The Beauty of Self Exploration

Hi everyone! It is a beautiful Wednesday afternoon as I write from the comfort of my desk, the sounds of a distant airplane and my brother’s tempestuous interpretation of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz intermingling in a discordant symphony.

Regretfully, I woke up this morning feeling slightly under the weather. As the day progressed, my illness worsened. These past few days have pushed me, from gymnastics coaching, dance training, my writing internship to commuting all over the Bay Area via Caltrain and Uber. I love the feeling of working hard and staying busy, so I hope to recover from this bug as quickly as possible.

This morning, I had the greatest pleasure of eating breakfast at the Café Borrone with an amazing friend, mentor and fellow dancer, Liz.

A Stanford University alumnus and graduate from Harvard Law School, Liz perfectly embodies society’s ideal of “success”– a mould that so many young people today wish to fit in. But Liz is so much more than her career success as a trial lawyer. She is a wife, a mother of two, a musician, dancer, performer and life-long learner. As much an artist as a professional, Liz is a multi-talented being graced with a brilliant mind and, most importantly, the kindest heart. She has helped me tremendously through my first year of college, providing me with guidance, direction and whole-hearted support as I embark on this beautiful journey of self-exploration.

We discussed many topics over breakfast, including dance, career paths, boys, mental health and writing. My conversation with her was one of complete clarity and utmost honesty. Without fear of judgement, I relayed to her my current state of mind regarding my decision to dance.

In this post, I want to share with you guys the same conclusion I’ve shared with Liz this morning. So, here it goes.

Dancing is not where my heart lies.

I know. Let it sink in for a moment.

This may come as a shock to those who’ve been following my journey closely. Not long ago, I made the decision to take a break from UCLA to explore dancing further, as I suspected it was in this art where my heart wanted to be. Now, here I am, not even a week into summer vacation, declaring that dancing, in fact, is not my calling.

Before I go on, I need to say this. I realize that, in choosing transparency, I make myself vulnerable to the scrutiny and judgement of the outside world. Of course, the way those outside ourselves perceive us is a mere shadow of our true stories, which can only be crafted from within.

So, you are absolutely allowed to think what you will of my latest life decision. Of the few friends I’ve disclosed this to, some have expressed support, others confusion, and still others disapproval at my seemingly cowardly decision to “give up” on dance so soon. I know how this may look from an outsider’s perspective. For so long, I’ve been rambling on about how dance is my calling, and finally, at the end of my freshman year at UCLA, I gathered the strength and courage to make the bold decision to put my education on hold to chase my dreams. I’ve received countless messages of support, admiration and respect from friends, classmates and mentors regarding my decision to be a trailblazer, a renegade, a maverick. I’ve very publicly said goodbye to UCLA, a school I love with all my heart. And now, here I am, telling you guys that, in reality, I don’t believe a professional dance career will give me maximum life fulfillment. I will be back at UCLA this coming fall to continue onward on my journey of exploration.

I aim not to convince you why I’ve come to the conclusion I have, nor do I seek anyone’s approval in any way. Throughout this whole journey of finding myself, I’ve learned the important life lesson that you don’t owe anyone an explanation of what you do or why you do it. You don’t need others’ approval to justify your actions. You do what you must to stay true to yourself.

But, my dear readers, so many of you have supported me greatly through my angst, questioning and uncertainty during this scary, adventurous and thrilling life chapter, and for that, I am beyond grateful. I’ve already shared so much of myself with you guys, and I’d think it an injustice to withhold my  thought processes that have guided me to my latest development. I hope that, in my story, you will find courage to follow your own hearts and never, ever settle, until you’ve found that special something that gives you a reason to wake up each morning. Also note that there is no shame in exploring and choosing to turn around once you hit a dead end, rather than trudging along a path that, in your heart, you know is not right for you.

So, without further ado, here is the ending of one chapter, and the beginning of another.

When I first made the decision to leave UCLA during the beginning of spring quarter to focus on dancing, I was ecstatic. I had declined my housing offer for the 2017-2018 academic year, and in my mind, I was on track to pursue professional dancing. Whether my parents were completely on board or not did not matter to me. I was going to be a dancer, and nothing was going to stop me. I distinctly remember walking to my dorm room one evening and suddenly being overwhelmed with emotion– happiness and excitement at the start of a new journey, sadness and regret at the necessary sacrifices I’d have to make for my dream. In that moment, though, I felt that I had made the right choice in picking dance. Something clicked in me. When I was no longer fighting this great divide between passion and career, art and reality; when I finally asked myself, “Well why can’t my passion also be my career?”; when, for the first time in my life, I decided to put everything into dance, I felt… relief. Peace. Excitement. Anything was better than the limbo state I’d been in for the past year. I was finally carving a path for myself, completely different from the one I’d been raised on. It was a lot to take in, indeed. It was thrilling.

As the weeks of spring quarter went on, I continued to experience a roller-coaster of emotions. There were good days and bad days. Sometimes, I’d be running laps at Drake Stadium, when all of the sudden, I’d find myself gasping in tears, unable to hold it together. How could I leave UCLA and all the amazing people I’ve met here, when my journey had only just begun? Bathrooms became somewhat of an emotional purging station for me. My heart ached for the school I loved. For the first time in my life, I had made true friendships. Why was it that, just as I was starting to feel belongingness, I had to leave? Of course, I didn’t HAVE to do anything— the decision to dance was completely my own, which almost made whole thing so much harder… I didn’t want to leave UCLA, but I also didn’t want to live with the regret of not giving myself the maximum chance at success in dance, which (I thought) necessarily entailed moving back to the Bay Area to continue with my teachers. The anthem of my waking moments were the lyrics, “Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on…” (The Show Must Go On, by Queen). I haven’t a clue why that song in particular came to mind. But every time I’d feel regret or nostalgia or sadness with my big decision, those three lines would start blaring in my head like a broken record.

