The Bitter Pill of Reality Beckons

So here’s the situation I’m currently faced with.

I am a rising sophomore at UCLA, planning on majoring in psychology whilst continuing to write on the side. I love Latin-American dancing and aspire to become a great dancer, even if only in the amateur circuit. I wish to finish my college education in New York City, home to the best opportunities for aspiring dancers and writers.

Right off the bat, the glaring problem is the money to pursue such endeavors. Up until this point in my life, money has never, ever been a source of concern. I grew up very comfortably in the Bay Area. I had great parents who willingly supported me and my brothers in all we pursued. So far removed we were from the concept of financial difficulty that, to me at last, my parents seemed to have unlimited resources. This, of course, is not true.

The reality presented itself once my two brothers and I headed off to college. What makes our situation unique is the fact that we are triplets. My poor parents have to support three kids in college at once– that’s triple the cost of supporting a single college-aged child. Secondly, my parents are older than most parents of kids our age. My dad is 60 years old and looking for retirement soon. I would never ask him to prolong his retirement just to continue to supporting my dancing, in addition to our college educations. That would be an act of selfishness.

As for dance, I started quite late, at age 17. While I no longer have aspirations to become a professional dancer, I still wish to become a great amateur dancer. I can’t settle for just recreational/social dancing, taking one lesson a week and never stepping foot on the competition floor. To do that would be directly going against my fiery competitive nature and passion for performance. I tend to see things in black and white– I either dance as a serious competitor, or I don’t dance at all. Same with anything else in life. If I do something, I do it to the best of my ability, or else might as well not waste time. This may be a distortion, but try as I might, I can’t seem to rid my mind of it.

Anyway, I know that to become a great dancer whom people will actually want to watch, I must spend LOADS of money on lessons and competitions. My only option, at this point, would be to compete in the pro/am circuit– that is, dancing with a professional teacher at competitions. Pro/am, unfortunately, costs a fortune, and was never designed to benefit the student as it does the professional. Pros charge around $2,000 to $3,000 per competition, just to dance. Add to that the cost of funding the teacher’s hotel, food and transportation. According to my calculations, a single year of dancing pro/am would amount to around $50,000 for 3 lessons/week, plus two or three competitions. Dancing pro/am costs more than a college education! Of course, there is always the cheaper option of finding an amateur partner and competing in the amateur circuit. That’s the eventual goal– I don’t wish to be stuck in pro/am forever. You think I’d be spending that much money out of personal choice? The reality is, it is incredibly difficult for someone like me to find an amateur partner, given my age and experience level. I started dancing only two-and-a-half years ago, whereas most dancers my age have been at it since childhood. At age 19, most serious competitors have already established themselves in the amateur circuit and are competing with long-term partners. Add to that the fact that Los Angeles is pretty barren in its pool of competitive amateur dancers. The greatest chance of me finding an amateur dance partner lies in New York City, the mecca of Latin-American dancing in the U.S. Unfortunately, New York is across the country.

Moving to New York for college and dance is obviously a financial monster. Cost of out-of-state tuition is more than double the cost of UCLA. Cost of living is just as, if not more, expensive than that of the Bay Area. Heck, I’d be even more broke if I moved to New York for greater opportunities as a dancer and aspiring writer. I wouldn’t even have money to take dance lessons! So that kind of defeats the purpose of my big move in the first place.

Of course, there is the option of staying at UCLA and finishing my degree there. Clearly this is the most logical path, and one my parents entreat me to stay on. Even so, my parents have made it clear that they no longer have a single penny to spend on dancing, so I’d have to completely self-fund my dancing. Which I wouldn’t have a problem doing, if only such an endeavor were humanly possible. I only know one couple my age and facing a similar crossroads between college and dance, that supports their own dancing. Even so, their circumstance is different, because they compete as amateurs, and thus are able to split the expenses of lessons and competitions and the like.

I like to believe that I’m a person who can achieve the impossible through sheer willpower and determination, but even I know the limits of reality. Again, if I stay in LA, pro/am is most likely the only option for me. How could I possibly make $50,000 a year for dancing, as a broke college student? Once school starts, I’ll barely have time for dance practice, let alone making money to pay for those dance lessons. The only way I could possibly pay for my own dancing in my current situation is: A) win the lottery; B) start a successful business; C) marry a rich guy who can pay for my dancing.

Here’s the problem. I am too ambitious. I am too greedy. I want to have everything, right now. I want to experience everything. I want to perform well academically at a reputable university. I want to earn a degree that will sustain me once I graduate. At the same time, I wish to continue along my path as a competitive dancer. I wish to live in a place that will afford me the greatest opportunities for both my dancing and my future career path, whatever that may be.

I have a problem coming to terms with the restrictions of reality. How can I afford to keep dancing competitively whilst pursuing college, without the financial help of my parents? Even if I were to move to New York City, where dance culture and dance opportunities permeate the polluted air, the problem of money is magnified. What’s the point of moving to New York if I can’t even afford to take dance lessons from the (very expensive) world-renown teachers there?

