Hey guys! I hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday. To my fellow college students still grinding through finals– hang in there, you’re almost done!
I’m happy to say that I finished my last final exam on Wednesday. It was a theater GE final, and the exam was a lot easier than expected. All I have left is a paper due next Wednesday, so I’ve been taking it easy these past couple days and letting the reality of completing my freshman year of college sink in.
UCLA’s theater department has been putting on “Carrie: The Musical” for the past week, and I am absolutely obsessed with the show! Just like in Spring Sing, the level of talent displayed in this production is inspiring. I enjoyed this rendition of “Carrie” so much that I saw the show 3 times! Watching the performers– all UCLA students– makes me long to be up on the stage with them. It’s a shame I can’t sing… yet. One long-term goal of mine is to improve my singing skills and gain better control over my voice. If I am going into the entertainment industry, I’d best develop my artistic talents as much as I can. My mom, though never formally trained, is a wonderful singer. Hopefully she’s imparted some of her talent to me!
Now, on to reflection time. All-in-all, this quarter has been VERY relaxing academically, relative to the previous two terms. I needed time for soul-searching and self-reflection before reaching the ultimate decision to leave UCLA to focus on dance. I needed to give my inner voice a chance to speak.
Now, the real talk.
Some say that suffering is good for the soul; that those who suffer most also experience the greatest joys in life’s simplest beauties. I believe there is truth to this statement. When you’re constantly pushing yourself to your limit, stretching your bounds and working hard to reach your goals, the sweet periods of rest are long-awaited and hold much more meaning than if you are never challenged at all. This quarter, I lived safely. At least in terms of academics. My GE classes interested me, but I wasn’t challenged as I had been the previous two quarters. And I don’t think that suits me. Not being challenged, I mean. It doesn’t suit me at all.
I never function well when I am not busy or under pressure. I fall into a depressed state when my life lacks structure and discipline. I need to be living under a pressure-cooker to feel at my maximum potential. Ironically, I am also pretty bad at handling stress. When there’s a job to be done, be it in school or dance or work, I push myself to complete the necessary task, but the journey is rife with hair-pulling and mental breakdowns. In the end, I achieve. But at what cost? It’s a strange irony. Stress is both my best friend and worst enemy. What if stress is simply a way for me to distract myself from deeper issues, from closets that don’t want to be opened? Whenever I have time for myself to think– and this quarter, I’ve had a lot of that– I get swept into a downward spiral. I question every decision I make. I wonder if I’m lying to myself about my calling… what is my calling? Must we have a single calling? I am exploring. This is the beauty of life– carving your own path and learning about yourself along the way. All is well. Why stress?
My next goal in my journey of growth is to be able to find beauty amidst hard work. From this past quarter I’ve learned that living an “easy” life is not for me. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with a life of relaxation and hedonism. It’s just not the life I choose. I love working hard towards my goals. From achieving I find fulfillment. Now, I must rise to the next level and learn to find beauty amidst the pain. Instead of treating life as one endless path of suffering to reach goals, I must learn to smile along the way. Only in this way will my accomplishments hold lasting meaning.
It’s so easy to get caught up in your problems and worries that you lose sight of the privilege you have to even feel such perceived pain. Every day I hear classmates complaining about how difficult their classes are and how much they hate school. Believe me, I am guilty of this as well. Has anyone ever stopped to think, though, of how lucky they are to be in college in the first place? Not to mention being at UCLA, a university many would only dream of attending. I think a fundamental root of unhappiness is lack of gratitude, or blindness towards the big picture.
Enough of these directionless musings for now. Let’s go back to the events of this past quarter.
While I’ve still managed to screw up my sleep schedule and relapse into carbs and sugar-binging after a week of effectively starving myself (note to everyone– starvation diets don’t work!), I am happy that I haven’t gone as “wild” as I had during winter quarter. I’m starting to feel more like myself again. I dabbled in the usual college vices and have now effectively relinquished my curiosity. This quarter, I focused on me.
