7/24/17: Life Update!

Hi everyone! How are you all doing? I do apologize for being AWOL these past few days. The exhaustion of endless dance practice finally caught up to me, and I simply couldn’t muster enough energy to upload posts every day.

The last I spoke to y’all was five days ago, on Wednesday, July 19. That was the day I luckily evaded jury duty and reunited with my high school English teacher over lunch.

Thursday through Sunday of that week consisted of dancing, all day every day. On Friday, I met a kind lady named Rose at the dance studio, who is a longtime student of my dance teacher’s. I told her about my daily commute from Redwood City to San José for dancing, and she offered to let me stay over at her place, which was but ten minutes away from the studio, so I didn’t have to spend money on transportation. I gladly accepted her offer, and on Friday night, after coaching, I spent the night at her apartment. We had a grand time, conversing about dance, men, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and many other topics. We listened to beautiful Italian music, and she told me about her annual solo trips to Italy. On Saturday morning, Rose gave me a ride to the dance studio, where I practiced (with breaks, of course) until about 10pm. During my Saturday dance lessons, I was effectively murdered by my dance teacher, who was not in the best of moods that day, as he and his wife are busy organizing next weekend’s dance competition, International Grand Ball. That practice was the first time I cried in the bathroom in a long time. The same thing would happen in gymnastics, too, during especially rough trainings, when nothing would go right. When my coaches yell at me, I know they only want me to be better, and I know I should treat their criticisms as means of growth. However, I put a lot of pressure on myself when I’m not living up to my coaches’ or my own expectations, and its from this self-imposed pressure where the tears flow.

On Saturday night, I went home, took a long, hot shower and headed straight to bed after an entire weekend of dancing. The following day, I had a lesson with Bumchin, the guy I’ll be dancing with at Embassy. At around 4pm, my family and I headed to San Francisco for a family friend’s birthday party/BBQ. I was a bit reluctant to go, as I was exhausted from dance and wanted to catch up on writing and sleep. In the end, I concluded that getting out of the house and doing something social would do me good.

The party was pretty fun, even though it was mainly for my parents to catch up with long-time friends. Thankfully, there were people our age at the party, one of whom recently graduated from UCLA! We all played the game “Taboo”, which was very exhilarating. I was a bit nervous in the beginning, as I had only played “Taboo” one other time, several years ago, and was not confident in my ability. However, I quickly checked myself in this perfectionistic thinking. Who cares if I sucked at the game? I shouldn’t be living to impress everyone I meet. Just let go and enjoy! And enjoy I did.

Because I’m me, I insisted on bringing my laptop and book to the party, just in case I found time to write or read. I hope my actions didn’t come off as terribly rude to the hosts, who of course wanted their guests to have a good time. Right before leaving for the party, though, I was in the midst of working on my “Tips for Incoming College Freshmen” piece, which I’m having a blast writing. I get very attached to my work once I start, so during the lulls of the party, I’d whip out my MacBook Air and continue hammering away at the piece.

We left the party at 9:00pm, as my dad had to work the following day. Once home, I took a shower, read a little bit of Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography, and fell asleep.

Today is Monday, and I’ve officially declared Mondays to be my day off from dance. How nice it feels to finally have time to sit down, relax, and release my pent up thoughts and emotions on paper (or, in this case, screen).

Next week, I’ll be embarking on my weeklong New York trip, which I am SUPER excited about! I really have to continue planning out my trip, as I want to make the most of my time in the city that never sleeps. I plan on living in New York after I graduate college, so this will be a good first step towards getting acclimated to city life.

I had originally planned on self-funding my entire trip, and I still plan on doing so. However, I wasn’t able to make quite enough money from work as I imagined I would, so I made a deal with my parents that they’d help me pay for my trip, and after I return on August 8, I would work the remainder of the summer to pay them back every cent.

Things I plan on doing in New York:

  • try out with a potential dance partner
  • watch the Empire Dancesport competition
  • try on some Latin dance dresses
  • take dance classes in styles other than Latin/Ballroom
  • watch a Broadway show (I really, really, REALLY want to watch Hamilton: the Musical) 
  • hang out with my best friend from college, Chiana, who lives in Connecticut
  • spend time with my cousin, her husband, and their 2-and-a-half year old daughter, Isabella (my family and I were there on the day of her birth)
  • eat good food
  • explore the city (I really want to check out the NY Times headquarters, among other places)
  • learn how to navigate the subway system

So, lots planned for my first solo trip across the country.

Speaking of trips… my brother, Chris, is currently in Italy for a piano performance. For some reason, whenever he embarks on these solo journeys, he never fails to experience a hiccup or two, usually from factors beyond his control (delayed/cancelled flights, lost luggage, etc.). This time around, his luggage from San Francisco never made it to his final destination in Italy, and it was only today, four days after he landed, that he was finally reunited with his bags. Without clothes, Chris had to buy clean underwear and socks and shirts. Thank goodness the luggage was not lost for good, otherwise Chris wouldn’t have had his performance attire or piano books! You could imagine how stressed out my mother was these past few days, then. Her youngest son was facing a crisis halfway around the world, and she was not there to help him.

Now, it is 12:19pm. I found getting out of bed this morning to be extremely difficult. My alarm went off at 8am, but I turned it off and slept until 10:30am. I’ve been feeling very drowsy lately. I think it’s a mixture of my intense dance training, as well as this new medication I started, called Lamictal. Lamictal is a mood stabilizer, often used to treat bipolar disorder or seizures. While my psychiatrist doesn’t believe I am bipolar, she does agree that my mood swings are severe enough to negatively affect my daily functioning. For that reason, she started me on a low dosage of Lamictal, and we’ll see how well I respond. So far, I suppose the medication is doing its job, as I haven’t experienced the extreme highs and lows I used to feel. However, one of the side effects is drowsiness, and I believe that is part of the reason why I’ve been so tired as of late.

For the first time in my life, I’m developing a newfound hunger to expand my mind in multiple dimensions and truly learn for learning’s sake. I don’t JUST want to dance. I want to read… everything. I want to learn more about politics, psychology, philosophy, theater, creative writing! I want to hone my skills as an orator and writer, and hopefully become a master of communication one day. I’m developing a fascination with people: their personalities, temperaments, body language, contrast between public and private behavior, adaptability in novel situations, self-constructed psychological walls and long-term personal development. Long gone are the days of dreading conversations with strangers. I love meeting new people! Just the other day, on the Caltrain ride home, I shared an enlightening conversation with two young ladies– Priscilla, who just finished her freshman year at UCSB, and Emma, a recent graduate of Brown University. We talked about all sorts of things: Koreos, a UCLA-based K-pop dance team; boyfriends, or lack thereof; regrets and triumphs of college life; how to become so confident in your own skin that you stop worrying about what others think of you; UCLA’s dope hip-hop scene; UCSB’s tar-covered beaches; Brown’s “chill” vibes; and much more.

It’s really interesting how much one can learn simply by talking to another individual. I think people are often hindered to strike conversation with others simply because they live in their own heads too much. They worry about how they’ll come off to the other person. What if I’m awkward? What if we have nothing to talk about? Trust, me. I used to be this way, 1000% percent. That’s why, throughout most of my adolescence, I’d never talk to anyone!!

Now, I’m blessed to be in a brighter place, outside my shell. I still get a bit nervous when first meeting strangers, but once the ice is broken, I’m an open book. I love sharing my story with others, and I love it when others feel comfortable enough to be honest with me. It’s the human-to-human connection that I greatly cherish, and I know that, whatever career I decide on, it must involve interaction with people. Ironic, that this is coming from a person who’s struggled with crippling social anxiety throughout high school!

It is 1pm now. I’ve been sitting in our beautiful backyard for the past hour or so, completely at peace with my surroundings. I’ll conclude this post here and do some reading and meditating. Later in the day, I will go to the Bay Club to finish up my paperwork for my job there as a childcare associate, head to the library to renew my library card, which expired on June 30, and let my body rest before another long week of dancing.

Enjoy the rest of your Monday, everyone!






