Yessenia Rivas – a choreographer for Spirit of Color (SoC), Torn Ticket II and Sarabande, as well as an actress and dancer – is a star both on and off the stage. In addition to the many performances she has been involved in, Rivas has also worked behind the scenes, as both the vice president of Sarabande and the department liaison for Pen, Paint and Pretzels (3Ps).
Originally a clinical psychology major, Rivas switched to drama after realizing her true passion was in the arts.
“I come from a really small town in Texas,” Rivas said. “Drama is not really a big thing there, so they don’t offer a lot of drama classes … they’re joke classes. So, for me, the closest outlet was dance, and then I ended up falling in love with that.”
Rivas, who has been dancing since she was two years old, has appreciated the respect that the Tufts student body has for the arts.
“One of the main reasons why I chose Tufts … is that I saw how supportive people were of the arts here, and that was really new for me because where I’m from … sports are real big, so sports would always get all the [funding],” Rivas said. “It was really cool to come here and be like, ‘Wow. I have friends that’ll actually come to my dance shows,’ when at home I would have to beg people to come. … [It was great] to see how supportive the [Tufts] community is of the drama … and the dance departments here.”
Within the arts community, Rivas said she has become especially close with her fellow dancers in Sarabande.
“They’ve become such a close family to me, and they’ve helped me through so much,” Rivas said. “That group of people is my life.”
During her sophomore year, Rivas shared a personal story through one of her most memorable dance performances called “Love is Louder.”
“When I was younger, I had an eating disorder, and things happened here at Tufts that kind of brought that feeling back – that feeling of being empty and not … good enough,” Rivas said. “I found a program online … called ‘Love is Louder’ that was all about making yourself feel better … [and] realizing love is louder than all the hate.”
Rivas said the program inspired her to choreograph a dance for Sarabande. In “Love is Louder,” dancers encouraged each other to be strong in their personal struggles.
“For me, dancing is really cathartic, and it gives me my escape and my release when I can’t deal with … other aspects of life,” Rivas said. “All the dancers told me it was really nice for them to be able to finally say these things … that they were worried about. … We all … realized we were in this together, and we don’t have to go through these things alone.”
Rivas channeled a similar theme in her senior drama project titled “Nuestros Ojos,” which told the stories of 11 Tufts Latinas and their experiences of being part of the minority on a predominantly white campus.
“One of the overlying themes that I found was that all of us questioned whether we were Latina enough or American enough,” Rivas said. “And then at the same time realizing [that] we don’t have to ask that, obviously we’re enough of both sides, [and] we don’t have to do anything.”
After graduation, Rivas will be attending the three-year Master’s program in the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University. After graduate school, she hopes to begin acting professionally.
“I’d really love to act … on stage, maybe get involved in some films and TV shows,” Rivas said. “And one day, I’d love to start my own company and be a director.”