“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!



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