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College of Arts and Sciences

Balancing Two Worlds

By: Julian Robison,  Performing & Media Arts
June 6, 2019

Nic Ceynowa feels lucky to live a dual life. In addition to his job as a DevOps Engineer for Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, he teaches and choreographs dance in the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA).

Ceynowa discovered his passion for dance as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. Originally intending to pursue a career in the medical field, a swing dance class sparked his interest in the art form. After receiving a BFA in dance, he moved to New York City and performed with a number of companies, most notably the late Paul Taylor’s Taylor 2.

“It was very rewarding, because it’s masterpiece choreography, and it’s very hard to go and do anything else after you’ve had that sort of experience,” says Ceynowa.

The hectic schedule eventually led Ceynowa to opt for a change of pace. After spending two-and-a-half years with Taylor 2, he obtained an MS in Computer Science. The career shift provided a sense of stability that Ceynowa was losing as he aged out of the dance world.

Ceynowa believes his dance experience helped him land his job at the Legal Information Institute; the current director of the Institute has stage management experience and recognized Paul Taylor’s name.

“That left a good impression on him in terms of the kind of inferred level of discipline the dancers have to have to survive in that sort of company,” says Ceynowa.

As a DevOps Engineer, Ceynowa works on automating the infrastructure and processes behind the LII, increasing the site’s ability to handle demand and minimizing downtime.

While Ceynowa never intended on dancing again, he felt a certain significance upon coming to the university; his first residency with Taylor 2 was at Cornell.

“My office looks out over the bridge by the law school, and I can see the Schwartz Center. I thought, ‘Well that’s odd that I’m back to something that was pretty important.’”

After settling into his work with the LII, Ceynowa reached out to PMA senior lecturer Jumay Chu about attending one of her dance classes. From there, Ceynowa started teaching in the department, and he’s choreographed several pieces for the annual Locally Grown Dance concert.

Ceynowa sees parallels between his two interests: the repeated phrases and themes throughout a dance piece mirror the patterns and rules that he encounters when working with code.

“Having some sort of pattern interlaced through dance or code, I think, allows people’s minds to latch on to something. As human beings, we’re always trying to find some sort of template we can attach to something so we can understand it. We like familiarity.”

Some of the best moments of Ceynowa’s week are when he’s working with students in the PMA department. While he doesn’t plan on performing again, choreographing allows him to maintain his connection to the dance world.

“I’m just really thankful for this whole situation. I have some breathing room, which means when I’m doing art I’m not worried about anything else. It’s just completely unexpected.”

Julian Robison '20 is a communications assistant in the Department of Performing and Media Arts.