“A Day in the Life of Bel”, Day 6: REUNION!

Hello everyone!

This morning, I woke up to my 6:15am alarm, only to turn it off and sleep in until 7:45pm. I begrudgingly rolled out of bed, sped through my morning routine and ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal, cherries, mango, edamame beans and mom’s smoothie. After eating, I woke Austin up, who was my ride to the San Mateo county court. Ahh, jury duty. All part of the joys (and pitfalls) of #adulting.

I arrived at the court at around 8:17am. We had to go through security check to enter the building. I just followed the crowd and grabbed a gray bin to put my belongings in. I stupidly brought in my pepper spray, which was attached to my lanyard. As pepper spray is a weapon, I wasn’t able to bring it inside the building, and since Austin had already driven off, I couldn’t put it back in the car. So I was left with no choice but to hand it over to security for confiscation. I tossed my lanyard in the bin with the rest of my items, fuming inside. Salty as the Dead Sea I was. But hey, what can you do? It was my mistake to think that pepper spray would be allowed inside a courtroom. Now that I think about it, I should have just gone outside and hid the pepper spray in the bushes or behind the trash can or something. Whatever.

After getting through security, I tried to find out where I was supposed to go from there. I saw some people looking on a big screen with a bunch of names and corresponding room assignments, and I assumed these applied to the jurors. I tried to find my last name under “T”, but couldn’t find it! So I took the escalator to the second floor, where I asked a staff member why my name wasn’t on the board. He asked me what my “offense” was. I looked at him, totally puzzled. What did he mean, “offense”? He stared back at me, like I was stupid. I showed him my summons letter, and he told me I was in the wrong place, and that I had to go to the jury assembly room. That made a lot more sense.

Inside the assembly room, people were taking their seats. You could tell no one wanted to be there. I was about to sit down, when I saw one of my high school AP Psychology classmates, Johana, sitting near the front of the room. I exclaimed, a little too excitedly, “Oh my gosh, hey! You’re from high school!” Heads turned in our direction, but little did I care, as I was too enthused about running into an old acquaintance– in jury duty, of all places! We caught up frantically- she is currently at SF State, studying business. I think both of us were comforted that the other was there, as it was both our first times in jury duty, and we didn’t know what to expect.

The guy in charge, Jim, called everyone to attention and gave us the spiel of what would go down. We filled out the bottom half of our summons letter and turned it in. Jim then put on a cheesy video that summarized what one would expect, if called to the court room. After the video, he called out the names of several people, who were assigned to a different room. I assumed that, since neither Johana nor I were called, we were free to go. Not just yet, though. Jim gave us all a “break” time, where we used the restrooms and ate snacks. In that spare time, I finished up yesterday’s blog post. We returned to the jury assembly room, where we waited for another 30 minutes or so, before Jim told us we could leave, as the court did not need any extra jurors. Johana and I were SO happy about being released early. As much as I respect our great nation’s justice system, I really did not want to spend my whole day sitting in a court room, deciding whether or not someone should get fined for a traffic violation.

Chauffeur Austin picked me up, and we headed home. I finished up yesterday’s blog, as well as the movie, “To the Bone”. I went up to my room and did some guided meditation– I love “The Honest Guys”, a Youtube channel filled with great guided meditation videos for anxiety, depression, sleep, positivity, and many other themes– but ended up falling asleep. Solution: don’t meditate on the bed. Its comfy softness and warmth is far too tempting. At 12:45pm, my brother Chris woke me up by pounding on the door. He told me that Ms. Gold, my sophomore year high school English teacher, was at the door! I rushed out of bed; I had asked her to pick me up from my house, from which we’d go to Amici’s for lunch and catch up!

It was absolutely wonderful, reuniting with Ms. Gold. She was honestly the sweetest teacher I had at Carlmont. I remember being in her first-period English class and sharing light morning conversations with her before the start of each class. As the year progressed, and I gradually grew more comfortable with her, I disclosed to her my struggles with anxiety, particularly social anxiety, and how much I dreaded public speaking. There was one occasion I remember clearly– I had an anxiety breakdown in her class and ended up explaining my struggles to Ms. Gold, through stifled sobs. I remember Ms. Gold sitting there, listening so compassionately, and really caring about me.

Over lunch, we caught up on the myriad events of these past three years. I had not seen Ms. Gold since sophomore year of high school, so you could imagine how much I had to share with her. I didn’t know where to begin, as I’ve embarked on so many new journeys since 10th grade! I told her about starting competitive Latin-American dancing; my growth in the realm of mental health and battling anxiety; my exciting UCLA adventures; my journey towards finding my calling; the unfortunate experiences I’ve faced with gross, objectifying men; the difficulties of facing (romantic) rejection, and rejecting others; lifelong reading lists; my blog; Chris’s piano endeavors (Chris was also in Ms. Gold’s English class); and much, much more. I loved hearing about her continual growth as a teacher. Apparently, Carlmont recently started this program called the “Biotechnology Institute”. Students join the program during their sophomore year, and take the same English, history and science classes, up till their senior year. The program caters to students who have an interest in science, with the three core classes revolving around science in some way. The English class Ms. Gold teaches is called “English for Science”. I wish this program had been around when I was still a Carlmont student! I feel that, while I was in high school, our English and math departments were exceptionally strong, but the sciences were lacking a bit (especially physics). Perhaps, had I partaken in this program, I would have developed a stronger interest in science, instead of being turned off by factors beyond my control.

Ms. Gold divulged to me her joys of having me as a student. She saw in me an “intelligent”, “adaptable” and “kind” person, and she never could have guessed how I suffered inside, during that time of my life. I marveled at hearing my former teacher’s perception of me as a student in her class. Sure, I was never the most extroverted person in the room, but that I dealt with social anxiety, she didn’t know, until I told her so. Hearing someone I look up to greatlya mentor, and now a friend– speak so highly of me definitely gave me a surge of self-confidence. I still struggle with confidence, but I can definitely feel a change within me… as I grow older, I am coming to my own. I am growing more comfortable in being ME and living the life I envision for myself. I am taking the helm of my ship and steering it in the path of my heart. I feel a lot more in control… but at the same time, I am learning to embrace uncertainty and accept that, in life, no matter how old we may be, we never truly have everything “figured out”. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of faith and courage to trust in what the universe has to offer us. Certainty is comforting, yes, but to live in omniscience and tippy-toeing your way through existence makes for an unexciting, uninspiring life.

Ms. Gold kindly treated me to lunch and gave me a ride home. On the ride back, I gave her a brief summary of my recent Europe trip, and showed her some vacation pictures! I left her car with warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s always great to reunite with important people from your past and marvel at how much your lives have changed since then.

When I got home, I was exhausted. Probably the food coma talking. I sat on my bed and did some more meditating. I’m gonna be honest– as important as frequent meditation is, I feel like I use meditation as an excuse to “relax”, especially when I feel drowsy. Ironically, the practice itself is supposed to be mental exercise, and there is nothing easy or mindless about correct meditation. Remember, brutal honesty with oneself is important. I need to start taking my meditation practice more seriously, and not treat it as an excuse to be “lazy” or take a nap. Lol.

At 5pm, Chris headed to the airport to fly to Italy for his piano performance. I am so, so proud of my brother. Ever since going to college, his piano journey has blossomed! I have full faith that he will deliver at this upcoming performance. My only worry is the traveling part- Chris has traveled plenty of times on his own, but never to foreign countries. He did express some anticipation about his solo trip. I completely sympathized– heck, if I were in his shoes, I’d be ten times more nervous than he! Austin and I called him right before his flight, telling him that all would be well. If he had any questions, he could just ask the people in uniforms.

At 7pm, we had a homemade dinner. I supped on leftover re-fried rice, asparagus and grandma’s soup.

After dinner, I went back to my room and wrote my best friend, Chiana, a hand-written letter. Chiana lives across the country in Connecticut, which kind of sucks for the two of us. The good news is, I will be seeing her in a couple of weeks when I embark on my week-long New York trip! And the best thing is, we are gonna be roommates next year!