I doubted my decision many times, even before I started living the “dancer’s life”. I thought to myself, “Dance better be freaking worth it, for everything I’m about to leave behind. I don’t have any option but success. If I’m going to leave UCLA and throw away the countless opportunities presented to me at this institution, then I’d better become something in the dance world. I have to give my sacrifice meaning. There’s no other choice but to succeed.” The anthem of my life became Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”: “Success is my only motherf***in’ option, failure’s not.”

And that, my friends, is the moment when dance ceased to become a passion and creative outlet, morphing into this big ugly ball of stress, pressure and work. What began as something pure and good became tainted with the desire for external validation, for titles, for glory. How else would I be able to survive, living as a dancer? The income’s gotta come from somewhere. If I win, my name will carry more clout, and I’ll attract more students for dance lessons. So the goal is simple: win. The path to becoming a champion— not so easy.

When dance became less about a means of expression, and everything to do with achieving, it lost its special magic that drew me to it in the first place, two-and-a-half years ago. Practices became work. I struggled a lot with negativity and frustration. Where did the enjoyment of dance go?

That was the first red flag– losing my love of dance once, in my mind, I declared it my destiny. Initially, I was very confused. I had always thought that, if I could dance every second of the day, I’d be happy. That’s the way it was with gymnastics. All throughout middle school and high school, I begged my parents to let me do online schooling so I could focus solely on my training. When that dream was about to become a reality, this time with dancing, I should have felt more excited, right?

The thing is, though, I am not the same person I was five years ago, when I was still a competitive gymnast with great aspirations. I’ve developed an identity apart from that of gymnastics. College was time for me to explore myself further. It was freedom. The first two quarters were pretty miserable, as I didn’t enjoy my pre-med courses. But I had to go through that, in order to confirm my suspicions that a career in medicine was not for me. Spring quarter was time to explore completely different avenues that piqued my interest. At the start of the quarter, I was enrolled in two theater classes, a philosophy class, a class on HIV, a freshman seminar on Donald Trump and another one on the neuroscience of movement. I was in exploration mode and boy, was I excited.

A series of events that culminated during the first couple weeks of spring quarter led me to reconsider the dance path. When I chose dancing as my main focus, I ended up dropping several of my classes so I’d have more time for dance training. Now, with so much free time to dance, I should have been happy as a clam, as this was what I’d always wanted, right?

Wrong. As aforementioned, I experienced a lot of sadness. In fact, I relapsed into depression and went to the ER for a few hours for immediate psychiatric evaluation/treatment. Dance practices became an ordeal. My relationship with my parents quickly deteriorated. Every phone conversation I had with them ended in a fight. They obviously wanted me to stay in school and continue on the fast track towards graduation and, ultimately, financial independence. Still, despite how miserable I felt with my decision to dance, I chose to believe that this suffering was a necessary step on the path to a greater calling.

Towards the end of the quarter, I’m not sure what kept me in the dance illusion. At that point, thanks to my glorious proclamation on social media, nearly everyone I knew believed I was leaving school to pursue dance (which was not entirely true— the plan was to take a gap quarter to explore dance further, and if I decided that dance was my calling, I’d leave UCLA completely). It was no longer just an internal battle. In being so public about my journey, other people were brought in to my narrative. I felt a sense of obligation to epitomize the trailblazer that everyone saw me as. Each time someone would come up to me, expressing their respect for me and my decision, I’d smile politely, appreciative of their support… but inside, I’d wince a little. If only you all knew what I was thinking. I still questioned dance, even though I said I had made the decision to pursue it fully. I began to confuse what I really wanted with what others wanted for me.

Towards the end of the quarter, I felt as though I were living a lie. A lie that had begun as a self-perceived truth, but was in fact a stepping stone on my path of self-exploration. In the beginning, I truly believed dance was where my heart was. Upon exploring further and peeling back the layers of illusion, getting to better understand the industry and its difficult politics-infected reality, I realized that dance wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight.

Looking into my past, I realized that, perhaps, my desire to dance was a mere extension of my unfulfilled Olympic dream in gymnastics. The injury took me out of the sport prematurely, and in dancing, I saw another route to achieve the “glory” I had yearned for, but couldn’t find, as a gymnast. But if that was the only reason I was dancing— to fill a void— then it is not worth the sacrifice. The analogy I like to make is that of a bad breakup. Losing gymnastics was like getting dumped by a guy I loved. It hurt a lot, and I was wrought with worry to find something to fill the void. I’m so grateful for finding Latin dance on Valentine’s Day of 2015, for the art has given me many special gifts, including another mode and language of expression. But the thing is, dance was kind of a rebound for gymnastics. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I ever truly loved dance for dancing’s sake, or if I liked it because a) it was an extension of my unfulfilled gymnastics fantasy, or b) I felt confident in my ability to dance.

Let’s hone in on point b for a second. I think we often confuse what we are good at with what we’re passionate about, for oftentimes the two are one in the same. I mistook dance for my passion because it felt familiar. My first 15 years were spent in the gymnastics world. I’ve always been very confident in my physical ability as an athlete, but less so in the intellectual realm of academia. Perhaps, when I realized pre-med wasn’t what I wanted to do at this time in my life, I was so scared of the ensuing uncertainty. What could I do, if not medicine? Not knowing the answer to the question, I defaulted to the next-most familiar avenue— dance– without thinking if this was what I really wanted.

