Plateau, Burnout, Closure, Epiphanies

Hi everyone, hope all is well:) I haven’t posted in WAY too long, and a lot has happened (dance, school, emotional well-being) since my last post- December 29, exactly one month ago- that I would like to share with you guys (prepare for a long/somewhat disorganized post!)

The path to reaching success in anything is all but linear. We have progress, setbacks, plateaus, struggle with motivation, waves of passionate inspiration.

My journey to success as a dancer is no different. For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through a plateau period. Dance practices are difficult to get through, especially when I’m practicing by myself, victim of my own negative thoughts and emotions. I can’t help  but think, what happened to the girl who, at the beginning of the month, dreamt of becoming a world champion Latin dancer and fought every day for her dream, practicing four to five hours each day, feeling constantly motivated, hopeful, and inspired? What ever happened to lead me to where I am now?

Now it’s hard for me to get through two hours of practice, as frustration often takes over, oftentimes ending in silent tears in the bathroom. Then I feel disappointed in myself for not having a more positive attitude during practice, not being as diligent and productive as I know I can be. And this is an important point, as I have ALWAYS seen myself as a hardworking, focused, passionate person. It’s true that I was never the most talented gymnast or gifted student. Even in Latin dance, I have insecurities about my body and its aesthetic appeal. However, the one thing I’ve always been certain of is my ability to work harder than everyone else, to make up what I lack in natural ability with hard work. My work ethic I’ve developed from a life as a gymnast is all I have going for me. This ability is ingrained into my identity. Throughout my (almost) eighteen years, I’ve adopted so many different roles: Belicia the Gymnast, Belicia the Ballerina, Belicia the Pianist, Belicia the Flautist, Belicia the Student, Belicia the Contortionist, Belicia the Dreamer, etc. etc. Not once have I doubted that I was Belicia the Hard Worker. But now I’m starting to call that into question. If I’m not longer Belicia the Hard Worker, what do I have going for me?

Perhaps I’m burned out. Perhaps I want to reach the summit so badly, but lack the patience to carry through.

But I know better than to quit. Quitting is not the solution, nor is it what I want. Champions and fighters do not quit when things get tough. And things are getting tough in dance. I’m approaching one year in the dance world, and it’s not as easy as it was in the beginning to keep the momentum going. I’ve also become more aware of the ugly side of this world- the politics, the drama, the struggle of finding the right partner, the shear difficulty of reaching the top. And I’m asking myself, is it a battle worth fighting? Or should I walk away now, in the pursuit of another dream that’s more realistic and practical? But I know that if my love for dance is strong enough, as I so often claim it is, then nothing will stop me from chasing my dreams.

The question is, then, do I truly love Latin dance? Is my heart and soul completely devoted to this art? I have so often answered YES to this question, but I don’t know if I’m just saying that, or if I truly feel this way. Yes, Latin dance was what I turned to after stopping gymnastics. I knew from day one that I had found a new niche in Latin, a new passionate outlet. But what if my heart was never fully in it, and I just TOLD myself that to move past gymnastics? What if Latin dance was simply a rebound from gymnastics?

Last weekend, my gymnastics teammates started their competition season at an international competition in LA. I had wanted to fly down to LA to support them, but since my schedule didn’t cooperate, I supported them from home. It was only when I watched videos and saw pictures of my teammates competing that I realized the extent to which I missed gymnastics. After having an emotional break down at the dance studio during a heart-to-heart with my dance teacher, I realized that my heart was still longing for gymnastics. It has been all along, despite the fact that I told myself I had moved on and found a new “passion”. But the thing is, I cannot compare gymnastics to dance. Gymnastics was something I had done since childhood, from age five to fifteen. It consumed my life for ten years. It constituted a major part of my identity. My confidence and self-esteem stemmed largely from my achievements as a gymnast. I loved the sport so much, had so much respect for it, wanted to achieve so much in it. When the injury happened, I had no choice- I had to leave that all behind, and very suddenly. I haven’t gone back to my gym in nearly three years. When I left, it was too painful to look back, to see all I had left behind, to fantasize of what could have been had the injury not taken its toll. And last week, as I was talking to my dance teacher, I realized that there’s always been a part of me that longed to go back to gymnastics, despite everything that’s happened since. The more I try to run away from the sport, the more it’s pulling me back. When I saw my teammates competing, the raw emotions of nostalgia, passion, and longing came up, and for exactly one day, I actually believed I could go back and compete as a gymnast. Which would mean, of course, giving up dance. Risking reinjury. Setting myself up for disappointment, as I am no longer the gymnast I was three years ago. Reopening a door that I’ve fought so hard to close, and closing a door I had just stepped foot in– a door holding so much more opportunity. You see how love can cloud one’s better judgement and lead one to act beyond reason. Thankfully, I was given a reality check by some people I admire greatly. And once more I closed the door to gymnastics, but this time, with greater peace and sense of clarity. Injuries are not fair for athletes. There’s nothing fair about being forced to leave behind an entire way of living, having dreams dashed, all due to one physical mishap. But it’s called life. I will always love gymnastics immensely and cherish the time I had in the sport. And this is a GOOD thing– no one will be able to take away the memories and experiences and lessons learned from my time as a gymnast. I also understand that time cannot heal wounds if you never had closure in the first place. That’s what I need now– closure from gymnastics. Which is why I’ve made the decision to visit my gym next Tuesday, reunite with former teammates and my coach of many years, and become a part-time coach myself. I am ready now to face what’s been tormenting me for the past three years– the sport that’s given me the greatest joy and the worst pain. I now understand that it is not more time I need to get over gymnastics, but CLOSURE. Once I find that closure, I will truly be able to move forward and whole-heartedly devote myself to a life beyond gymnastics. I also realize that even though my days as a competitive gymnast are over, that doesn’t mean I can’t be an active member of the rhythmic gymnastics community. By coaching even just once a week, I’ll be sharing my love for the sport with young gymnasts, while being with my gymnastics family I cherish so much. I’d love to study to become a certified rhythmic gymnastics judge. Anything to get back into the community I love, to keep this beautiful sport in my life.

But I also have a new community- my dance community. I love the new friends I’ve made through Latin dance. The strength of such relationships was reflected in the incredible support I garnered from fellow dancers last week. That’s when I came to the epiphany that maybe my worldview has been completely wrong– maybe I’ve been misplacing my ambition this entire time. What matters most in life? Is it success, fame, glory? Or is it the relationships you build with people you care for? I am now in full support for the latter. As my dance teacher said so eloquently himself, “I am a person before I’m a dancer.” I, Belicia Tang, am a PERSON above all else.

As we near the close of this piece, let me just say, my mindset now has changed since I started writing earlier tonight. Through writing, I’ve reached greater clarity. I know why I’ve been experiencing plateau and burnout lately. It’s not only because my heart was elsewhere, but also because I’ve been dancing for the wrong reasons. Ambition got in the way of enjoyment.

Now, I choose enjoyment over ambition. I dance because I enjoy it and because I want to reach my greatest potential. I dance because I value the power this art has to bring together people of different walks of life. I will continue to aim high, but no longer let desire for transitory glory blind me to what matters most: the journey and the people you meet along the way.