New York Trip, Day 1: ARRIVAL

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Rise and shine, friends! I’m currently aboard Delta Airlines, seated in seat 36D, right next to the emergency exit. I think this is the first time I was placed by such an exit… the good thing about that is, you get a LOT of leg room! Downside– I had to place my backpack in the overhead bin, cause’ apparently that’s what you need to do when you sit by an emergency exit.

This morning’s five-hour flight from SFO to JFK should take off at 6:15am. I really do hope we arrive on time, as I have to get to Brooklyn by 5:30pm for a private dance lesson with a former world champion dancer, Maria Manusova. Very excited to meet and learn from her.

After three restful hours of sleep, I woke up to the sound of my 4:00am alarm. I immediately jumped out of bed, eager to start the day. I changed into my traveling outfit– black velvet pants, a sparkly shirt that reads, “Follow Your Dreams”, a silver jacket-vest and black boots. As I sped through my morning routine, I felt a little bit nervous for the upcoming trip. However, the wave of anxiety quickly passed and was replaced by mind-racing excitement.

By the time I made it downstairs with my maroon-colored carry-on luggage, purple backpack and Calvin Klein leather purse, my mother was already busy preparing breakfast– oatmeal, blueberries and hot lemon-infused water. She insisted on packing me a bag of white grapes, black cherries and a loaf of raisin bread, which I managed to stuff into my already overstuffed backpack.

We left the house at about 4:30am. Surprisingly, I was a lot less anxious upon leaving home than I imagined I would be. See, I am neither the sharpest nor the most street-smart person, which puts me in a vulnerable position when traveling alone for the first time, to New York City, of all places! I can also be very forgetful and irresponsible with my belongings; the other day, at International Grand Ball, a dance competition in Burlingame, CA, I nearly lost my cardholder containing my driver’s license, UCLA ID and other miscellaneous membership cards. Thankfully, somebody turned it in, and the Master of Ceremonies announced over the microphone that he had my lanyard. What a huge sigh of relief I released upon being reunited with my lifeline! So, from that experience, I’ve learned to be EXTRA watchful of my belongings, particularly on the crowded New York City streets, where pick-pockets may lurk.

On the drive to SFO, my mother gave me the usual spiel of being aware of my surroundings, calling her and Dad every time I board an Uber vehicle (she is paranoid about me getting abducted by an Uber driver), not standing too close to the edge of the train platform, spending my money wisely, etc.

We arrived at Delta Terminal 1, where my mom and I hugged, kissed and parted ways. I was on my own from there on out. No brothers to lead the way or parents to remind me to be wary of my belongings. I took a deep breath, and headed inside the airport. It took me a bit of searching to find the screen showing arrival/departure times, but eventually, I found it. “Gate 40,” the screen read. After getting my bearings, I headed to the security checkpoint, where I accidentally lined up in the pre-check line and was told by TSA to stand in the regular line, which really was not much longer. No big. Overall, security went smoothly. I was patted down because my sparkly sequined shirt set off the security alarm. The TSA lady reprimanded me for wearing sparkles to the airport. My bad, lady. I guess SFO just couldn’t handle my sass and flare. Lol.

Gate 40 was located right outside security, so I didn’t have to walk a long ways. Passengers on this flight received their seat numbers at the gate. I requested an aisle seat and ended up with 36D. I made sure to get in the boarding line super early, so I could claim a spot for my carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. By a stroke of good fortune, I was assigned Zone 1 and was one of the earlier boarders.

The plane was stuck in traffic for what felt like forever. I was eager to get going, as I was on a tight schedule, with my dance lesson at 5:30pm and all. During the plane ride, I mostly slept, to make up for the previous night’s lack of sleep. I was pleasantly surprised when the flight attendants served us one breakfast meal, as domestic flights don’t usually include complimentary meals. I ordered the “Protein Pack”, which featured two muesli biscuits, almond butter, granny apple slices, red grapes, a strawberry, a boiled egg and two slices of cheese.

The plane landed at 3:00pm, as scheduled, but we had to wait for a long time for the pilots to pull into the gate. Before leaving the aircraft, I triple-checked that I had all my belongings. Didn’t want a repeat of last December’s debacle, where I left my laptop under the plane’s seat, and never laid eyes on it again! I believe traveling alone forces a great deal of responsibility upon oneself, and I highly urge all young people, if they have the financial means, to take a solo trip before graduating college.