Of course, the gut feelings I felt at the time of making the decision to dance were real. There was indeed something about dance that kept drawing me in. For whatever reason, I couldn’t let go of the dancing dream… but were my motives pure? If I wanted to dance for any reason other than love for the art, then dancing professionally would not be a good idea. Did I truly love dance? I had to live the reality to find answers.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the dancing was not my calling. Even before my final day at UCLA, I had a feeling that to dance as a career would take away the joy of the art. In fact, it had already done so.

And so, I continue my search. I thought I wanted to dance as a career, hit a wall, turned around, and am now carving a path anew. I’m very excited to come back to UCLA this fall. The short time I thought I’d leave UCLA made me appreciate my school and its people all the more profoundly. My parents are understandably relieved at my change of heart. The thing is, I’m the kind of  person who won’t accept things as truth until I uncover it myself. My mom could’ve preached at me all she wanted until she was blue in the face, but she couldn’t have swayed me away from dance. I needed to come to the decision by myself. I needed to be enlightened on my own terms, and nobody else’s.

I don’t believe I’ve failed. Not in the least. Some may call me whimsical, flaky, or afraid of commitment. Others may see me as one who preaches one thing, but lives a different reality. Believe what you will. I know that to follow your heart is no easy task, especially when you’ve lived most your life a people-pleaser, devoid of confidence in your ability to choose for yourself. This past year alone, I’ve flip-flopped on the dance decision God knows how many times– just ask any of my closest friends/family, and they’ll tell you. I look back on it all, and realize that what I’ve experienced is completely normal and healthy. Sleepless nights and all, I truly believe my experience with uncertainty, this early in life, was a blessing in disguise. When one is blessed with having so many different options, the choices can easily feel overwhelming. Is it chocolate cake or ice cream? Medicine or dance? Or something else altogether? This is the uncertainty that, for so long, I was afraid to embrace. Now, I realize that uncertainty is all part of the human condition. Why torment yourself over something you can’t control? Embrace it! Live it! Love it!

Dance will forever remain an integral part of my identity. I can confidently say that I will not regret my decision to turn by back from professional dancing, for it was a conclusion I reached on my own, after much-needed exploration, thought and soul-searching. I love dance, and I love UCLA. I can continue dancing in LA for nothing/no one but myself, whilst getting a degree at the perfect-fit university and expanding my mind along different dimensions. I am excited to see what the future holds. While I have yet to decide on what I wish to major in, I am thinking of something along the lines of doubling majoring in English and psychology.

The anthem of my heart is now a famous line from  Hamilton: the Musical: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”

Indeed, I am so lucky. So lucky that I can keep dancing, so happy I’m doing it with pure intentions, and eternally grateful that I can do it at a place I love.

 

 

 

First Day of Summer 2017!!!

Hey guys! It is currently 11:38pm as I sit at my desk, inside my dimly room, a gentle breeze flowing in from the two open windows. Today was my first official day back from college, and I definitely enjoyed it.

I had planned on waking up at 6am to dance, but because I had stayed up until 2am last night, I ended up getting out of bed at 9am. My mom made us a homemade breakfast of her infamous smoothie, fruit, boiled tea eggs and oatmeal. It felt nice and somewhat strange to sit together as a family again after several months apart. I had not seen my younger brother, Chris, since January, but it was like no time had passed between us.

After breakfast, I drove to the gym, where I worked out for a couple hours. I’m working hard to get my body back in shape for dance!!! As I was working out, though, a thought occurred to me. I realized how much it sucks to be a woman sometimes. I’ve been a member of my local gym since the age of four, so I practically grew up there. The gym used to be my safe space where I’d feel completely at ease and in my element. Now, however, I can’t get through a workout without at least one older man gawking in my direction. Or so I presume. I’m sure many young women can relate to my experience. I still remember clearly how, over winter break, I was called a “slut” by a group of middle-aged married men, just because I was doing the middle splits in the stretching area. I’ve never quite recovered from that experience, and I’m always on my guard now whenever I go to the gym. Yeah. It really sucks to be a woman sometimes. College has definitely made me less naive about men and their intentions. This is not to say that all men are ill-intentioned; but I’ve learned that, sometimes, being my usual friendly self may falsely lead on men, which is the last thing I want. In that sense, college has necessarily hardened me.

After working out, I made pit-stops at the local Jamba Juice, Togo’s, Nob Hill and Starbucks, to pick up job applications for me and my brother Austin. Both of us want to work this summer. I need to work to support my dancing, which is not cheap. Not at all. Once I begin my training, I will be taking four dance lessons per week, totaling to $340/week (actually a really good deal, compared to some other rates). To financially support my dancing, I plan on working part-time as a rhythmic gymnastics and dance coach. I also plan to work remotely as a paid writing intern for a company aiding high school-age students with the college application process. I am tutoring some high school students in math, chemistry and writing. If I still have time and energy after all of that, I hope to get hired as a barista at either Jamba Juice or Starbucks and work the early morning shifts. Any time left will, of course, be devoted to training. I haven’t quite mapped out my schedule yet, but I have a feeling I’ll be stretching myself very thin, and may have to drop some commitments to preserve my sanity.

[Side note: Isn’t it funny how, in our society, people pride themselves in how MUCH they do, rather than, other (in my opinion) more salient qualities, like character and relationships and mental health)? I remember being that person who’d brag about the sheer number of commitments I’d take on, wearing them like a badge of honor. “I slept three hours last night,” I’d boast. Is that really a noteworthy achievement? Throwing your mental and physical health under the bus to get a little bit ahead with studying? Why is it that our society places so much value in our work, rather than building character success? There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself hard… so long as you’re doing smartly and doing it for yourself, not for others’ validation. Your work does not define you. For the first time, ever, I’m finally starting to believe that statement. My self-worth is independent from what I do.]

