Self-Reflection 5/12/17: Thoughts on Leaving UCLA

Today was a day of heightened emotions and conflicted thoughts. Well, most of my days lately have been like this… but today especially.

I was in the middle of my 7am – 1:30pm shift at Bruin Café, at the smoothie station rinsing out used blenders with hot water, when I had the following thought: What if I just gave up on this “silly dancing dream”, as many people have described it? What if I just stayed at UCLA, finished my degree in a timely manner, got a stable, decent-paying, “real” job, and kept dancing as my passion and primary hobby? Would I be okay with that?

Truth is, I am so afraid. I’ve chosen to give dancing a shot. But what am I really getting myself into? The dance world is, on the outside, beautiful. Glamorous. Fun and exciting. I am drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. The lavish costumes, makeup, crazy hairdos and overdone spray tans are enthralling… addicting. The life of a dancer– traveling the world, competing, performing, training, teaching… it seems like paradise to me.

But here is the reality of the competitive Latin/Ballroom dance circuit– it is so, SO cutthroat. If I aim to dance as a career, I’m up against people who’ve been dancing since they could start walking. While politics are present in any career, it is particularly prominent in the world of dance, where money and connections are oftentimes stronger predictors of competition success than pure dance skill. If I am truly going into Latin dancing as a career, I must be okay with the likely reality of not becoming a top dancer in the world.

Don’t get me wrong– I will fight valiantly to be the best dancer I can be, but if my best effort is not enough to get me to the top, I mustn’t be bitter or upset. No. The journey alone of fighting to fulfill an all-consuming dream is meaningful by definition. If we measured success by external validation, like winning competition titles, getting into top-ranked universities and having a lot of money, then 99% of us would be deemed “unsuccessful”. How many world champion dancers can there be? How many people are awarded Nobel Prizes, Oscars, Tony Awards, in a given year? How many Bill Gates’s are there? If being “the best” is my definition of success, then I am simply setting myself up for disappointment.

I worry that, if I don’t pursue dancing while I’m still young and have the physical ability to, I will live with regret later on. So, I’m giving dance a shot.

That does not mean, however, that I’m not afraid. Initially, upon making the big decision to pursue dancing seriously, I was ecstatic that I’d finally brought my 1+ year-long debate to an end. I chose dance. To reach that decision was no easy task, though.

Mentally, I first had to abolish the self-concocted idea that medicine was the “best” career to go into. That if I didn’t become a doctor, I wouldn’t be considered “successful”. Once I had cleansed my mind of this childish delusion (trust me, it was not easy– I’ve had many moments of relapse), I faced the hard truth that my heart simply wasn’t in premed. For so long, I thought I’d become a physician. It became this self-fulfilling prophecy– I tricked myself into believing that medicine was my calling, then reinforced this belief with actions, like studying an MCAT book, practicing sutures, shadowing doctors, etc. It seemed as if I was on the trajectory to go to medical school, and nothing could possibly sway me from that path. I think the most difficult part of my college experience was giving myself a hard, brutal look within, and facing the fact that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t cut out to be a physician. If the heart is not in it, it doesn’t matter how well you do in your premed classes. You WILL burn out. You WILL NOT be happy.

Now, as the end of my freshman year at UCLA looms closer and closer, I’m feeling more fear than excitement regarding my decision to dance. As the only person in my family to remotely consider a career in art, I have no reference point to go off of. I am carving my own path, deviant from the one I was placed on since birth. In moments of fear and doubt, I question my decision. I know this doubt will manifest itself many, many more times in the future– on off-days at dance practice, on days when I miss my friends at UCLA, on days when I long for the freedom of college life, away from the hawk-eyes of my parents.

I must be determined, and I must remain strong and resolute. Once I make the decision to leave UCLA for good, that’s it. I can’t allow myself to quit when things get difficult with dance. I can’t just say, “Well, dance isn’t working out, so I’ll just go back to UCLA,” the very moment things get tough. Likewise, if I decide to go back to UCLA, I can’t jump back onto my dancing aspirations the moment college academics feels overwhelming. In both cases, I’d be running away from challenges, because the options are presented in front of me. I am capable as a university student, but I’m also capable as a dancer. Running away from your problems is no way to live life, though. What kind of character is that?

No. Once I take that step to move back home and dance, I need to really, really try hard.

To clarify, I don’t plan on quitting college altogether. I will first take one quarter off from UCLA, which gives me 7 months of strictly dancing, during which time I will experience firsthand the life of a dancer. If, at the end of these 7 months, I decide that dancing is something I wish to pursue further, then I will enroll in community college to finish off my GE’s and lower division classes. My hope is that I can transfer to UC Berkeley (or, if I am insanely lucky, Stanford) from there, whilst living at home and training with my Bay Area dance teachers. That’s what the crux of this debate boils down to– my dance teachers and dance family being back home. If I want to give myself the best shot at growing rapidly as a dancer, I must be close to home. College will always be part of the equation. I have no aspirations of dropping out of school. Even if I do end up pursuing dance, I still want to be educated and have a degree to fall back on, should dancing not work out.

I guess my biggest regret of this whole decision is the fact that I’ll have to leave the friends I’ve made at UCLA. I was eating dinner alone at Bruin Plate earlier tonight, when I went to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall and cried empty tears of sadness, loneliness, nostalgia. Even though I’ve been here for only 3 quarters, I can honestly say that I love my school and its people. I will miss my friends. Of course, the beauty of living in a technological era is that friends can remain in touch across long distances. However, communication through wave-like mediums can never replace being physically present with the people you love.

But life isn’t perfect. Sacrifices and compromises must be made (La La Land perfectly epitomizes the struggles and sacrifices artists must face in the pursuits of their dreams). I am grateful that I have a chance to pursue dance. My true friends are the ones who, despite being sad that I’m leaving, fully support my dream. True friendships can withstand any physical divide.

And with that, it is now 1:16 a.m. Tomorrow will be a study day in the morning / early afternoon, followed by dance in the evening. I’ll talk to you guys later!






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