After the letter, I began writing this blog post. It is now 10:41pm as I conclude today’s piece. So, no dancing again today. Which is fine. Thursday through Sunday will be super busy, filled with dance lessons, practices, coaching, tutoring and appointments, so I took today to mentally/physically recuperate and prepare for the coming days.

Alrighty friends! I’m gonna wrap this up now, do my night routine, meditate, and go to bed. Normally, around this time, I’d start reading “Wuthering Heights”, but since my library card expired on June 30, I was unable to renew the book, and had to return it to the library. Tomorrow, I will get that whole shenanigan sorted out, so I can reunite with my beloved book.

Good night, friends!



“A Day in the Life of Bel”, Day 5: Bliss

Good morning, friends of the Blogosphere! Welcome to day 5. It is almost 9:30am as I sit on my bed, aloe face mask plastered to my skin, beginning today’s post.

I woke up at 6:00am and finished watching “Heathers” on Netflix, which took me to about 7:45am. Headed downstairs and ate a bowl of cherries and peanut butter toast on whole wheat bread. I really don’t think starting my day off with electronic devices is a good idea… I’ve been meaning to get into a morning meditation habit; go outside in my backyard, sit on my yoga mat and meditate for 10-20 minutes before starting the day. I’ll start that tomorrow, and tell you guys all about it!

After breakfast, I went back upstairs and finished YESTERDAY’S post (day 4). Man, I really need to start uploading these posts on time! It’s just that I’ve been so exhausted lately from… yeah, I know, I’m making excuses. From here on out, I will be more vigilant about finishing my daily entries on time.

From 9:00am-9:30am, I gave myself a little skincare pampering– nose strip, face mask, the works! And now, here I am, typing away… I should probably get this face mask off soon. Let’s see what adventures today will bring!

The remainder of my morning was spent lazily idling time away. I read some NY Times articles, continued with “Wuthering Heights”, dove into Facebook and Instagram, and scheduled the rest of my week. I don’t know if y’all can relate to this, but when I’m not busy, I habitually plan ahead for the future, putting events in Google Calendar, instead of basking in the present moment. Even when I am not busy, I try to busy myself with something… anything. The skill of mindfulness and leisure is one I lack greatly in, and I believe my meditation practice will help me greatly in this area.

At around noonish, I drove to the local health/fitness center, where I was recently hired as a childcare associate for the daycare center– basically, a babysitter. I took this job mainly because it pays well, but I also find the infants and toddlers SUPER adorable. While there, I spoke to an associate about my paperwork and all the bureaucratic red tape crap you need to go through to start working. Thankfully, the consultation took no longer than ten minutes; I didn’t do the actual drug screening/fingerprinting at Bay Club (I have to go to South City, SF, to do all that jazz).

As I had resolved that today would be dedicated solely to relaxing and enjoying life after several days of intense dance training, I took to the gym’s basketball court, where, in my black jeans and flip flops, I shot some baskets in the near-empty court. I don’t remember when the last time I played basketball was– a couple years ago, at least. I remember coming to this very basketball court in my rhythmic gymnastics days to practice my apparatus tosses. The thing with rhythmic is, you need to practice in a facility with a high ceiling, because your routines may have some mastery elements requiring you to throw the apparatus high in the air. I’d be at the basketball court till 10pm at night, just drilling tosses, and I’d come home bruised from rolling around on the hard basketball floor.

Anyway, after shooting some hoops, I went outside to the gym’s outdoor sitting area, where I read an article written by a rising sophomore at Northwestern University. She wrote about her longtime struggle with an eating disorder and how her experience shaped her thoughts on the Netflix movie, “To the Bone”, starring Lily Collins. The movie follows a 20-year-old woman, Ellen (Collins), who suffers from anorexia. After being kicked out of four different treatment programs for bad behavior, Ellen’s dysfunctional family sends her to a psychiatrist with unconventional treatment methodologies. She is admitted into a home, where other people suffering from eating disorders reside. I have yet to finish the movie, but I was hooked from the minute the film opened to two rail-thin women walking side-by-side, down a brightly-lit hospital ward. I am grateful to have never suffered from a full-on eating disorder, but I do know what it is like to resent your body and want to change it through extreme dieting and exercising. This movie pulls back the curtain on one individual’s experience of overcoming a crippling mental illness. I am excited to finish the movie later, when I get the chance to.

Sitting outside of Bay Club, I couldn’t help but revel in the beauty of the day. It was not blistering hot, like the day before. The sun was smiling brightly, a gently breeze caressed my skin, and, in that moment, all was serene and beautiful. I read for a little bit, then called my mother to pick me up.

At home, my mom prepared lunch, while I began watching “To the Bone”. Lunch consisted of: vermicelli noodles with chicken curry, made from scratch by my talented brother, Chris; steaming hot purple yam; and sweet red-yellow cherries. I wolfed down the meal, probably starving from the past few days of limited caloric intake. After lunch, I continued watching “To the Bone” until 3:00pm, when my dad and brother announced that it was time to go to the movie theaters. We had planned on watching the new Spiderman movie as a whole family– me, my parents, two brothers, two cousins and aunt– but Chris and mom bailed at the last minute, as Chris had to practice piano. He is leaving on the 19th for a music festival in Italy. So dad, Austin and I drove to my grandmother’s apartment, where my cousins and aunt were staying. We picked them up and headed to the theaters. My cousins, who are from China, were very excited to watch Spiderman. Apparently, Western superhero movies are very popular in China.

At the concessions stand, I asked my cousins and aunt if they wanted to get movie snacks, and of course they wanted to. We ordered a large tub of popcorn, no butter, and a pack of three white chocolate macadamia cookies. I was under the impression that they’d pay for the snacks themselves, or that we’d split the cost. I guess I assumed wrong, as I ended up paying the whole $11 for the snacks, which was cool. I guess it is proper etiquette for me, the hostess, to treat them, my guests.

We watched the 2 hour and 13 minutes movie. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I was very pleased with what I saw. The film was laced with just the right amount of action and comedic relief, especially from Peter Parker’s chubby, good-natured, nerdy yet dim-witted best friend, Ned. I would have liked for more romantic development between Peter and his love-interest, a girl whose name begins with an “L” (man, I am horrible with names), but that’s just my inner romantic speaking.

After the movie, we headed to a Chinese restaurant in Millbrae, where we met up with my mom, Chris, and my grandmother. The meal was great. We had noodles, fried rice, vegetables, cold beef– the usual Chinese cuisine.

Upon getting home, we said goodbye to our relatives, who will be going back to Sacramento tomorrow. I was quite tired after fun-filled day. I think I’m still recovering from jet lag– it usually takes me over a week to get back to my normal circadian rhythm. My dad called the jury duty people to see if I was needed the following day. To my great dismay, I was. As I had to wake up early for jury duty the next day, I called it a day and headed to bed. Otherwise, I would have stayed up later to finish this blog!



“A Day in the Life of Bel”, Day 4: Dance???

Woke up at 9:00am to the sound of Chris’s piano playiing. He will be going to Italy in a couple days to perform at a music festival, so he’s been practicing all day every day, just as I have been dancing.

I ate breakfast– congee, mom’s smoothie and edamame beans.

Walking about the house, I felt like a zombie going through the motions. Everywhere ached– my feet, my knees, my back. I think all the dancing is taking a toll on my body. Perhaps I should take it back a notch? But the competition is coming very soon, so I can’t rest until it’s over. Then again, I don’t want the journey to be all pressure and stress and misery… dance is supposed to be fun! My goal for the rest of my journey to Embassy Ball, then, is to go into each practice with a positive, accepting attitude, and not stress too much about the results of the competition.

[Warning: rant coming up]

This is going to sound awful, but I want to be honest in sharing my thought processes with you all. There have been times these past couple days when I thought about the prospect of quitting dance. I could think of a million reasons why I should quit.