Two weeks ago, I posted in UCLA’s “Free and For Sale” page on FB, offering free private dance lessons to individuals or couples in the UCLA community. I figured, as I wasn’t taking too heavy a courseload this quarter, I might as well give back to the UCLA community in a unique way. I had no idea how people would respond to my post. To my pleasant surprise, the post was popularly received, and an overwhelming number of UCLA students requested lessons from me. I didn’t mind teaching for free, because:
a) I understand the whole broke college student situation. I’d hate for someone to give up the opportunity to learn how to dance because of financial limitations.
b) I’m actually NOT working for free. Through teaching beginners, I am gaining valuable coaching experience and forming bonds with people of all walks of life. For instance, I met a 3rd year medical student who’s passion for magic (think David Copperfield magic) spurred him to go into medicine. There was a UCLA law student and her boyfriend, whom I taught the basics of salsa dance to. The way they laughed uncontrollably at each other throughout the lesson was priceless. Through teaching dance, I am giving young individuals the gift of creative expression. Dance has done so much for me, and I love being able to give back to my community through something I’m so passionate about.
Next week, I am teaching an actress who performed in Spring Sing, and in return, she will be giving me an acting/improv lesson. Super excited for what’s to come– expect a blog post highlighting the experience!
This past quarter has been an emotional roller coaster, as it may very well be my last at UCLA. These past four weeks, especially, have been rough. It hurts to say goodbye to a school and a community I’ve grown to love. These are the kinds of sacrifices one must make, though, in the pursuit of one’s dreams. Remember Mia and Sebastian in “La La Land”? The two had to call off their romantic relationship as their individual dreams pulled their lives in separate directions. It was a heart-wrenching, sobering ending… but also very, very realistic. Life is about making these hard decisions and choosing the path that’ll maximize long-term happiness.
The next 7 months will be a trial period for me. I will consume myself in the dancers’ life– train harder than I’ve ever trained, coach for income, perform and compete in the amateur dance circuit. Gain a complete immersion in the ballroom dance industry. Learn the ropes and make connections. Hopefully find a partner. At the end of it, I will see if dancing as a career is something I really want to do. If, at the end of the 7 months, I decide that I love dancing, but only as a passionate outlet, and not as a career, then UCLA will welcome me back with open arms. If I decide (likely to my parents’ dismay) that a dance career is where it is at for me, then I will transfer to a university closer to home and continue my growth as a dancer under the tutelage of my current teachers.
This summer, I plan on going to New York for one week to scope out the dance scene and try out with potential partners. There are some male dancers in Italy who are interested in trying out– I’ll have to convince my parents to let me travel to Europe. I will try my best to finance my dancing through 2 coaching positions, possibly a writing internship and self-employed tutoring in writing/math. It’ll be tough, though, and I hope my parents will help support me financially, even though they’re not too enthused about the dance path. They are great parents, and I know they want nothing but my happiness and success. I’m working to mend my rocky relationship with them after all the verbal fights over the phone regarding my decision to dance. I’m in the process of writing them a letter. In this letter, I aim not to convince them that dancing is indeed an amazing career that they should fully support, but rather to help them better understand why I’ve chosen this path. I apologize for the pain and distress I’ve inevitably caused them in my decision. Recently, I found out from one of Austin’s friends that my mom has been calling Austin every day, discussing what she should do with me. I hate that I’m creating such a ripple in a hitherto peaceful life. I was doing well in my pre-med classes. My mom was excited that one of her kids would end up a physician. Life was good… but at the same time, it wasn’t. It lacked authenticity. I wasn’t happy. I was living a lie, telling myself that I wanted to be a doctor, when my heart wanted something very different. Who knows? I may still be living a lie. I don’t know. What I do know is, in making this decision to give dance a real shot, I will finally uncover the truth of whether or not dancing is my calling. Dance will always be my passion, no doubt about it. But whether or not a dance career is for me is another question. It is a question I will soon find answers to in the next 7 months. The trial period, I call it.
Alright guys, I must conclude my post here. I’m going out to dinner tonight with a guy I met a couple weeks ago at the Hedrick Study. I hope it’ll be fun, though I know there is no sense in starting anything serious right before I leave.
I will keep you all posted on my dance journey, my thought processes along the way and upcoming competitions/performances. Until then, keep smiling and living life as authentically as possible. In the words of the current World Champion ballroom dancer (and UCLA alumnus) Victor Fung, “Life’s too short to not be happy with anything that you do. Also, you owe it to yourself to give yourself every opportunity to pursue any career that you desire. After all it is your life and only you know what will make you happy deep down inside.”