So, I have a busy summer ahead, but I’m excited for the challenge, as any test of inner strength builds character. I don’t want to financially burden my parents with supporting my dancing, as they’re already paying for three kids’ college tuition, which is no easy feat. Just today, I paid $410 for a round-trip ticket to NYC in early August, where I will attend a dance camp/competition, scope out the dance scene and hopefully try out with some potential dance partners.

After making my job application run, I walked to the local library, where I checked out a few summer reading books– “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brönte, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde. I began “Dorian Gray” today, and found Wilde’s flowery language and poetic style to be both elegant and somewhat detracting. I watched the 2009 film adaptation of the book, so I know the general storyline. Looking forward to reading the rest of Wilde’s only novel!

Austin picked me up from the library in the Volkswagon. My parents have finally agreed to pay for my car insurance, as I’ll need to transport myself throughout the Bay Area this summer, with dance and work and community college come fall (should I decide to stay in the Bay, that is). The problem is, they don’t trust me enough behind the wheel to let me drive alone on freeways. I always tell them that they need to let my try, or else I will never learn! They can sit in the passenger seat the first couple times, to make sure I know what I’m doing. Eventually, though, they’re just gonna have to let me do it. Sometimes, I feel like my parents try too hard to shelter me and my brothers. They can’t protect their kids forever, though. At some point, they’re just going to have to take a leap of faith and trust that all will be fine in the end, even if their children stumble and make mistakes.

Speaking of family. I definitely noticed an unfamiliar tension at the dinner table tonight, between me, my brothers and my parents. I think it is normal for kids who’ve just come back from their first year of college to feel a discord with their parents upon coming home after several months away. This past year, we’ve been tested in many ways and have learned to live independently from our parents. We’ve dealt with crises without our parents’ help. We’ve set our own daily routines, established our own dining preferences, developed our own social circles and communities. When we come home after college and find our parents treating us like little children, we understandably feel stifled and irked at the clinginess and hovering. Of course, parents who haven’t seen their babies in many months understandably want to spend every second with their children.  While I doubt the family dynamic will be the same as it was before college, I think it’s actually a beautiful thing to witness the growth of children into mature, independent young adults. However old you are, you will always be your parents’ babies, and they will never stop treating you as such. I’ll understand this better when I have my own children.

After dinner, I went swimming at our local pool. As I swam laps, I mulled over how I could possibly make the money necessary for dance. I’ll admit that, going in to this, I was oblivious to the difficulties of financially supporting my dance career. It’s so easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just work several jobs to pay for lessons and traveling and costumes and the like.” The reality is so much harder. I haven’t even started my many jobs, and I’m already anticipating difficulty. It’s okay. I’m sure my parents will help pay for some of the expenses, but I just don’t want to burden them financially when, morally, they are not happy with my decision to give dancing a try.

I got back home at around 9:30pm, took a shower and FaceTimed my BFF, Chiana, who lives in Connecticut. Apparently it was foggy and raining over there, whereas here in the Bay, we’re experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures soaring in the high 80s and 90s. I definitely miss my friends at UCLA, but thanks to the wonders of social media and instant communication, it has never been easier for people to remain in touch across long distances. I watched an episode of this Netflix original show called “Santa Clarita Diet”, starring Drew Barrymore as regular mom/realtor who, after presumably contracting a mysterious zoonotic virus, turns into a flesh-eating zombie-like being. The show is pretty funny and satirical, with quick and easy 30-minute episodes. Would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a summer TV show.

After watching one episode, I decided to write this blog post! Now, it is 1am. Goodness, time flies when I’m writing. I absolutely love it! Maybe writing is my calling. If dance doesn’t work out, I will most definitely explore writing further.

Have a good night everyone, and Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing dads out there!

 

 

Best,

Belicia

Thank You to My Readers!!!

Hi guys,

I want to dedicate this post to all of you who are reading this right now. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking time out of your day to read my blog.

I started the blog during my junior year of high school. At its inception, the blog was merely a way for me to mourn the loss of my life and identity as a gymnast, after a career-ending injury took me out of the sport I loved.

Before I knew it, the blog took on a life of its own. Little did I know how many people actually cared about what I wrote, and how much they could relate to my own joys and struggles. I am always humbled when I receive a message from a friend, classmate, or even someone I’ve never personally met, telling me how much my story resonated with them.

The thing is, I write from the rawness of my soul. This blog is composed of nothing but brutal honesty, clarity and self-reflection. This is me. It is the story of a young woman trying to find her way in this vast universe, whilst staying as true to her heart as possible.

I used to write only for me. Now, I still write for myself, but I also write for others. For you guys.

Through writing, I’ve gained a voice. I feel more empowered than I ever have in my life.

But I could never have found my voice without you guys. Without your guys’ endless support, I could never have understood how a mere individual like me could possibly make any imprint in the world. This blog is not just about me. It’s about all of us. It is an homage to everyone’s struggle to hear their quiet inner voices over the noise of external forces. It is an ode to Life– the human condition of creating individual meaning in an inherently meaningless world. It is about the beauty of personal growth and the incredible capacity to stretch ourselves beyond any and all preconceived limitations.

I don’t believe I am special. I am simply a woman enduring, like the rest of us, and learning to appreciate the little moments that give life its greatest meaning.

So thank you all, many times over. I love you and wish you the best in your individual life journeys. It is a gift to be alive each day, and it is the realization of life’s fragility that keeps me grateful for each moment I have with the people I love.

Expect lots more blog posts to come! This summer will be a very busy one, indeed. I will keep you all updated with my journey of self-discovery, for I am still finding myself. Whether or not dance truly is my calling remains to be seen. These next 7 months are a trial period. I will immerse myself in the dancer’s life, training and coaching and competing, and see if such a career is for me. If not, UCLA is always waiting for me, and I will continue my search. I refuse to settle until I’ve found my “Why”. And I am so grateful that I have the opportunity for such exploration– not everyone does.