Reason #1: My parents are strapped on money, especially supporting three kids in college, and everything in ballroom dance is ridiculously expensive. Like, INSANE EXPENSIVE. I feel immense gratitude, but also immense guilt, every time my mom hands me $170 for my dance lessons.

Reason #2: I want to preserve my body, not really fancying the idea of arthritis at age 30. I look at my dance teacher, who is 32 years old and wakes up unable to walk, without any physical sensation in his feet whatsoever. Do I want to be crippled at such a young age? Plus, I need my body for if/when I decide to bear children. I’d hate to be unable to run around the park with my future kids, or lift them up in the air, because my body is ruined from years of continuous training.

Reason #3: I’m in college now, and that is my focus. I didn’t go to college to just keep dancing. I am at UCLA to explore new arenas of intellectual and artistic and social development, and the amount of commitment that competitive dancing entails leaves me little time to do so.

Reason #4: Life of a dancer is so short. There is a very limited future after you pass your prime. How heartbreaking it is to be in a profession where, every day past the age of 30, you are looking backwards, instead of forwards, to the days of your peak performance! Wouldn’t it be so much greater to immerse yourself in something where the potential for growth is limitless, and lasts a lifetime? Like writing, acting, music or medicine, to name a few.

I guess, my whole life, I’ve been involved in things like competitive gymnastics and dance, both of which require significant time and financial commitment. In each sport, you get to this “point of no return”, where you’ve already invested your life, not to mention a crazy sum of money, into the sport, so to simply pack your bags and quit is not as easy a decision as may seem. It’s the fallacy of sunk costs, but still a real consideration. With gymnastics, I never saw quitting as an option, no matter how badly my body was breaking down and how much stress I faced from the sport. I had done it my whole life, and for that reason alone, I just HAD to continue, because I didn’t know of much else beyond that sport. With dancing, though, I just started, 2.5 years ago. Yes, my parents have poured big money into my dancing, but at the end of the day, it’s just money. I have more going for me than simply dance. The world is mine to explore… So what drives me to continue, if all I face from dancing is pressure and stress?

Perhaps all this is coming from the effects of burnout from these past couple days of training like a crazy person. I’ve always lived in the extreme ends of the spectrum, and never quite in reality, as my psychiatrist rightly pointed out. All-or-nothing. I went from virtually no dancing at the beginning of the summer to training like an Olympic athlete. It’s been two days since I decided to do the competition, and I’m already thinking about quitting.

Even if I quit, though, or just slow down with dancing, I shouldn’t feel shame in doing so, right? It’s not like my family has unlimited resources. My parents would save so much money if I took a break from competitive dancing, and me, time and energy. Things to consider, big decisions to be made… A lot of professional dancers I know have told me that they quit countless times, only to return to dance at the end of the day. My question is, if I quit, would I even want to come back to the dancesport world? I’ve had times where I didn’t dance much. What did I feel in those periods of rest? Did I find dance calling for me to return? Or did I busy myself in the pursuit of other activities of interest? If inertia is the only thing driving me to continue dance, I don’t think that is good enough a reason. I shouldn’t wave off my doubts as simple “excuses”. I really need to think long and hard about competitive dancing at this point in my life, because the costs are high.

I toyed with the idea of forsaking the competition and just taking lessons once a week to keep up the skill of dancing, and spending the rest of my summer working, writing, reading voraciously, catching up with friends, exploring other interests (acting, music, etc.) and going to therapy. When I thought about doing that, instead of living and breathing dance, I felt… relief. Now, Belicia, just for a second, let go of the idea that the relief stems merely from the fact that the latter summer plan is “easier” than the former path of dance immersion. Sure, the second path may not be arduous and pressure-ridden like the dance path is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a path worth taking, right? I always believed that the more difficult path would bear more fruit in the future, but maybe that mindset is outdated. Maybe it’s okay for me to do things I really want to do, instead of going directly against my gut feeling, because my gut is telling me to go the “easier” path. In fact, maybe the “easier” path seems easier because it’s a path I genuinely wish to pursue! Right now, juggling dance training with my two other jobs is absolutely draining. Do I love dance enough to put myself (and my family) through this? I like pushing myself hard, but a goal of mine this summer was to take care of my mental health, and burying myself in non-stop work will eventually drive me up the wall. The effects of burnout are already taking hold. I need to check in with myself from time to time, make sure I am not going crazy.

[Rant, concluded.]

At 10:30am, my brother drove me to the studio for dance practice. I had my first lesson with my coach’s student, Bumchin, whom I originally planned on competing with at Embassy Ball. Now, I don’t know if the competition is still in my books… but we shall see.

I expressed my sentiments about dancing to Bumchin and another dance friend, Rhonda, both of whom sympathized with my thoughts of quitting and giving up. All dancers go through periods of low motivation and negativity. I think it is a mindset thing. When your goals are externally-based, like “becoming the best” or “win this and that competition”, you easily lose sight of the joys of dancing for dancing’s sake. My goal right now, then, is not to win the competition in September. It is to get back in touch with my love for dance, if it ever was there in the first place. There’s got to be something about Latin American dancing that inspires me, or else why did I even begin in the first place, and hold out for this long? It wasn’t my parents who forced me into it. Everything I’ve done with dancing has been out of personal interest and motivation… So I must remember why I began.

From the studio, I got a ride from Bumchin to San José for my coaching job, from 3:30pm-6:30pm. I was especially stringent with the girls today, as I a combination of fatigue and PMS put me in one of my moods.

At 6:30pm, I got a ride from one of the gymnasts’ mother to the Caltrain station. On the car ride there, I talked with the mother about the profession of dentistry, as she and her husband are both private practice dentists. I had expressed interest in exploring the career, as I honestly don’t know what I want to do in life yet. I figured, why not shadow a dentist one of these days, just to see if dentistry is a potential candidate in the myriad of career paths open to me?

The train I took was actually on an express schedule, so I arrived in San Carlos quicker than usual. My mom picked me up at the station, and from there, dropped me off at a dance studio nearby our house, where I practiced from 7:30pm-10:00pm. I learned my new rumba routine, rehearsed it several times, then worked on paso. In the middle of practice, as I stopped to drink some water, a man named Brian came up to me and complimented my dancing. I really needed to hear that, at that point, because I was feeling super frustrated at not being about to get the steps down. He told me, “You have a fan,” to which I replied, “Hah! You’re the first one!” At the end of practice, I made sure to spend five minutes just letting go and dancing rumba to the beautiful soundtrack of “Moulin Rouge!”, not worrying about technique and perfection and others’ perceptions of my dancing. I danced for me, and it felt… magical. So the next time I think about quitting, I must remember that feeling of liberation through the physical expression of music.

Austin picked me up from the studio, and we arrived home shortly after 10pm. My aunt (mom’s younger sister) and her twin daughters (age 16 or 17, I think) greeted us at the house when we got home. I hadn’t seen them in nearly a year, so it was a joyous reunion.

After showering, I immediately took to bed, which is why I couldn’t finish this blog until today (Tuesday, July 18). Actually, I watched about 10 minutes of the classic movie, “Heathers”, on Netflix, before hitting the hay.

So that concludes “A Day in the Life of Bel”, Day 4! Thanks for reading!



“A Day in the Life of Bel”, Days 2 and 3: DANCE DANCE DANCE!!!

Day 1

Hi everyone! Today is Saturday, July 15, 2017. It is currently 11:34pm as I sit in my bed, typing away.

I am absolutely EXHAUSTED from a full day of dancing, so today’s post will be brief and blander than usual, and for that, I apologize in advance.

I woke up at 6:00am and went straight from bed to the living room, where I strapped on my AIDA dance shoes and practiced the new cha-cha and samba choreography I learned yesterday.

Breakfast was two slices of peanut butter toast, some fruit, and a glass of water. At 8:15am, my dad drove me to the Caltrain station, where I caught the 8:59am train to San José for my LONG day at the studio.

I arrived at the Top Dance Ballroom at 10:00am. My dance teacher walked in at about the same time I entered, and the two of us ended up leaving the studio together as well, at 7:30pm.

