Big Life Decision!!!

Hey guys! Long time no talk! It’s currently Friday at 9:47 p.m. as I begin this post. I’m sitting at a table in LAX, Gate 52E, awaiting my flight home. I’m going home just for the weekend to take dance lessons and try out with a potential dance partner. Ahh, dance… Lots have been going on regarding dance lately. But first, we need to catch up on the  past three weeks of spring quarter at UCLA!

I started off the quarter taking 22 units— 3 GE classes, 1 theater class and 2 fiat lux freshman seminars. After week 1, I concluded that, if I wanted more time to dance and care for my mental health, I’d need to lighten up on academics. I ended up dropping my theater class and philosophy GE, so I’m down to 13 units, which is 1 above the minimum number of units required of full-time students. The old Belicia would have reprimanded herself for taking it easy and not pushing herself to the breaking point academically. She would have compared herself to her fellow classmates, many of whom are taking difficult classes this quarter, and worried that she’d fall behind. The new Belicia has realized that she needs to do what she has to do to maximize her well-being and happiness, and if it means taking a lighter course load this quarter, so be it. Health comes before all else.

Some highlights of the past three weeks of spring quarter include: Dance Marathon, OSP and my neuroscience freshman seminar class.

Dance Marathon

Every year, UCLA hosts Dance Marathon— 26 hours of dancing and other activities— and raises thousands of dollars in support of pediatric AIDS. DM lasted from Saturday 11:00 a.m. to Sunday 1:00 p.m., during which time, dancers had to remain on their feet. I know, sounds intense. But truly worthwhile. Present at DM were around 200 dancers, moralers (people who cheer on the dancers to stay on their feet), pediatric AIDS ambassadors (children born with pediatric AIDS), celebrity guests and live bands. I decided to leave after 12 hours, as I figured that I had done my part in raising over $300 for the Pediatric AIDS Coalition, and any extra hour I spent dancing was icing on the cake. Plus, I was coming down with a cold that weekend and had a lot of homework to do. So I left the venue Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. Highlights of my experience included listening to a freshman at York University speak about her personal battle with congenital HIV, seeing celebrity guests Tia Mowrey and Bradley Steven Perry (I waved hello to Bradley and he waved back!), dancing/jumping/bobbing my head/singing at the foot of the Pauley Pavilion stage to reverberating, near-deafening music of live pop/rock bands (it was my first time being at a live concert), helping my color team, team Pink, answer trivia questions about HIV (the GE Cluster seminar on HIV I’m enrolled in gave me a slight edge in the game), taking a swing dance lesson and infiltrating different dance circles to flaunt my Latin moves. It was a fun 12 hours, but I made the mistake of not pacing myself on the dance floor, burning out 4 hours in. Next year, I’m aiming for the full 26!

OSP

The Overnight Stay Program is something UCLA’s Regents Scholar Society puts on each year for prospective UCLA students admitted as Regents Scholars. OSP is divided into four 3-day-long sessions, spanning the first two weeks of April. When OSP happened, I couldn’t believe that, exactly one year ago, I was that wide-eyed high school senior experiencing UCLA student life for the first time. I remember treading the UCLA campus, wondering how the heck I would find my way around alone. I remember being shocked to see students eating “late night” food past 11pm, and feeling like a rebel myself as I slurped down my late night cookies-n-cream gelato that my host had so kindly “swiped” for me. I remember looking up to the OSP coordinators, all college freshmen, amazed at how mature and responsible all were. One year later, I am that very same college freshman— more mature, responsible and self-aware than I was before college, but still struggling to find my life path. I derived meaning in imparting advice to the eager prospective students, many of whom were choosing between UCLA and some other great universities. For OSP Session 2, two fellow Dancesport club members and I had the opportunity to showcase the performing arts side of UCLA. We performed cha-cha, rumba and salsa, and even got the prospies up on their feet and dancing. My roommate, who was one of the coordinators for session 2, later told me that the prospies really enjoyed our performance and even expressed interest in joining Dancesport if/when they come to UCLA!