I met Jason, the dance partner I would be trying out with, at terminal 4. Thank goodness I had him as an escort from JFK to Brooklyn– the trip was confusing and circuitous, and I have much to learn about New York public transportation. We took the Airtrain to Jamaica station, where we boarded another train that took us to the subway station. The subway was dark and smelly, and the flickering lights gave the atmosphere an eerie feel. I can see how taking the subway alone at night could be potentially dangerous. After getting off the subway at 71st street, we walked a few blocks to his apartment, where he resides with two female roommates.

As we ended up arriving in Brooklyn past 5:30pm, I had to reschedule my private lesson with Maria. Anyway, I don’t think our private lesson would have been productive anyway, with me being so exhausted from a day’s worth of traveling, and I wanted each minute of my $140 45-minute private lesson to count. She graciously rescheduled my lesson to Thursday at 5:15pm.

At the apartment, I laid down my things, freshened up, met one of Jason’s roommates, changed into my dance practice attire and ate some of the food my mom had packed. At 6:45pm, Jason and I made the convenient ten minute walk from his apartment to Brooklyn Dancesport Club, the esteemed New York dance studio.

Brooklyn Dancesport Club is like the Mecca of Latin dancing in the US. The studio is home to many past and current national and international Latin and Ballroom dance champions. The owners are Eugene Katsevman and Maria Manusova, who were former world champion Latin-American dancers from Ukraine. I was both nervous, excited and a little bit– fine, a lot a bit– starstruck upon entering the studio. There, I saw couples whom I look up to greatly– Pasha and Gabby, the 2016 rising star amateur Blackpool champions; 16-year-old Rickie and her new partner; Olena and Dimitri, the Latin-turned-Rhythm professional couple whom I met last weekend at International Grand Ball; and Asta and Andrei, who are among the top 12 professional couples in the world.

That night, Eugene hosted a group seminar. As I didn’t have enough money on my person to pay for the seminar, I went to a smaller practice floor to practice my own routines. After I had warmed up my body, I felt more relaxed in this new environment amidst crazy-good dancers. I kid you not when I say that every couple at BDSC, no matter what age or level, is amazing. I know I am nowhere near as good as most of these dancers are, but I hope that one day, with consistent practice and determination, I will be.

At 8:30pm, we had rounds, which is practice for actual competitions. During rounds, the couples get out on the floor and run their routines to music, just as they would in a competition. I felt so blessed to be graced by some of the top dancers in the world. Watching the behind-the-scenes work they put into creating beautiful art– the tears, the sweat, the yelling, the pain, the passion– was truly inspiring. Many of the dancers were under pressure for the upcoming competition, Empire Dance Championships, so tonight, the studio was filled with lots tension. I had never seen professional dancers fight amongst one another other, and, though arguments are never pleasant, it was kind of awesome to witness the manifestation of explosive passion. Just comes to show how much dance means to these artists. Dance is their life, their heart and soul.

Jason taught me his cha-cha and rumba routines, and we joined the couples on the floor for rounds. I had never done rounds before, and I thought I’d feel self-conscious dancing in front of all those amazing dancers, some of whom were probably wondering who this new girl dancing with Jason was. Surprisingly, though, when I assumed my beginning position, I didn’t care much about what others thought of me or my dancing. My only concern was that of disappointing Jason. He has been dancing for 15 years and was a professional dancer back in Taiwan. He moved to the US eight months ago to find more opportunities in dancing, and when I posted on the Facebook page about looking for a dance partner, Jason reached out to me. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try out with him, as I’d be in New York anyway for the competition. Even if we didn’t end up dancing competitively together, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a tryout. I just hoped Jason did not expect me to be some amazing dancer, based on the pictures of my dancing I had posted on Facebook. I only started dancing two-and-a-half years ago and have not so much as grazed the surface of the amateur Latin dance circuit, much less professional circuit. I took a long break from dancing during my first year of college, so technically, I’ve only been actively dancing for about a year-and-a-half. And here I was, trying out with a professional dancer. Who was I kidding? So anxious I was about disappointing Jason that, a couple weeks ago, I called him, expressing my sentiment and urging him not to expect too much of me. Jason is great, though. He didn’t want to put undue pressure on me, and he urged me to enjoy my time in New York, instead of stressing. He holds himself with such positive energy, hope and passion for what he does. He is hard-working and good-natured. Most of all, he is a kind, genuine person, and I feel very lucky to have met him.