I practiced my new choreography until my two lessons at 4:30pm, with several breaks in between, of course. Practice was pretty alright today. As my primary goal was to learn the steps to my new routines, I was mostly marking the steps, instead of going full-out, the way I would during practice rounds.

I learned a new paso doblé routine during my 4:30pm-6:00pm lesson. By the end of my lesson, I could barely feel my feet, and my brain was a blob of pink mush. This was probably the longest day I’ve spent training at the studio… but I’m preparing for a big competition in early September, and I would like to train as best I can, in these short six weeks I have between now and the comp.

I felt a lot more like myself today, when training hard. I love immersing myself in the pursuit of a goal. I feel accomplished at the end of the day!

At 7:30pm, Irene, a friend from the dance studio, took me out to dinner at “Athena’s Grill”, a wonderful Greek restaurant. I was famished after a day of dancing, especially since all I had to eat after breakfast were blueberries, grapes, a banana, a Cliff bar and a single stick of “Extra” chewing gum. Irene and I feasted on lamb ribs and this one Greek dish that starts with an “M” (I can’t remember the name!). The food was great, and, best of all, the entire meal only cost about $40. Very much worth it.

For dessert, we went to the “Paris Baguette” café and split a mocha cake. The two of us chatted up a storm on the ride back to my house.

At around 11:00pm, Irene dropped me off at my place. I craved for nothing more than a hot shower and the comfort of my warm bed.

And now, here I am, so ready to go to sleep. My eyes are literally half shut as I type. I know how on-the-surface this blog post was, and I’ll make it up with a better quality piece for tomorrow.

Hope you all have a wonderful night!

Day 2

Hello again, friends! It’s currently 8:17pm on Sunday, July 16, 2017, as I sit on my bed, typing away. Today was another very long day of dancing, and I am so looking forward to going to sleep soon.

I woke up at 6am and hobbled down the hardwood stairs. My feet were still sore  and swollen from the previous day’s training. My mom was already awake and bustling about the kitchen when I joined her. I cannot remember what I had for breakfast… oh wait, now I do! I had a bowl of congee and some apples.

After eating breakfast, I went back to my room to read some more “Wuthering Heights”. Here’s the thing about reading horizontally in bed while drowsy– you are almost guaranteed to fall asleep. And fall asleep I did. It wasn’t until 10:00am that I woke up! It’s becoming a really bad habit of mine to wake up super early and get ready for my day, only to change my mind and decide to go back to bed. Might partly be the jet lag speaking as well.

Having woken up for the second time, I packed my dance bag and bag filled with energizing snacks (almonds, grapes, bananas) and drove to the studio, with my mom in the passengers’ seat this time. I trained from 11:00am to 4:30pm, with some breaks in between. I rehearsed my samba and cha-cha routines and finished learning my paso doblé. Three routines done in three dance lessons. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

At 4:30pm, I walked from the dance studio to a nearby Molly Stones to get a snack. The heat was blistering! Definitely a huge contrast to Europe, where it was mostly windy and cloudy (at least during the couple weeks we were there). At Molly Stones, I bought a bowl of chicken noodle soup with cornbread on the side for fortification. These two ladies handing out sample food at stations set up throughout the grocery store had be try cucumbers with some really delicious creamy sauce, and salami withe cheese (except I didn’t eat the cheese, ’cause I am not a fan). My mom picked me up at 5:00pm, and we went straight home from there.

The first thing I did when I got home was take a warm shower. Still not ready for cold showers yet, as I’m recovering from a cold, and don’t want to get sick again. I planed my schedule out for the coming week and read “Wuthering Heights” while seated right in front of the fan, until dinnertime arrived. My parents were insistent on me eating dinner, but I was honestly quite full from the food I had eaten earlier. To appease their worry about my diet, I drank my grandma’s corn/eggdrop soup and ate some chicken curry that Chris had made from scratch.

After dinner, I fixed myself a hot foot bath infused with epson salts and soothed my feet in the water while sitting on the sofa, reading the same book I’ve been fixated with for the past week or so. I spilled some of the salt water on the hardwood floor, which warranted a scolding from mom, who is always uptight about taking care of furniture and the like.

And now, here I am, finishing up this blog post! It is so, so hot in my upstairs bedroom right now. A shean of sweat has broken across my forehead. I really crave a whole, uncarved watermelon right now, just to put it on my belly as a cooling-down strategy.

Tomorrow will be another day of dancing, as well as coaching gymnastics. Please forgive me, dear readers, for not being able to write in as much detail and depth as of late! I’ve just been physically exhausted each day from training, and all I want to do when I come home from the studio is just sleep.

I will actually be sleeping soon, after I conclude this post. Ahh, sweet dreams, here I come!





Welcome to “A Day in the Life of Bel”, Day 1!!!

[The following post highlights the events of Friday, 7/14/17, even though the post is written as if the events happened today. Sorry I wasn’t able to upload the post earlier!]

Hi everyone! TGIF! Hope you guys have had a wonderful week.

I was sitting at the breakfast table this morning, wolfing down a plate of cherries, grapes and blueberries, when I was struck with inspiration to create this mini blog series, entitled, “A Day in the Life of Bel”. To my regular readers, you may remember Blogmas, a similar series created last December. Basically, for the span of one or two weeks, I let you guys in on the happenings of my everyday life– the good, the bad, the mundane, and the downright ludicrous. At the conclusion of each day, I’d sit at my desk and weave an honest narrative of the day’s events, hopefully having the blog post up by midnight.

I really enjoyed doing Blogmas, for many reasons. Firstly, it kept me busy and encouraged me to write on a daily basis. Needless to say, I love writing. I try to write in my private diary every day as is, but, as I am human, I face times of low motivation and laziness. I find it too easy to lazily skip over my daily dose of writing, when I “don’t feel like it”, or when I’m exhausted after a long day. The blogging series gave me greater motivation to write, as I was no longer writing just for myself, but also for my readers. I don’t wish to disappoint you guys by being flaky. Flakiness is a poor philosophy to live by, and a personal goal is to better adhere to the commitments I make to myself and to others. With another reason to write beyond myself, I was forced to commit.

I also found that, in keeping a record of my day-to-day, I was able to live life with sharper clarity and greater awareness of my actions, which is critical to introspection. I became immune to falling into what I call the “limbo-state”– listlessly idling your time away behind your smartphone or computer or television; mindlessly eating breakfast, vision blurred, gaze trained on nothing in particular; living a purposeless life devoid of a “why”. Limbo is a mental state I fear more than anxiety or restlessness, anger or jealousy. At least, when I’m feeling anxious, restless, angry or jealous, I am experiencing human emotion. To exist in the limbo state is to not really feel anything at all, which is terrifying. It’s when minutes turn into hours, hours to days, days to years… and one day, at age 30, you wake up and wonder, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” So documenting my life and its minutiae keeps me aware of and grateful for the present moment. It keeps me grounded. It gives each moment I live, no matter how seemingly insignificant, personal meaning. It makes life seem like an adventure; a story I can’t wait to share with you all.

So, without further ado, welcome to “A Day in the Life of Bel”, day uno!!

I woke up at 4am after falling asleep at 9pm. Still experiencing some jet lag from my Europe trip. Facing little motivation to leave the comfort of my warm, soft sheets, I stayed in bed for a good hour, reading “Wuthering Heights” by Emile Brontë. I marvel at Emily’s way of words… through unrivaled wit and vivid imagery, she wholly transports her readers into the world of her brilliant imagination. If I could write half as well as she, I will die happy. Anyway, after reading for about an hour, I went downstairs and made myself breakfast– black cherries, almonds, a slice of peanut butter toast and a glass of water. I love being the only one awake in my house; it leaves me time to contemplate and experience my space without disruption (Chris’s loud piano playing, Mom’s querulous ramblings, etc.). After breakfast, I went back upstairs to my room. Feeling the effects of the food coma setting in, I crawled back into my bed and fell asleep until 9:00am. Upon waking up (again), I did my morning routine, checked my email, wrote a bit in my diary and read some more “Withering Heights”.