 

 

Love,

Belicia

Spring Quarter 2017 Reflection

Hey guys! I hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday. To my fellow college students still grinding through finals– hang in there, you’re almost done!

I’m happy to say that I finished my last final exam on Wednesday. It was a theater GE final, and the exam was a lot easier than expected. All I have left is a paper due next Wednesday, so I’ve been taking it easy these past couple days and letting the reality of completing my freshman year of college sink in.

UCLA’s theater department has been putting on “Carrie: The Musical” for the past week, and I am absolutely obsessed with the show! Just like in Spring Sing, the level of talent displayed in this production is inspiring. I enjoyed this rendition of “Carrie” so much that I saw the show 3 times! Watching the performers– all UCLA students– makes me long to be up on the stage with them. It’s a shame I can’t sing… yet. One long-term goal of mine is to improve my singing skills and gain better control over my voice. If I am going into the entertainment industry, I’d best develop my artistic talents as much as I can. My mom, though never formally trained, is a wonderful singer. Hopefully she’s imparted some of her talent to me!

Now, on to reflection time. All-in-all, this quarter has been VERY relaxing academically, relative to the previous two terms. I needed time for soul-searching and self-reflection before reaching the ultimate decision to leave UCLA to focus on dance. I needed to give my inner voice a chance to speak.

Now, the real talk.

Some say that suffering is good for the soul; that those who suffer most also experience the greatest joys in life’s simplest beauties. I believe there is truth to this statement. When you’re constantly pushing yourself to your limit, stretching your bounds and working hard to reach your goals, the sweet periods of rest are long-awaited and hold much more meaning than if you are never challenged at all. This quarter, I lived safely. At least in terms of academics. My GE classes interested me, but I wasn’t challenged as I had been the previous two quarters. And I don’t think that suits me. Not being challenged, I mean. It doesn’t suit me at all.

I never function well when I am not busy or under pressure. I fall into a depressed state when my life lacks structure and discipline. I need to be living under a pressure-cooker to feel at my maximum potential. Ironically, I am also pretty bad at handling stress. When there’s a job to be done, be it in school or dance or work, I push myself to complete the necessary task, but the journey is rife with hair-pulling and mental breakdowns. In the end, I achieve. But at what cost? It’s a strange irony. Stress is both my best friend and worst enemy. What if stress is simply a way for me to distract myself from deeper issues, from closets that don’t want to be opened? Whenever I have time for myself to think– and this quarter, I’ve had a lot of that– I get swept into a downward spiral. I question every decision I make. I wonder if I’m lying to myself about my calling… what is my calling? Must we have a single calling? I am exploring. This is the beauty of life– carving your own path and learning about yourself along the way. All is well. Why stress?

My next goal in my journey of growth is to be able to find beauty amidst hard work. From this past quarter I’ve learned that living an “easy” life is not for me. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with a life of relaxation and hedonism. It’s just not the life I choose. I love working hard towards my goals. From achieving I find fulfillment. Now, I must rise to the next level and learn to find beauty amidst the pain. Instead of treating life as one endless path of suffering to reach goals, I must learn to smile along the way. Only in this way will my accomplishments hold lasting meaning.

It’s so easy to get caught up in your problems and worries that you lose sight of the privilege you have to even feel such perceived pain. Every day I hear classmates complaining about how difficult their classes are and how much they hate school. Believe me, I am guilty of this as well. Has anyone ever stopped to think, though, of how lucky they are to be in college in the first place? Not to mention being at UCLA, a university many would only dream of attending. I think a fundamental root of unhappiness is lack of gratitude, or blindness towards the big picture.

Enough of these directionless musings for now. Let’s go back to the events of this past quarter.

While I’ve still managed to screw up my sleep schedule and relapse into carbs and sugar-binging after a week of effectively starving myself (note to everyone– starvation diets don’t work!), I am happy that I haven’t gone as “wild” as I had during winter quarter. I’m starting to feel more like myself again. I dabbled in the usual college vices and have now effectively relinquished my curiosity. This quarter, I focused on me.

Two weeks ago, I posted in UCLA’s “Free and For Sale” page on FB, offering free private dance lessons to individuals or couples in the UCLA community. I figured, as I wasn’t taking too heavy a courseload this quarter, I might as well give back to the UCLA community in a unique way. I had no idea how people would respond to my post. To my pleasant surprise, the post was popularly received, and an overwhelming number of UCLA students requested lessons from me. I didn’t mind teaching for free, because:

a) I understand the whole broke college student situation. I’d hate for someone to give up the opportunity to learn how to dance because of financial limitations.

b) I’m actually NOT working for free. Through teaching beginners, I am gaining valuable coaching experience and forming bonds with people of all walks of life. For instance, I met a 3rd year medical student who’s passion for magic (think David Copperfield magic) spurred him to go into medicine. There was a UCLA law student and her boyfriend, whom I taught the basics of salsa dance to. The way they laughed uncontrollably at each other throughout the lesson was priceless. Through teaching dance, I am giving young individuals the gift of creative expression. Dance has done so much for me, and I love being able to give back to my community through something I’m so passionate about.

Next week, I am teaching an actress who performed in Spring Sing, and in return, she will be giving me an acting/improv lesson. Super excited for what’s to come– expect a blog post highlighting the experience!

This past quarter has been an emotional roller coaster, as it may very well be my last at UCLA. These past four weeks, especially, have been rough. It hurts to say goodbye to a school and a community I’ve grown to love. These are the kinds of sacrifices one must make, though, in the pursuit of one’s dreams. Remember Mia and Sebastian in “La La Land”? The two had to call off their romantic relationship as their individual dreams pulled their lives in separate directions. It was a heart-wrenching, sobering ending… but also very, very realistic. Life is about making these hard decisions and choosing the path that’ll maximize long-term happiness.