So, tonight at rounds, I simply let go and enjoyed dancing with Jason. It felt great to finally have a partner to dance with, instead of doing my steps on my own. I really did have a lot of fun being out on the Brooklyn Dancesport Club floor, losing myself in my cha-cha and rumba. Zero inhibitions. Just total immersion in the wonderful feeling of expression through movement. This is why I started dance- because I derive enjoyment from it. Screw all the “striving to win” bullshit. I’m most likely not going to win or “make it big” in the dance world. But what does any of that external validation matter? Forget the need to win, the corruption, the crazy politics that underlie the competitive circuit of Ballroom. More than anything, I wish to preserve the purity of this beautiful art as best I can.

At around 10:30pm, Jason and I left the studio. We stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts, and I spent $3 on a pink lemonade slushy. I know, what a rip-off. I guess my body was craving something cold and refreshing after a long dance practice.

We walked back to Jason’s apartment, where I changed out of my sweaty practice wear and took a shower. One of Jason’s roommates, the really nice Kindergarten teacher, set up the sofa bed for me. Everything was great, and I pulled out my computer to write. I called my parents and told them where I was. The original plan was for me to stay with my cousin, her husband and baby in their apartment in Queens. However, the commute from Brooklyn to Queens was an hour and a half, and I did not feel safe using public transportation so late at night. So Jason graciously allowed me to crash at his place for the two nights I will be in Brooklyn. I didn’t tell my parents about this latter plan, and they were a little bit worried and upset that I’d be staying with a guy I had just met, but I reassured them that he was kind, and I wouldn’t have asked to stay at his place if my intuition had told me otherwise. Moreover, he had two female roommates, so it’s not like I was alone in an apartment with all men, or something. After soothing their worries, I bade them a goodnight and hung up the phone.

I used the downstairs restroom, and when I came back upstairs, I heard arguing between Jason and one of his roommates. They were speaking in fast Mandarin, so I could only pick up bits and pieces of the heated conversation. The gist of it was, one of the roommates was upset at Jason for letting me use her shower… or something like that. I suppose the argument was about boundaries. When I walked over to see what was going on, the really nice Kindergarten teacher roommate told me that I didn’t need to be there, as the argument was not my concern. She played the role of mediator between Jason and his very anal third roommate. I felt bad that I had caused such a ruckus, all over my use of the shower.

Now, here I am, laying on the sofa bed, typing away, as the three of them continue to bicker, discuss and negotiate. I don’t really know what to do. Apologize for the crime I committed, the nature of which I am not even sure of? Distance myself from the argument and let it stay between the three of them? It’s an interesting situation. I wish my Mandarin were better so I could understand why the roommate was upset over my use of her shower, when Jason told me I could use it. The whole thing is probably some miscommunication between the roommates that I needn’t concern myself with.

Now, onto a different matter– today’s budget! I spent $6 for subway transportation; $10 for rounds and dance practice; $3.72 for a strawberry green tea from Starbucks; and $3 on the Dunkin’ Donuts slushy. If I were to do it again, I’d scratch the slushy altogether, as it was simply a post-dance-practice impulse purchase. The slushy wasn’t even that great, and I could’ve gotten the same thing, or better, at the next-door 7-11, for $1. I should have spent my $3 on something more nutritious… like actual food. Oh well… You live and you learn.

Tomorrow is going to be another dance day. I’ll wake up and explore the surrounding areas of Brooklyn and wait for Jason to get back from teaching dance lessons. I’d rather not spend any more time than needed inside the apartment, considering the current state of my relationship with Jason’s crazy roommate. At 11:00am, we’ll eat brunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, then head to the studio, where I shall practice for several hours. If I have time in the afternoon, I may take the N-train subway to Manhattan and explore the city alone. But, that’s only if I have time, and courage. Lol. I’m thinking of getting a weeklong subway card for $32, which’ll give me unlimited access to subway transportation.

Anyway, Jason’s crazy roommate has finally shut up and retreated back to her room. Hopefully she’ll let me stay another night in the apartment. Now, I can finally get some peace and quiet for a much-needed night’s rest. Good night, everyone!