At around 10:00am, my mom insisted I eat breakfast part 2, even though I had already eaten a couple hours before. So I drank her fruit smoothie and cleared another plate of cherries, grapes and blueberries. And as you guys already know, that is when I had the idea to start this series! I wrote until 11:00am, when my dad drove me to my 11:30am appointment with my psychiatrist, Olga. Correction– I drove the Volkswagen to Kaiser, while my dad sat in the passenger seat. He was already impatient with me for being late (my dad’s all about punctuality), and the drive there was filled with tension, with him snapping at me for every little driving error I made. I quickly grew cross with him for being cross with me, and retreated to giving him the cold-shoulder treatment. We arrived on time for the appointment, and my dad waited in the waiting area while I vented to Olga about my present baggage.

I am very prone to extreme mood swings, either living in high highs or low lows, never in the middle-ground reality. The problem is, it’s difficult for me to predict when the lows will hit. I think, for me, the depression resurfaces whenever my life lacks structure, or when I don’t have a goal to strive towards (or, rather, having too many goals and not knowing where to start). It is in this “limbo state” where I feel my lowest, which is why I always feel the need to keep busy. These past few days since coming home from Europe, I’ve been in a little bit of a rut. I’ve been recovering from an illness, so I haven’t been able to get out of the house much, which may be contributing to my low moods. Thankfully, I feel a lot better today, and from here-on-out, my summer will be quite busy. Yesterday, I was hired as a child-care associate at the Bay Club. I’m really developing an affinity for small children, crazy and wild they may be. On top of this new job, I will continue coaching gymnastics and tutoring students. The money I make is going towards my solo New York trip, in the first week of August. I am also preparing for a big dance competition, Embassy Ball, in September. I have a LOT of work to do in a very short time. Speaking of dance…

After my Olga appointment, my dad dropped me off at the Caltrain station. I took the train to San José, then Ubered to the dance studio for two dance lessons. The Uber driver’s name was Sidney; he was a older man with graying hair and really the sweetest heart. We talked about the excitement I’m experiencing in being young with a whole life ahead; my roller coaster of a journey towards self-discovery and enlightenment; me being a triplet; his niece who went to Harvard for undergrad, and is currently earning her master’s degree at UCLA;  and his futile attempts to learn how to dance. Shortly before 2pm, I arrived at the studio and bade the nice man a fond farewell.

My dance lessons were pretty brutal. First days back from vacations are always tough. What irked me greatly was how my dance teacher made it a point to tell me I had gained weight after the cruise, particularly in the abdominal region. I laughed it off like I didn’t care what he said, but really, I was hoping he wouldn’t notice the bulge, and that if he did, he would spare me the humiliation of drawing attention to it. In the hour and a half, we finished my cha-cha and samba routines. I am preparing for a competition in the end of August, Embassy Ball. My first competition was actually Embassy in 2015. Now, two years later, I’ll be back on the floor where it all began, this time dancing in the mixed amateur category with one of my dance teacher’s students.

At 3:30pm, I left the dance studio and Ubered to the gym, where I coached gymnastics until 6:30. I hadn’t seen the girls in a coupe weeks, and they showered me with big hugs when I entered the gym. My heart is full of love for these girls… Even though coaching six and seven year-olds can be exasperating, it is so worth it at the end of the day. Loving them and having them love me in return is so magical… and seeing students work hard and improve makes a coach’s job all the more rewarded. By the end of practice, all the coaches were dead tired. It’s funny– back when I was still a gymnast, I’d push through four-hour private lessons and not complain. Now, the simply act of coaching— pushing girls down in oversplits and demonstrating simple elements– is highly taxing on the body. I guess that comes to show just how short the life of a competitive gymnast is… so I tell the girls to cherish gymnastics when they still can do it.

I got a ride from one of the other coaches from the gym to the train station, where I rode back home. On the train ride home, I had the pleasure of meeting two disabled men, who were such sweethearts! Basically, I was sitting in the seats reserved for the disabled and elderly. The train was completely empty when I got on, so I figured no one would mind if I sat in those seats. At one of the stops, two disabled men– one mobile and one in a wheelchair– came on board. I quickly packed up my things and was ready to yield my seats to them, when one of the men saw my open laptop and remarked, “It’s too nice of a day to be working!” I smiled at him and told him that I wasn’t working– I was writing on my blog. He kindly urged me to stay in the seat, and the three of us talked about yummy restaurants in the Bay Area. The two of them were taking the train to a burger place in Menlo Park, and listening to them talk about the food they’d order was enough to make my mouth water. I lusted for a burger after a physically draining day, but remembered that I was training for a competition, and had to watch my diet.

Upon arriving at the train station, my brother Austin picked me up. He offered to let me drive, but I was so tired that I didn’t trust myself behind the wheel. We shortly arrived back home, where I greeted my mom with a hug. Actually, it was more like me falling into her arms, and her barely being able to support the dead weight of my limp muscles. Lol. I had a quick dinner and planned to practice some more dance at home before finishing today’s blog, taking a shower, then going to sleep.

The day ended more like this: It was 8:30pm when I finished dinner, and I took a break by reading some “Wuthering Heights” on the living room couch. I was tempted to take a brief power nap, and succumbed to my body’s wishes. I told my mom to wake me up in 20 minutes’ time so I could practice dance. She told me to just go to bed and wake up early to dance. Laying on the couch underneath a beach towel, barely able to move, I figured that was the best idea. So I went upstairs, took a shower, brushed my teeth, then headed straight for bed. That’s why I couldn’t upload today’s blog post last night!

So I hope you all enjoyed my account of yesterday’s events! Stay tuned for “A Day in the Life of Bel”, day 2, which will hopefully be up before midnight today (if I’m not dead after another long dance day)!

Europe 2017: Trip in Review (Pt. 1)

Hello dearest friends! It is 7:30pm as I sit in the lobby of Crowne Plaza, Copenhagen, typing away. Today, my family and I got off our nine-day Northern European cruise aboard the “Norwegian Getaway”. We will be staying in Copenhagen for a couple more days, then fly back to the states on July 12.

LOTS have happened during this past week’s vacation! I am so grateful that I had the chance to spend time with my family amidst the beautiful, historical backdrop of Northern Europe. This past week alone, we visited several famous cities, including: Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin, Germany; Tallin, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Stockholm, Sweden. In part 2 of this two-part reflection, I will discuss in greater detail my thoughts on each of the cities and their individual wonders. Today’s post will be more of a general overview of the trip, focusing on highlights aboard the cruise ship!

Start of Vacation

My parents, two brothers and I flew out to Copenhagen on June 27. I was recovering from a minor flu when our journey began, so I made sure to stay hydrated, eat Vitamin C and dress in layers. We spent two days in Copenhagen before boarding the ship on June 30. Between arriving in Denmark and embarking on our seafaring voyage, the action-filled couple of days sapped most of my remaining energy, and the illness kicked back full-force during Day 1 of the cruise. Here’s an entry I wrote in my private diary the morning we boarded the cruise:

“10:37am. Location: Crowne Plaza hotel room 1611. Looking out a window. Listening to ‘Come What May’, from “Moulin Rouge!” OST. Eating: a Danish blueberry muffin. 

Between my jaw pain (which is slowly getting better), canker sore, jet lag, negative body image, period, and what I suspect to be an impending cold/flu, this trip is making out to be below par. No one is to blame, just the unfortunate chance happenings. I woke up at 3:00am this morning after falling asleep at around 7:00pm, I believe. Don’t remember much of last night, just that I was dead tired upon coming back to the hotel and headed straight to bed. I actually didn’t eat dinner– I fell asleep on the restaurant table as the rest of my family munched on meat (ribs, steak, chicken, the works).”