The next 7 months will be a trial period for me. I will consume myself in the dancers’ life– train harder than I’ve ever trained, coach for income, perform and compete in the amateur dance circuit. Gain a complete immersion in the ballroom dance industry. Learn the ropes and make connections. Hopefully find a partner. At the end of it, I will see if dancing as a career is something I really want to do. If, at the end of the 7 months, I decide that I love dancing, but only as a passionate outlet, and not as a career, then UCLA will welcome me back with open arms. If I decide (likely to my parents’ dismay) that a dance career is where it is at for me, then I will transfer to a university closer to home and continue my growth as a dancer under the tutelage of my current teachers.

This summer, I plan on going to New York for one week to scope out the dance scene and try out with potential partners. There are some male dancers in Italy who are interested in trying out– I’ll have to convince my parents to let me travel to Europe. I will try my best to finance my dancing through 2 coaching positions, possibly a writing internship and self-employed tutoring in writing/math. It’ll be tough, though, and I hope my parents will help support me financially, even though they’re not too enthused about the dance path. They are great parents, and I know they want nothing but my happiness and success. I’m working to mend my rocky relationship with them after all the verbal fights over the phone regarding my decision to dance. I’m in the process of writing them a letter. In this letter, I aim not to convince them that dancing is indeed an amazing career that they should fully support, but rather to help them better understand why I’ve chosen this path. I apologize for the pain and distress I’ve inevitably caused them in my decision. Recently, I found out from one of Austin’s friends that my mom has been calling Austin every day, discussing what she should do with me. I hate that I’m creating such a ripple in a hitherto peaceful life. I was doing well in my pre-med classes. My mom was excited that one of her kids would end up a physician. Life was good… but at the same time, it wasn’t. It lacked authenticity. I wasn’t happy. I was living a lie, telling myself that I wanted to be a doctor, when my heart wanted something very different. Who knows? I may still be living a lie. I don’t know. What I do know is, in making this decision to give dance a real shot, I will finally uncover the truth of whether or not dancing is my calling. Dance will always be my passion, no doubt about it. But whether or not a dance career is for me is another question. It is a question I will soon find answers to in the next 7 months. The trial period, I call it.

Alright guys, I must conclude my post here. I’m going out to dinner tonight with a guy I met a couple weeks ago at the Hedrick Study. I hope it’ll be fun, though I know there is no sense in starting anything serious right before I leave.

I will keep you all posted on my dance journey, my thought processes along the way and upcoming competitions/performances. Until then, keep smiling and living life as authentically as possible. In the words of the current World Champion ballroom dancer (and UCLA alumnus) Victor Fung, “Life’s too short to not be happy with anything that you do. Also, you owe it to yourself to give yourself every opportunity to pursue any career that you desire. After all it is your life and only you know what will make you happy deep down inside.”

 

 

Love,

Belicia

 

 

It is 11:45 pm. I’m sitting at a table in the Hedrick Study (a favorite study spot of mine), trying to crank out my theater paper. At this moment, though, the paper is the last thing on my mind.

I feel a heaviness weighing on my chest. By happenstance, I ran into many of my friends this evening, first at Bruin Plate, my favorite dining hall, and now at the Study. High school friends. Friends I made here at UCLA. This evening, I felt like I was watching a montage of my freshman year playback in slow motion. Every five minutes, a familiar face passed by, and a nice conversation ensued, ending with the sad words, “I’ll miss you.”

I feel an ebbing throb in my heart. In three weeks, I will leave behind these people– my people– to follow my dreams. Of course I’m excited to finally be unashamedly and wholeheartedly pursuing what I love. But in this moment, my heart is breaking. I can’t focus on my paper because tears are welling up in my eyes, and I want to cry. The fact is, no matter what, I will miss UCLA, my second home. Even though I’ve only been here for three quarters, I’ve grown deeply fond of this place, and especially its people.

I sure hope that leaving here will be worth it, because giving up UCLA for a riskier path in art is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. It is a decision made out of my own volition, against my parents’ better judgement. In moments of fear and weakness, I wonder if I should just stay where I am. Get a degree from a place I know I love. Establish myself. Grow my relationships. Enrich my mind. Breathe a sigh of comforting relief embedded in safety.

But. There is that constant nagging sensation tugging at my heart, pulling me elsewhere. Something is pushing me to go for this other path. The one devoid of comfort, plagued with poverty, physical injury, short career-spans, eating disorders, drama, politics and an infinitesimally slim chance of reaching “success”. The path of dance. I know– how utterly illogical, absurd, irrational, ludicrous of me, right? Why, when I’m doing well at a great university I worked so hard to get into, would I choose to give it all up for life as an artist?

I can’t explain why. In this moment, I cannot express the flurry of thoughts whirring in my head… All I trust in is my instinct. My gut feeling, telling me that, despite everything, I’m doing the right thing in leaving UCLA.

Sometimes, I feel that my battle to pursue a dance career is one I fight alone. I know, of course, that this is not true– I have the backing of my coaches and friends who believe in me. My parents will always be there to provide a roof over my head, should I find myself penniless and unable to support myself. They wouldn’t let their only daughter starve.

As much as all this external support means to me, none of it matters if I don’t believe in myself. Above all else, I need CONFIDENCE and DETERMINATION and COURAGE as I embark on this brand new chapter of my life.

You know what they say– it’s the journey that matters more than the destination. Right here, right now, is the journey. This is what I’m trying to convey to you guys through this blog. This is a big reason why, three years ago, as a sixteen-year-old girl facing her first real adversity, I decided to start publicly documenting my triumphs and travails as I searched my way through this beautiful and cruel thing called life. It’s the journey I want to look back on when I am 80 years old, pondering what kind of meaning– if any– my life held.

