Take Five with Kosta Karakashyan ’19

Kosta K Headshot_Alan Byland_crop

Photo by Alan Byland

Kosta Karakashyan ’19 is a Bulgarian director, choreographer, writer and performer investigating how to nurture empathy and tenderness through dance, film and education. A two-time Bulgarian National Ballroom Champion, Karakashyan has performed and choreographed on Dancing with the Stars Vietnam and across Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Norway, Vietnam and Japan. His creative studio, Studio Karakashyan, has produced music videos for artists Acrillics and Matt DeLuca as well as the documentary dance film Waiting for Color, about the ongoing LGBTQ+ persecution in Chechnya. Most recently, Karakashyan has been working on the film Glance from the Edge, shot across 12 locations in Bulgaria with co-director and choreographer Stephanie Handjiiska. His work has been featured in Conde Nast’s LGBT magazine, them, and by GLAAD and Radio Free Europe.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was set on the pre-med track and the medicine, literature and society major. After taking a gap year to dance professionally, things looked a little different. Luckily for me, the College offered a dance major through Barnard. I imagined the modern dance classes would be tough, emotional and inspiring, and I was right.

I was also arriving from my still-homophobic country, and my boyfriend at the time was waiting for me at LaGuardia. I was completely shocked and surprised that we could hold hands on the streets in the city. That first stroll was exhilarating and a little frightening, and I’ll always remember it. New York City and Columbia definitely gave me the confidence to be myself and eventually advocate for other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I desperately wanted a single room in the Living-Learning Center (LLC) and had heard Wallach was “like a hotel” from someone in the Class of 2019 Facebook group. It wasn’t everyone’s top pick, so I got my first choice. I figured my friends would be the ones hosting the Carman parties, and then I’d retreat home for peace and quiet. Being with upperclassmen in the LLC was wonderful, but I remember my neighbor complaining about the noise levels because of me and my friend Sam Choi ’21’s American Horror Story marathons!

What Core class or experience do you most remember and why?

As a dance major, I was extremely excited about both Art and Music Hum; it was a chance to share my passion with students with other interests. Art is often marginalized, trivialized or dismissed as fun and easy, so seeing the group establish an awareness of the craft and hard work involved was rewarding. My professors, Mary Robb (Music Hum) and Colby Chamberlain GSAS’16 (Art Hum), were extremely passionate, knowledgeable and, most importantly, compassionate, so they made all the difference.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Definitely NoCo [The Northwest Corner Building] and its sleek Joe coffee shop. The glass and marble gave me a strange sense of calm during weeks and even whole semesters that sometimes felt overwhelming and stressful, and the coffee was (and still is!) delicious. On the Barnard campus, a new favorite spot emerged in my last semester, when the Movement Lab opened. I’m lucky I got to direct and choreograph a show there before graduation — the facilities run by Gabri Christa and Guy de Lancey are unparalleled and a true playground for the creative student.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I would leave more room for fun classes. Maybe not take 22 credits my second semester? I definitely wanted to dabble in film and visual arts, which I eventually found my way to after graduating, but I do regret not connecting with those faculty members during my time at the College. There were times where my workload and the overall levels of anxiety on campus definitely affected my mental health, so I didn’t get to relax and explore the city as much as I wish I could have. Looking back, I wish I had stressed less — everything turned out just fine.