So, the start of my vacation was rough. Wish I could say things got better as the cruise went on, but my illness persisted, hindering me from sliding down the cruise’s gnarly waterslides and lounging on the open deck (it is very windy and cold in Northern Europe). I also made the mistake of not packing enough warm clothes, and thus spent a lot of my time shivering in the nippy weather. As mentioned in my diary entry, I had a strange jaw pain that started a couple days before the vacation. My dad says the pain could be attributed to me unconsciously grinding my teeth in my sleep. Anyway, because of the pain, I couldn’t open my mouth wider than a few inches without my jaw hurting. You could imagine how this could be a problem on a cruise vacation, where eating is the number one pastime of most passengers.

Ballroom Dancing Aboard the Cruise!!! 

All personal ailments aside, I was very pleased with the cruise overall. To my great surprise, the entertainment featured “Burn the Floor”, a Broadway-based Latin and Ballroom theatrical dance company! Coming onto the ship, I had no idea that “Burn the Floor” would be performing. I had heard of the group, and had actually reached out to one of the producers inquiring about auditioning for the show, but never have I seen the group in action. On the first night of the cruise, I sat front and center in the Getaway Theater, and was completely beyond myself when I saw the dancers strut onto the stage. I loved the theatrical element of “BTF”– it was ballroom dancing woven into a story. The crazy lights, fog and stage design made the production all the more enthralling. The entertainment was tailor-made for a dancer like me!

Throughout the cruise, the cast of “BTF” hosted samba, salsa and jive lessons for the passengers and, despite feeling sick most of the time, I’d always be there, dancing alongside the professionals. After the samba class hosted by Jenna and Santo, the “BTF” team captains, I spoke to Jenna about auditioning for the show. You know, to keep my options open. She told me that, later in the cruise, they could record a video of me dancing and send it to the producers as an audition tape. I gave her my cabin number and expected her to reach out to me, but unfortunately, this never happened. No matter, though. My immediate focus right now is college. Once I graduate, I will have more time to explore avenues in dance, should I choose to.

So dancing– specifically Latin ballroom dancing– was a HUGE theme of this cruise. Besides “Burn the Floor”, the cruise featured a band called the “Latin Express” that played every night in “Tropicana” dining lounge on deck 7. People would get on the dance floor while waiting for their food, and dance some cha-cha or rumba in the center of the room, where a hardwood dance floor was situated. On the first formal night of the cruise, I got out on that dance floor and did some solo cha-cha. Next thing I knew, phones and cameras were glaring me in the eye as I improvised, and I adored the spotlight. This is yet another reason I love dance. Often self-conscious in public, dancing is one of the few mediums through which I find freedom in expressing myself without inhibition.

It’s funny– I came on vacation to take a break from dancing for a week, only to have dance find its way back to me. I loved performing for other cruise passengers during dance lessons and parties. When other dance-enthused passengers saw I was a dancer myself, many would approach me in random places– the Garden Café buffet on deck 15, the restrooms, or even outside immigration in St. Petersburg, Russia– and express to me how much they enjoyed watching me dance. Even though dance is not my professional career, I still derive fulfillment in imparting joy to others through my love for dance and performing.

One night, after dinner, I headed to the cruise gym, which had a small studio with hardwood floor and mirrors. I was practicing dance, when some of the dancers from “BTF” joined me in the studio to work out. Here’s a diary entry I made that very night, upon returning from dance practice:

“At the gym, guess who I ran into? THE DANCERS! Yeah, that’s right. There was Giulia from Italy, her partner Ruben from Spain, Valentina from Italy and her partner Dario from Italy. I was there to practice dance, and practice I did. Right in front of them. I felt a bit self conscious at first, as I was practicing in front of these amazing dancers whose videos I couldn’t stop watching, but eventually, I got over myself and focused on my practice. Besides, most of them were focused on their workouts as well. I did my rumba walks and cha cha routine. Dario, who was apparently a Blackpool Under 21 finalist, asked me where I was from. I told him, the US. Giulia and I discussed her incredible foot arch— she told me it was partly natural, but she also trained it. And she said my foot arch was good as well. As for shoes, she told me that she faced a similar problem of heel balance. What helped her was getting a shoe with a square tip, instead of rounded. My AIDA’s are rounded. I told her they were $200, and she said that was way too much for a pair of shoes. She told me that the shape of my legs was very nice, and that I seem to know how to use them. I attributed this bodily awareness to my gymnastics background, and she agreed that gymnastics definitely helps a lot with dancing. I spoke to Ruben as well. He’s the guy with a bunch of tattoos.

It just strikes me how dancing has the ability to unite people from all across the globe. We all share a common language and passion— dance. I definitely wasn’t expecting Latin dance to follow me onto this vacation, but I’m glad it did. For the first time in a while, I enjoyed practice. Don’t get me wrong— I am super out of shape. But the spirit is there once more, and that’s what matters most.”

Dancing in front of the cast of “BTF” and bonding with them over our common passion for dance was definitely a highlight of my cruise vacation. I’m sure that, by the end of the cruise, most of the dancers recognized my face, be it from my crazed clapping and cheering during each of their performances, dancing front and center with them during the dance lessons they hosted, or running up to them and giving them each a big hug every time I saw them. Later, I friended most of the dancers on Facebook, and found that we shared many mutual friends from the dance community. I’m telling you, the Latin/Ballroom dance world is so tiny and insular that you are bound to share common connections with dancers from all around the world.

Food Galore! 

The food aboard the “Norwegian Getaway” was not the best I’ve tasted compared to that of other cruises, but still quite good. Unlike our previous European cruise aboard the “Carnival Breeze” in 2012, where I effectively starved myself to avoid gaining weight (at 14-years-old, I was still in my obsessive gymnastics state of mind), this time around, I decided to get my money’s worth and enjoy all the delicious delights the cruise had to offer. While the buffet’s variety was, in my opinion, a bit weak, I still enjoyed pigging out every day. If I wasn’t dancing, working out, or in my room, sleeping, you could find me on deck 15, stuffing my face with all sorts of international cuisines. I am confident that I gained at least seven pounds this past week, but I will hit the ground running once I get home and, hopefully, burn off the weight in no time.

I spent lots of time with my family this past week. After my brothers and I left for college last summer, it’s been difficult for the five of us to be together in the same place at the same time. Being in such close quarters with my family allowed us to bond and catch up, but also brought on its fair share of tension. Perhaps due to my sickness, my period, and my jaw pain, I was not in the best of moods during some parts of the trip. One especially heated moment happened on July 3, the day of my second-pass enrollment time for fall quarter classes. That day, we were at sea, without internet access. Because of the circumstances, I grew very impatient and anxious, as I was eager to get the classes I wanted. I lashed out at my parents, saying some really dumb things and even blaming them for bringing me on the cruise, where I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no connection to the outside world. In retrospect, I acted quite childish, and I regret hurting my parents simply because I wasn’t feeling great. I do in fact cherish the time my family and I spent together, especially since these moments will grow less and less frequent as my brothers and I grow older. Besides the shore excursions, we had some good fun together aboard the cruise ship. We ate most of our meals together; dressed up in matching family attire for the two formal nights; tried our hands at the ship’s ropes course; sipped on (virgin) pinã coladas whilst enjoying each night’s fantastic entertainment; attended dance parties and dance lessons (Austin and Chris even got on the floor during the jive dance class, taught by professionals Stefano and Anna); and watched Chris bring the house down with his impromptu performance of “Mephisto Waltz” one night in “Headliner’s Lounge”.

New Friends

Through shore excursions, we had the pleasure of meeting a few other wonderful families aboard the ship. There was the vivacious, charismatic and downright hilarious gay couple, Bob and John, who was joined by Diane (Bob’s sister-in-law from his ex-wife), and John’s aunt (I forgot her name). We first met them in our Berlin shore excursion tour group, and had the off-chance of running into them several more times throughout the cruise, including yesterday in Stockholm, this morning during disembarkation, and earlier this afternoon in the middle of Copenhagen! In Berlin, our tour group made a bathroom stop at a local gas station, where we had to pay to use the (very stinky) public restrooms. The gas station attendant was the roughest, rudest guy I’ve ever met, and Diane had the unfortunate experience of facing his wrath, when she accidentally paid him the wrong coin. Later on the bus, she recounted her experience of being body-blocked by this man from entering the restroom as she grappled to find the correct coin. According to Diane, she told the mean German man, in English, that he had a “small penis”. The story made my mother crack up, which by proxy, made me laugh like crazy. It was a fun moment we all shared.