No. I can’t do both competitive dancing and college, at least not to the extent I wish. It is very much a one or the other path. I can always keep up my dancing skills while at UCLA– practice on my own at the gym, during my spare time– but if I expect to thrive in the competitive circuit with such sparse, intermittent training, then I’m absolutely deluding myself. I know better than anyone what devotion it takes to be great… at anything. If I wish to do well in college, dance will necessarily have to slow down. If I wish to be a competitive dancer, I’d have to lower my expectations for school– pursue an easy major, take fewer classes per quarter, delay my graduation.

Here’s a big dose of reality for you, Belicia: YOU CANNOT DO EVERYTHING. At least not all at once.

I can’t seem to get it through my very thick skull that, sometimes, it doesn’t matter how passionate or determined you are to achieve a goal. There is such a thing as IMPOSSIBILITY.

I am human. I cannot spread myself so thin between a million things. I cannot expect to be exceptional at both dance and school, taking into account the age I started dancing, financial constraints, logistical limitations, just to name a couple.

As Alexander Hamilton himself said, “Ambition is my folly.” I can very much relate to these words. Nothing I do ever seems to be enough for me. I go to school, and I want to double major, earn perfect grades and graduate in four years or less. I dance, and I want to become not necessarily the next world champion– which even I know is impossible at this point– but just a great dancer that people love watching. When I see dancers my age competing and performing, I feel a hunger to share the very floor with them. I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines, wondering when I’ll ever be good enough to compete amongst such talented couples.

I think most people in my situation would have just given up. That’s why so many dancers– dancers who are much, much better than I, and actually have a shot at going professional– quit competitive dancing once they commence college. They know how difficult it is to sustain both school and dance, and it isn’t a battle they are willing to fight.

A part of me wishes I could just renounce my desire to dance competitively– not only dance competitively, but dance well, mind you. Why can’t I just be satisfied with keeping dance as a hobby? I’d learn the skill and release stress and get exercise in the process. I’d focus on my education and resign dance to the “lowly” status of a hobby. I’d slow down my dance progress whilst in college, as I wouldn’t have the financial resources to take consistent lessons, let alone compete. Some degree of regret is inevitable, in making this decision. I have to ask myself, is it regret I can live with?

Of course, I could always compete in the future, after college, at a lower level, when I am more financially capable of funding my expensive hobby. I may eventually be able to find a competitive amateur partner! But because of my stupid perfectionism and ambition, I know I wouldn’t settle for dancing at a lower level than that at which I aspire to be. I think of all the amazing young dancers– Nino and Austin; Rickie and Tony; Natasha and Mitchell; Sasha and Tigir– and I long to be able to dance half as well as them one day. The hardest part is when I know I have the potential to do so, given my background as a gymnast and natural, intuitive ability to quickly internalize bodily movement. But I also know what the pursuit of becoming a dancer of that caliber would cost. I’d essentially have to devote my life to the art. Do I want to do that? I’ve already established that I don’t wish to become a professional dancer, having seen and experienced firsthand all the ugliness of the dance world. But even to get my dancing up to the level of the aforementioned dancers takes years and years and years of serious training, not to mention thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Is it a battle I wish to fight? Especially when I have a great thing going at UCLA. Why give that up?

No. Quitting college is not an option, and I now see how ludicrous I was to have even entertained the idea in the first place. Stay in school. Always.

I must learn how to compromise. I must learn the concept of delayed gratification. Can’t I just be a little more patient? Slow down on dance for the next few years, whilst experiencing college to its fullest. Then, once I graduate, revisit the world of competitive dancing, should I choose to.

My problem is this. I want everything, right now. Reality says otherwise.

I’ve always believed I could do the impossible. But the truth is, no one– no matter how gifted, hard-working or determined– can do the impossible, without significant sacrifice. As a former competitive athlete, I should know that the pursuit of greatness is one of the most costly endeavors there is. Sacrifices are inevitable. I had no social life from childhood to high school. No time for anything but gymnastics. No going out with friends, attending birthday parties, joining school clubs, etc. These were the sacrifices–  albeit not very significant sacrifices, but sacrifices nonetheless– I made for my sport. But I was a child, then. Now, as I transition to adulthood, I have a million more responsibilities to juggle. I must start thinking about my long-term future, career and well-being. No longer do I have the luxury of spending 8-hour days at the gym, living and breathing gymnastics. Who’s gonna pay for my dancing now? How will I find time to dance competitively as a full-time student? And the responsibilities will only keep piling on as I grow older.

Life is so hard sometimes. I wish I could just be a child again… Like the children I babysit at the childcare center, whose only worries are poopie diapers and broken crayons.



One thought on “The Bitter Pill of Reality Beckons

  1. Given your experience level, goals, and financial concerns, I can tell you that it’s not easy to find the amateur partner you’re looking for in NYC. NYC is not the dancer mecca you think it is for late starters such as yourself. There are already many NYC girls who are currently looking with similar backgrounds as you (minus the rhythm gymnastics). Best way to stand out would be to improve yourself first through practice with a partner who is at least your level and lessons with good coaches. This can be accomplished just as well in LA and simultaneously with your college studies as it can in NYC. I recommend you finish your degree before you move to NYC.


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