What I’m feeling right now is the sadness, nostalgia and regret that comes with any difficult decision. Either choice I make, I will inevitably face some degree of regret. To leave UCLA for a dance career means leaving behind a second home, a second family, a life of comfort and stability. To stay in the safety of LA whilst surrendering dance to the status of a mere hobby would make me regret not giving dance my everything,  while I still could. Ultimately, it was a decision of which regret would hurt me more. Both would undoubtedly hurt, a lot. But I believe the latter regret would not only hurt, but eat away at me in my older days. I don’t think I could bear that.

College will always be here. I can always come back to school at age 30 or 40. I trust that my determination and work ethic will carry me through any potential obstacle attached to going back to college at an older age. I cannot say the same thing about a professional dance career. Passionate, talented and determined dancer you may be, to say you want to become a professional dancer at the age of 30 or 40 is to be dreaming of the impossible. Dancing lies in the NOW. School can wait.

Regarding my friendships. Heartbroken as I feel at the idea of leaving behind people I’ve grown to love, I have faith that true friends will remain in my life, regardless of any physical distance. It won’t be the same as growing together throughout the next three years, of course, but perfect situations in life are rare. I must learn to compromise and sacrifice.

And dance. What are my goals now? At this point, I don’t care where I end up as a dancer, in terms of rankings. When I first started dancing, my goal was to become the next world champion. I’ve since grown and adopted a more mature, realistic and intrinsically-motivated goal of simply becoming the best dancer I can be. I want to master the art of Latin-American dancing and touch the souls of others through performance. I long to bless others with the many gifts that dance bestowed on me. I want to dance my way through life.

It is now 12:48 am. I should be getting to bed, as I have work tomorrow morning at 7 am. I feel a lot better, having let my soul bleed onto the screen. Finally, I want to thank every single person who’s supported me in my decision. You guys give me the strength to follow through with this.

 

 

 

 

Love,

Belicia

UCLA Spring Sing 2017– A Magical Night

Last night, I was graced with the mesmerizing talent and soul-touching performances of UCLA students at the university’s annual Spring Sing! Essentially like a large-scale talent show featuring off-the-charts artistic talent and celebrity guest judges, Spring Sing was definitely one of the highlights of my brief time here at UCLA.

Thousands of UCLA students gathered last night at 8pm in Pauley Pavillion to witness the production, featuring solo singers, bands, acapella groups, rappers, dance companies, theater troupes and the all-too-funny comedic hosts of the show, “the Company”.

To say I felt in my element last night at Spring Sing is an understatement. My cheeks hurt from continuously smiling throughout the night. Watching the performers made me long to be on that very stage, basking in the strobe-lights amidst the sounds of applause from the cheering crowd of thousands, and most importantly, touching the souls of others through creative expression.

This year’s panel of celebrity guest judges featured Jason Earle, aka “Jackson”, from Hannah Montana; “Meredith Blake”, the evil stepmother, from the 1998 adaptation of The Parent Trap; Perez Hilton, the viral blogger; “Matt Mcguire”, aka Lizzie Mcguire’s little bro; and musician Ziggy Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons. I was totally starstruck when the celebrities were introduced, shouting at the top of my lungs and laughing in sheer excitement.

And the talent… my goodness gracious. Words can’t begin to describe how blown away I was by every performance. The caliber of artistic talent was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe I was watching fellow UCLA students perform– they may as well have been professional musicians / dance troupes! Everyone was that good. It just comes to show that UCLA Bruins are not only intellectually-driven, but also artistically gifted. Fun fact: famous singer, Sara Bareilles was a UCLA student who won Spring Sing in 2000. Look at her now!!!

From what I’d heard of past Spring Sings, I was expecting a lot, but I was still effectively awestruck at the professionalism, flashiness and flow of the production, which, to my knowledge, is completely student-run!

The comedic sketches put on by “the Company” in between performances were all so hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing!

One performer, Stephan Dismond, was a rapper who actually went to my middle and high school! I remember how he’d perform at almost all the high school assemblies. Now a third-year student at UCLA, Stephan’s music career is blossoming!

The dancing was amazing. There were hip-hop dance crews, an Indian Dance team and an exhibition dance company called “Inter Sanctum”, which created a Cirque Du Solei – like production. All were impressive in their own rights. I imagined that a Latin/Ballroom dance couple would have added a diverse flavor to the mix of predominantly hip-hop performances.

The singers were all so, so talented. I don’t know how the judges managed to determine the winner– a duet called “Ella B. Ross”.

Spring Sing ended at around 11:30pm. A friend I had met there, Angela, and I headed to De Neve dining hall to grab some late night munchies. After a heated discussion about the performances of the night, the two of us headed to a residential hall, Sproul Landing floor 8, which is the performing arts living-learning community. All the residents on that floor are performing artists of some sort, be it music, dance, or theater. So inspired I was by Spring Sing that, upon returning to my own dorm, I went straight to the music room to play piano and practice my (still-poor) singing skills.

Needless to say, all the talent featured in last night’s show are going places.

I am so grateful I decided to go to Spring Sing this year. It was truly a wonderful way to end my time here at UCLA. Even if I’m no longer a student here next year, I’m definitely coming to all future Spring Sings. Perhaps I may perform in it too, one day!

 

Self-Reflection 5/12/17: Thoughts on Leaving UCLA

Today was a day of heightened emotions and conflicted thoughts. Well, most of my days lately have been like this… but today especially.