We also met an Australian family– Rob, a retired pilot; his wife, the beautiful Lisa, a former flight attendant; and their two daughters Olivia (age 23) and Elouise (age 19, like us). They were the only other family joining us in our two-day St. Petersburg tour. Over the course of those two days, our families bonded and shared many a laugh. I got the impression that Rob saw in my two brothers the sons he’d never had. It was especially heartwarming to see my brother, Chris, cozy up to Rob. You see, Chris has a tendency to latch onto certain adults and mentors he takes a liking to, and he definitely liked being around Rob. We ran into the family a couple more times on the cruise ship, and exchanged contact information with them. Am definitely looking forward to reaching out to them next time we find ourselves in Australia.

Then there was Raina and her family. By complete coincidence, Raina– also a UCLA freshman– boarded the same cruise ship as me and my family. By an even greater coincidence, she and her family happened to be on the same bus as us for the Stockholm excursion! As always, I was decked in my UCLA attire, ’cause I just love my school that much. Raina’s mother noticed my UCLA lanyard and tank-top and asked if I went to UCLA. I replied in the affirmative, telling her I had just completed my freshman year. And that is how Raina and I were introduced! Can you believe what a small world it is?! Raina, Austin and I were not the only Bruins aboard the “Getaway”. We met a couple UCLA alumni, who also donned the colors of their alma mater. I was thinking of gathering all of us Bruins and doing the beloved “eight-clap”– our school’s chant– on the top deck of the ship. This never happened, unfortunately, but it was great meeting fellow Bruins from different parts of the world!

Mental Health Crises 

Not all parts of the cruise was sunshines and rainbows, however. Let me share with you guys an excerpt of a diary entry I wrote on July 3 at 11:35pm:

“Just got back from the gym, and heard the most disheartening, sickening news from Austin. There’s no use in sugar-coating this, so here goes.

Basically, I was stretching inside the studio, just doing my own thing. You know, the usual– oversplits, back stretch, etc. Out the window where three men, all crew members, working out (lifting weights, bench pressing, etc.). Austin was working out right next to them, when he caught wind of their conversation. They were talking about me behind my back. Apparently, one of the men said to the other: “Your future wife.” The other man replied, “She couldn’t handle it.” [by it, I presume they were discussing the size of the man’s penis]. Commenting on one of my back stretches, one man said, “That looks like doggy-style.”

That was the gist of their conversation… or at least, what Austin told me…

The sad thing is, when Austin told me all this after I came back into the cabin, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Hearing what had transpired, I simply nodded my head in sad resignation and disappointment… Men like those crew members who demeaned me today are just a few of many who think it’s okay to treat women as sexual objects and inferior beings…

I don’t know. Part of me is saying, “Belicia, you asked for it.” Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was stretching right in front of these men in my tight black leggings and spaghetti strap tank. The voyeurs were apparently peeping through the glass window of the studio, deriving sexual pleasure from my body… I claim ignorance as part of the reason this unfortunate event happened. In my head, I feel that I, and every woman in the world, deserves the right to do exactly as she pleases, without worrying about judgement and unwanted attention from others. I was stretching, for Christsake! I am a dancer, and I need to stretch. As a passenger on this cruise, I had every right to be stretching in that studio, without feeling unease. And I was totally fine, until I heard about what those men had said. It’s exactly like my experience at Bay Club, when the three married men called me a “slut” when I happened to be doing the middle splits in front of them.

Perhaps a part of me still thinks I am a pre-pubescent 11-year-old girl who can do as she pleases in public without men undressing her with their eyes— aside from pedophiles, of course. The fact is, though, I am a woman now. 19 years old. My body is that of a woman’s. I have curves that draw in men’s attention. People have called me “sexy”. Thing is, I don’t really see myself as “sexy” or “hot”, so in my head, I feel that I can do what I please without garnering the attention of men. I realize now that I thought wrong. I was naive. I absolutely hate that, in our society, women who fit the standard of “sexy” can’t go anywhere without attracting unwanted attention, even if they have no intention of doing so.”

The experience with the three crew members was unfortunate, and I was half-thinking about reporting these crew members to guest services. But what proof did I have to hold against them, especially as they were speaking about me off-the-radar, without knowledge that my very brother was standing right next to them, catching every word of their disgusting “locker-room talk”? In the end, I just swallowed the experience as an unfortunate reality of our still-backwards society. When I go back to UCLA, I will take some classes in feminism and gender studies to be better equipped when something like this inevitably happens again.

The rest of the cruise, though, I was wary of attracting unsolicited attention from wandering eyes. The second formal night was quite an ordeal, actually. Dressed in my golden prom dress and wearing thick black lashes, bright red lipstick and a matching red flower in my hair, I walked out of my cabin that night looking the part of a queen. Inside, however, I was dreading the attention I knew would be coming my way. As my family and I waited in line to take formal pictures, my hands were cold with fright, and my heart seemed to be beating in my throat. Part of it was my irrational fear of taking pictures in public. I know– you would think that, as a dancer, I’d be so used to being in the public eye, that something like taking pictures would be a piece of cake. In reality, aside from my escape through dance, I still get very nervous in front of a camera. When I get nervous, my facial muscles clench up, and try as I might, I can never seem to muster a smile, unless someone or something deliberately makes me laugh. So the picture-taking in itself was a source of great anxiety. That night, I was far too much in my head, worrying about others’ perceptions of me, when really I should have felt confident in my ravishing gown and six-inch sparkly stiletto heels. Some of the attention I received was gracious– older women and female waitresses kindly commenting on the elegance of my look. Other forms of attention, like men glancing up and down the length of my body, was less well-received. Then there was this Chinese lady named Fiona, whom my family had met on the cruise. An older lady, she was still single and unmarried. Anyway, upon seeing me in my gown, Fiona asked me how much I weighed, and I replied frankly– 130 lbs. She drew back in shock upon hearing my response, saying, “No wonder you are so fat! You need to get back dancing immediately to gain your shape back!” I was shocked and, quite honestly, hurt by her biting words. I know I always preach the importance of not letting others’ perceptions of you affect your own self-image, and developing a strong, unshakeable confidence that cannot be affected by anyone’s words… but that night, I really let Fiona’s words– words from a lady who meant virtually nothing to me– sink in deep. Dinner that night was three plates of fruit.

Finally, there was the flirtatious photographer, Charles, whose forwardness was unsettling. He took my family’s pictures the first formal night. When it was time for my solo pictures, he kept throwing me winks in between shots, which I interpreted to be mere goofiness. Then, as I stepped away from the backdrop, he whispered to me, “You’re really cute.” I was flattered, but also a little taken aback by his forwardness. The next interaction with him was on the shores of Estonia, I believe. He took my family’s picture, then asked for our room number so he could save the picture in our account. After I gave him the room number, he proceeded to ask me for my phone number… in a joking manner, I presumed. Of course, I said no. But the next time I saw him on the shores of Sweden, I made sure to deliberately walk a little faster, so as to avoid having him take my picture again. The last night of the cruise, my family and I were on deck 8, browsing through the hundreds of pictures we had taken over the course of the week, when Charles showed up. He joked with my mom about being her “future son-in-law”. My mom just laughed really loudly, and replied, “She is only 19 years old!” He replied, “I can wait for her!” I am sure he was joking… but I feel things very deeply, and hearing Charles say this was enough to make me retreat prematurely into my cabin to write in my diary. Thankfully, I never saw him again, and do hope our paths don’t cross again someday.

It is 10:04pm now, and I must be getting to bed soon. My family and I have a long day ahead of touring Copenhagen, so I want to be well-rested for that. I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy overview of my cruise vacation with all its joys and pitfalls. Stay tuned for part 2 of my vacation reflection, in which I discuss the various European cities we visited in greater detail. Sending you all much love from Denmark!