Desean Taber '10

IMS alum Phoebe Mulder '19 recently sat down with Desean Taber ’10. He shared how his ballet experience influenced his time in academia and his career shift into the climate industry, and the importance of embracing how passions grow and change.

You’ve worn so many hats throughout your life, but it all began with dance! Can you describe your dance journey since your time at IMS?  

DT: I was taking ballet classes while going to Indian Mountain, which was really difficult, but the school worked very well with me. I started dancing at a small school in Connecticut, but promptly realized that if I wanted to really go for it, I needed to attend a much stronger ballet school. So at age fifteen, after graduating from Indian Mountain, I went to Miami City Ballet. It was pretty rigorous. I’d dance in the morning, take school classes, and dance at night. Then, when I was seventeen, I was offered a contract at a full time company, so I danced at Boston Ballet for eight years, with some experience touring internationally. 

IMS: How was the transition from IMS to Miami City Ballet? 

DT: I grew up in Connecticut, and Miami was such a different place, but it was actually quite liberating. I was a person of color in a not-so-diverse area of Connecticut, so it was kind of an amazing escape. The ballet school was very Latinx, very South American, and it taught me a lot about the world and let me be free in a new way. 

IMS: What was it like touring internationally with the Boston Ballet? 

DT: It was really cool! We got to dance at a lot of big theaters, like the Théâtre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, who would reach out and invite us to perform. Ballet is so insular; once you get to the top level, everyone knows each other. You’re in historic theaters with other major companies throughout the world, dancing different repertoire, traveling with all your best friends. 

IMS: What made you feel like it was time for a change? 

DT: In the last few years of my career, I was disappointed in the industry’s response to big social movements and systemic problems. Any career path that relies on body, aesthetics, and phenotypes will always be problematic. And as I was aging and learning about the world, it became more and more difficult to support an industry that wasn’t doing the same. I started wondering how I could help change the industry, and I immediately realized that I should learn about the factual history and strategies for implementation. I got into Columbia University, and I had never been more excited. It solidified my desire to retire and return to academia. 

IMS: It’s so satisfying to take a risk and know in your bones that it was the right decision. 

DT: I agree with you completely. A lot of my life has been taking big risks. I asked my parents at age fifteen to go to ballet school in Miami, and they thought I was insane. But it brought me to this huge career, so it worked out. 

IMS: How was your first year at Columbia? Were there elements of your ballet training that were particularly significant in your transition to academia? 

DT: It was a crazy year, but it was also incredible. One of the things ballet instills in you from a young age is perfectionism. I had to create a new definition of success for school. I initially pursued Econ, because someone in my family said I should, and it’s very financially responsible. And then I realized, screw that! I’m going to do things that make me happy! I ended up majoring in anthropology and business. Both subjects are focused on human culture and society––figuring out where we went wrong and what we should deconstruct. 

IMS: You’ve recently graduated and are currently working in the climate industry. How did Anthropology and business lead you to climate work? 

DT: Since I came to Columbia, I’ve worked in a few different professions. I started in the fashion world, which I thought would be an easy transition because dancers already know how to move and pose. I did fashion week a few times, and got to work with some big magazines. It was really cool. However, it led me right back to anthropology, because it’s still a career that leans on phenotype and differences of humans. When I worked with Rachel Comey, an incredible New York designer whose work focuses on society and sustainability, I became interested in fast fashion and how we manufacture clothing. This led to an interest in climate, and for the past year and a half, I’ve been working for a company that focuses on sustainable energy. That has become my newest passion: solutions for climate impact. 

IMS: So what’s next for you in the climate world? 

DT: In the fall, I’ll be working for an energy solutions company in New York City. A huge part of the mission of my new company is that they don’t just implement climate solutions and leave. They’re developing on an island area in Latin America right now, and the local community is leading the project, deciding how to allocate resources. This is a newer practice in the energy industry, and it’s exciting to see how this company will set a precedent for the future. Most marginalized communities are already dealing with the heaviest impacts of climate change, so they have valuable ideas and solutions. If we all work together, hopefully it helps everyone do better. 

IMS: You’ve pursued so many transitions with such conviction. What advice would you give to a young alumni considering their future? 

DT: This is something I wish I had known when I was younger: you will change your mind. You will love something. It could be a person, could be a career. When you stop loving something, it’s okay. It’s your time. You can do something else and you will love something else again. I think this is really important, and something society doesn’t talk enough about. I think it’s very outdated to do one career for your entire life. My father had several different careers and was successful in all of them. My mother as well. And they are my guiding lights in life. I wish more people would understand that it’s okay. Love something until you don’t love it anymore, and then do something else.