I was in the middle of my 7am – 1:30pm shift at Bruin Café, at the smoothie station rinsing out used blenders with hot water, when I had the following thought: What if I just gave up on this “silly dancing dream”, as many people have described it? What if I just stayed at UCLA, finished my degree in a timely manner, got a stable, decent-paying, “real” job, and kept dancing as my passion and primary hobby? Would I be okay with that?

Truth is, I am so afraid. I’ve chosen to give dancing a shot. But what am I really getting myself into? The dance world is, on the outside, beautiful. Glamorous. Fun and exciting. I am drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. The lavish costumes, makeup, crazy hairdos and overdone spray tans are enthralling… addicting. The life of a dancer– traveling the world, competing, performing, training, teaching… it seems like paradise to me.

But here is the reality of the competitive Latin/Ballroom dance circuit– it is so, SO cutthroat. If I aim to dance as a career, I’m up against people who’ve been dancing since they could start walking. While politics are present in any career, it is particularly prominent in the world of dance, where money and connections are oftentimes stronger predictors of competition success than pure dance skill. If I am truly going into Latin dancing as a career, I must be okay with the likely reality of not becoming a top dancer in the world.

Don’t get me wrong– I will fight valiantly to be the best dancer I can be, but if my best effort is not enough to get me to the top, I mustn’t be bitter or upset. No. The journey alone of fighting to fulfill an all-consuming dream is meaningful by definition. If we measured success by external validation, like winning competition titles, getting into top-ranked universities and having a lot of money, then 99% of us would be deemed “unsuccessful”. How many world champion dancers can there be? How many people are awarded Nobel Prizes, Oscars, Tony Awards, in a given year? How many Bill Gates’s are there? If being “the best” is my definition of success, then I am simply setting myself up for disappointment.

I worry that, if I don’t pursue dancing while I’m still young and have the physical ability to, I will live with regret later on. So, I’m giving dance a shot.

That does not mean, however, that I’m not afraid. Initially, upon making the big decision to pursue dancing seriously, I was ecstatic that I’d finally brought my 1+ year-long debate to an end. I chose dance. To reach that decision was no easy task, though.

Mentally, I first had to abolish the self-concocted idea that medicine was the “best” career to go into. That if I didn’t become a doctor, I wouldn’t be considered “successful”. Once I had cleansed my mind of this childish delusion (trust me, it was not easy– I’ve had many moments of relapse), I faced the hard truth that my heart simply wasn’t in premed. For so long, I thought I’d become a physician. It became this self-fulfilling prophecy– I tricked myself into believing that medicine was my calling, then reinforced this belief with actions, like studying an MCAT book, practicing sutures, shadowing doctors, etc. It seemed as if I was on the trajectory to go to medical school, and nothing could possibly sway me from that path. I think the most difficult part of my college experience was giving myself a hard, brutal look within, and facing the fact that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t cut out to be a physician. If the heart is not in it, it doesn’t matter how well you do in your premed classes. You WILL burn out. You WILL NOT be happy.

Now, as the end of my freshman year at UCLA looms closer and closer, I’m feeling more fear than excitement regarding my decision to dance. As the only person in my family to remotely consider a career in art, I have no reference point to go off of. I am carving my own path, deviant from the one I was placed on since birth. In moments of fear and doubt, I question my decision. I know this doubt will manifest itself many, many more times in the future– on off-days at dance practice, on days when I miss my friends at UCLA, on days when I long for the freedom of college life, away from the hawk-eyes of my parents.

I must be determined, and I must remain strong and resolute. Once I make the decision to leave UCLA for good, that’s it. I can’t allow myself to quit when things get difficult with dance. I can’t just say, “Well, dance isn’t working out, so I’ll just go back to UCLA,” the very moment things get tough. Likewise, if I decide to go back to UCLA, I can’t jump back onto my dancing aspirations the moment college academics feels overwhelming. In both cases, I’d be running away from challenges, because the options are presented in front of me. I am capable as a university student, but I’m also capable as a dancer. Running away from your problems is no way to live life, though. What kind of character is that?

No. Once I take that step to move back home and dance, I need to really, really try hard.

To clarify, I don’t plan on quitting college altogether. I will first take one quarter off from UCLA, which gives me 7 months of strictly dancing, during which time I will experience firsthand the life of a dancer. If, at the end of these 7 months, I decide that dancing is something I wish to pursue further, then I will enroll in community college to finish off my GE’s and lower division classes. My hope is that I can transfer to UC Berkeley (or, if I am insanely lucky, Stanford) from there, whilst living at home and training with my Bay Area dance teachers. That’s what the crux of this debate boils down to– my dance teachers and dance family being back home. If I want to give myself the best shot at growing rapidly as a dancer, I must be close to home. College will always be part of the equation. I have no aspirations of dropping out of school. Even if I do end up pursuing dance, I still want to be educated and have a degree to fall back on, should dancing not work out.

I guess my biggest regret of this whole decision is the fact that I’ll have to leave the friends I’ve made at UCLA. I was eating dinner alone at Bruin Plate earlier tonight, when I went to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall and cried empty tears of sadness, loneliness, nostalgia. Even though I’ve been here for only 3 quarters, I can honestly say that I love my school and its people. I will miss my friends. Of course, the beauty of living in a technological era is that friends can remain in touch across long distances. However, communication through wave-like mediums can never replace being physically present with the people you love.

But life isn’t perfect. Sacrifices and compromises must be made (La La Land perfectly epitomizes the struggles and sacrifices artists must face in the pursuits of their dreams). I am grateful that I have a chance to pursue dance. My true friends are the ones who, despite being sad that I’m leaving, fully support my dream. True friendships can withstand any physical divide.

And with that, it is now 1:16 a.m. Tomorrow will be a study day in the morning / early afternoon, followed by dance in the evening. I’ll talk to you guys later!

 

 

 

 

-Belicia