carpet fuzz, Melody Tai tells me she has been “ultracompetitive from the start…a definitive ‘comp’ kid.” Competitions are a beast of their own. Categorized by mass amounts of sequins, glitter, and drama, the competition scene seems like the last place for Melody, who spends her free time playing with her dog and teaching young kids how to play the harp.
But with an ex-acrobat for a father and a mother in the Royal Academy of Dance, it’s safe to say she has had good role models to keep her grounded despite all the chaos surrounding the dance world. After much trial and error throughout her dance career, from training in numerous genres to combatting challenging dance atmospheres, Melody made her way to choreograph the MaMa Project. A branch of Orchesis, Columbia’s largest dance group, this project takes six months to craft and culminates in one show.
As a freshman, Melody got involved in the arts through a traditional manner—she signed up for as many clubs as possible, attempting to find something that stuck. The stickiest of all? You guessed it, the MaMa Project.
When abruptly pulled aside by her former MaMa producer and told she must “be the MaMa,” Melody replied with a simple question-answer: “Okay?” Although Melody was encouraged to choreograph the project as a sophomore, she didn’t actually take on the role until her senior year.
Unlike Orchesis, the MaMa Project lends full creative authority to its sole leader, thus allowing Melody to craft a show from scratch in whichever way she wants. While Melody says she views all styles of dance through a universal lens, her inspiration for this particular project was drawn mainly from contemporary styles and movements. Choosing dancers and creating choreography is just one layer of Melody’s job. She’s also in charge of logistical work such as contacting the MaMa board, liaison between multiple boards on campus, and dealing with administrative funding.
Illustration by Rea Rustagi
Even though it seems like balancing an Environmental Sustainability major with a full-time job as a choreographer is an impossible feat, Melody excels at it– but not without some serious pressure.
“School is school. It’s stressful for me–but everyone shares that. What I do in school only effects me, my parents at most. I can’t drag 12 people down with me. If I mess up my turn set, I’m fucking everyone over.”
Melody shared that, whenever overwhelmed about academia or MaMa, she reminded herself of the inspiration that brought her to take on this role in the first place. Although her project has been formally named “Terraform,” Melody originally named it after a Japanese resonant called “Kinsugi.”
“It means that you can break something and fix it, but with gold. You don’t fix something to make it exactly what it was…It’s recognition of the break being part of the life of this object. Fixing the cracks with gold is symbolic of being cognizant of that and not trying hide that.”
This kind of “aesthetic inspiration,” as Melody called it, perfectly symbolizes her transformative process as a person, not just a choreographer. In the classroom and dance studio, Melody’s determination charges on while her charisma never fades. She’s not afraid to risk it all in order to discover new paths. Whether she pre-choreographs three different versions to one song or creates effortless choreography on the spot, her work ethic is unmatchable and honestly indescribable. No matter what Melody chooses to do with her life come May, she’ll always take this experience with her. I’m lucky enough to have gotten to know her, but if you want to see an influx of Melody Tai in one night, I suggest you see the MaMa project this February.