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Stepping out of his comfort zone and into the world of dance

Gaurab Banerjee, a leader in Stanford’s social dance community and a member of the Axe Committee, will graduate in June with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science. He plans to work in the artificial intelligence industry and later in community development.

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Moments before his very first performance as a dancer, in his junior year at Stanford, Gaurab Banerjee peeked out at an audience gathered in Roble Gym and saw a sea of faces and pointing cameras.

His nervousness quickly gave way to a state of flow. Muscle memory and the cheers of the crowd carried him through, and before he knew it, he was taking a bow.

With that, Banerjee recalls, “I was hooked.”

What had begun as an impulse – enrolling in Social Dance 1, taught by longtime instructor Richard Powers – soon became a full immersion in dance culture on campus. Over the next two years, Banerjee explored a range of styles at Stanford and around the Bay, performed and eventually directed the student group Stanford Swingtime, and served as co-chair of the planning committee for Viennese Ball and for Big Dance.

The pandemic put a hard pause on social dance events. But in fall 2021, Banerjee returned to campus eager for revival, and students responded. Performances sold out. Workshops were over-enrolled. Banerjee and other community leaders took the opportunity to bring a new generation up to speed on campus traditions, and also to reset where they saw an opportunity to improve.

“One thing I’ve noticed at Stanford is that folks aren’t afraid to speak truth to power,” he says, “to ask the question, ‘Why?’ If what we’ve done before is not in the best interest of our student body, of our communities here, then let’s change it.’ ”

Banerjee, who was a service scholar his freshman year, a volunteer with Kids With Dreams, a member of the Axe Committee, and a member of the Sophomore Class Cabinet, also found a welcoming and ethically minded community in computer science. The program offered so many classes Banerjee wanted to take that he decided to complete a master’s degree as well.

Banerjee plans to work in the artificial intelligence industry. His long-term vision is to apply his technical skills and the knowledge he’s gained in ethics, business, human rights, and medicine to a career in development – increasing opportunities for entrepreneurship around the world.

“Part of my privilege, being here at Stanford, is that I can now use what I’ve learned to bring more folks to the table,” he says. “I can give them access as well.”

And yes, he’ll keep dancing.