Neuroscience Fiat Lux Seminar

UCLA’s motto is “Fiat Lux”, which translates to “Let there be light”. In these 1-unit seminars, students— mostly undergraduate freshmen— have the opportunity to engage closely with professors in discussions on various topics. This past year saw fiat luxes on creative writing, Jane Austen, meditation, dystopian literature, deep sea creatures, the Trump presidency and many more! This quarter, I enrolled in 2 fiat luxes: “Why We Disagree and Can’t Agree to Disagree on the Trump Presidency” and “Shall We Dance? How the Brain Controls Movement in Health and Disease”.  I’m having so much fun in both seminars, especially the neuroscience one. The title of the neuroscience fiat lux was slightly misleading, as the focus of the class is not on dance, but movement as a whole. Nonetheless, my 10 peers and I are learning so much more than just neuroscience. Professor Chandler has given us invaluable advice on how to best succeed at UCLA/life. Time management and balance between studying and extracurriculars are his two mantras. One of the requirements to pass the class is a 20-minute partner presentation on any topic related to the brain. Last week, my partner and I delivered our presentation on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Considering how little time we spent on preparing, and the fact that we were the first group to present, I’d say we did a pretty good job. After the presentation, classmates remarked at how “eloquent” I was in my speaking— a compliment I gladly embraced, considering my longtime struggle with public speaking anxiety. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous for the presentation in front of the professor and my 10 peers, but I can confidently say that my shyness is shedding, rapidly. That same day, I went to Professor Chandler’s office hours for a one-on-one meeting. What was supposed to be a 15-minute session turned into a conversation that lasted over an hour. I knocked on his office door, and he told me to come in. When I proceeded to sit down, he told me, in a stern tone, “You will stand when you speak to me.” I thought he was serious, so I quickly stood up, reminded for a second of the intensity and discipline of gymnastics. He quickly told me he was joking, and I relaxed. I saw pictures of his two daughters and asked about them. He offered me some pistachios, but I declined his offer. We exited his small office and sat down in a lounge area in the lobby. He asked me how I was liking my time at UCLA, what my favorite and least favorite things about the university were, and how my transition to college went. I expressed to him my continual struggle to find my calling. Is it medicine? Is it dance? Is it something else? I’ve asked myself these questions so many times, I swear I sound like a broken record. Professor Chandler simply told me to “chill out” about finding a career path. He told me that the degree you get does not determine your career path. His younger daughter is a case in point. She graduated college with a degree in accounting, and now works as a CPA in a large firm. Is she necessarily super passionate about what she does? No. But she’s making decent money and using her accounting experience as a stepping stone to reach her ultimate destination— business. Your degree is not a life sentence. And college freshmen needn’t know what they want to major in when they first start university. In fact, the average college student switches majors about 3 times! So, I should just chill, enjoy my time at UCLA and embrace the beauty of being young, with a whole lifetime of opportunity and open doors ahead.

Now, for the latest development in my life journey. I am almost certainly taking a leave of absence from UCLA to pursue my dancing. The university allows students a maximum leave of one quarter, after which they must reapply to UCLA. In taking fall quarter of 2017 off, I’d have all of summer, fall quarter and winter break— a total of 7 months— to explore dance further. You see, guys, I’ve gotten to the point where I just need to know— is dancing something I truly want to pursue? As a full-time college student, I simply don’t have enough time to pursue dancing to the full extent my heart desires. To dance as a hobby is one thing. To dance as a career is another. The past two quarters at UCLA, dance has been rendered to the level of a hobby, a “side-thing”. I dance only when I have time. And I realized that I’m not really okay with that. I need to give dancing a chance. I need to give myself the chance to reach my greatest potential as a dancer. My prime time is NOW, not four years from now, when I graduate college. There is a narrow window of opportunity for one to pursue a dance career; once that window has passed, you can never go back. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life regretting not going for my shot while it was still there. 7 months of dance immersion. I will train, coach and work to pay for my lessons. During this time, I will really see if a dance career is for me. Do I like the dancer’s life— in the studio all day, teaching and practicing? Living and breathing dance? If I do, then dance may be something to pursue. If not, then I can go back to UCLA in Winter 2018, continue with my studies and keep dancing as a hobby. I don’t want my UCLA experience to be tainted by the fact that I cannot dance full time. I don’t want college to be an obstacle, a roadblock, standing in the way of what I’m passionate about. But that’s the thing— am I passionate enough about dance to pursue it as a career? I can’t know this until I experience the dancer’s life firsthand, which is why I feel the need to take time off from school to explore dancing further.

I just want to take a minute to express how utterly grateful I am for my family, who are willing to do anything to ensure their children’s happiness. I am lucky to be having this dilemma between school and dance in the first place. Some parents would never consider the “ludicrous”, “silly”, “ridiculous” idea of supporting their kids in an artistic career. For some kids, college is the only path to financial security. They don’t have the luxury to take dance lessons while in school. Heck, some kids don’t even have the opportunity to go to college! I am beyond lucky. I am so, so privileged to have grown up in a family that not only has the resources, but is willing to support their kids in all their endeavors, unconditionally. I mustn’t take for granted what I’ve been blessed with. Having my parents support my education is a privilege, not a right. They could just as well tell me to work to pay for my own tuition. And the fact that they’re willing to pay for my dance lessons on top of that? Let’s not forget that I have two brothers the same age, also in college. My family is amazing.

Here’s what worries me, though. My dad is not getting any younger, and he is, understandably, looking to retire. I don’t want to delay his retirement by prolonging my time spent in college. I think I’ve been spoiled to the point of ignorance. Because my parents have always been willing to pay for my gymnastics career, my brother’s music career, my dancing, and our education, I sometimes forget that all this money doesn’t fall out of the sky. This is all my father’s hard-earned money. And I’m not entitled to it. I just happen to have especially supportive parents who love their children so damn much, that they’d do anything for them. That doesn’t mean I can just take advantage of my parents’ support. I am 19 years old. It’s time for me to be a little less selfish, learn independence and alleviate my parents’ financial burden, especially while money is tight. I’ve decided to start working at a school café to help pay for my dance lessons. I have an interview on Tuesday, so hopefully I get the job.

Alright guys, I must end this post here, for I have homework to do, followed by dance practice! I also need to clean my dorm room, which is a total pigsty right now. I’ll talk to you guys soon!

Love,

Belicia

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