Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that really makes me reflect. I feel like life can get so busy sometimes that I forget to just sit down and think about life and think about what I am grateful for. Heading into college this fall (i.e Zoom University) and leaving/graduating from my childhood dance studio felt as big of a transition as leaving my high school because dance in general, and my dance studio played an essential role in shaping me to who I am today. So In honor of Thanksgiving, I am going to share with you my lifelong dance journey and why I am so grateful for all that it has given me.
Now grab some yummy snacks, perhaps leftover Thanksgiving food if you are having it right now, and get comfortable because this is going to be a wild ride.
At six years old, my family forced me into a dance classroom for the first time. Ever since then, I’ve dabbled genres including jazz, contemporary, modern, and ballet. But there is one particular genre that changed the game: Chinese classical and folk dance. When I was introduced to this genre at the age of 9 in Hengda Dance Academy, I completely fell in love with the aesthetic and athleticism. Soon, dance became my main outlet to my Chinese heritage and might I say, my forever true love. However, to say that my relationship with dance was a smooth and happy one would be false. Now it isn’t true love without some hate, passion, tears, and pain involved, am I right? I’ve had my fair share of personal struggles with dance and am still battling some of it at the moment. But without doubt, dance brought so much beauty and color in my life and through each of these battles, it trained me to come out stronger and more knowledgeable of who I am and the world around me. I am so thankful for all the important life lessons that dance has taught me and here are just a few that have had the most impact on me.
Compassion. As dancers, we are constantly examining and critiquing ourselves in the mirror. But, if this is not done in the right way this can easily turn toxic. Although pushing myself was necessary if I wanted to have results and improve, at one point I was just plain mean to myself. I nitpicked every little thing I did wrong and got upset with myself with things that were out of my control. As a result of this mindset, I struggled with perfectionism, my relationship with food, and acceptance of my height. Being 4’11 and being more on the curvy side, I struggled being short and not being the body type that I saw average dancers have. But expectations are something created by society. Just because you don’t fit with the norm, it doesn’t mean you don’t belong. Truly, anyone can be a dancer if they want to be! At one point I was tired of being my own worst enemy and started to practice being a companion to myself. In other words, I started pushing myself out of love instead of hate. To say that I’m successful at this would be giving me too much credit. I have my good and bad days, but I would say having this new mindset of treating myself with compassion has helped me incredibly in my mental health. I might even say that it has pushed me to be a better and stronger dancer more effectively than the times when I was my own worst critic.
Competition. Right when I started dancing, my instructors pushed me to enter multiple competitions and performances. At the time, I dreaded them because I dreaded the pressure. In the dance classroom, my instructors also held me, and many other dancers, to a very high standard. If you were not competing out on the dance floor with other studios, you were competing for the center stage and attention with your dance classmates. Naturally my competition side of me grew but for the longest time, I hated being competitive. I rather make friends and the competition atmosphere made it hard for that to happen sometimes. However, I learned overtime that competition is inevitable but how I wanted competition to affect me was ultimately up to me. One quote that stuck to me ever since I heard it is “metal sharpens metal.” An environment where healthy competition is fostered is possible and I feel like this quote depicts this exact nuance. To this day, my dance friends are some of my closest friends because of the fact that we pushed each other to be better dancers everytime we were on the dance floor. The beautiful thing about healthy competition is that it doesn’t get in the way of mutual support for each other. Your opponent’s gains are ultimately your gains so you want each other to succeed and to be the best that they can be. In other words, healthy competition is when your primary goal is growth.
Validation. Constantly seeking validation in dance may be one the hardest struggles I had to overcome. I seeked validation from my peers, my family, but most of all, I seeked validation from all my instructors. I feared disappointing my instructors because I knew they were investing so much of their time and energy on me. However, this constant need for my instructor’s approval made me easily upset whenever I had an off day or when I wasn’t visible to my instructors. I would think that I had digressed when in reality, I was overthinking the majority of the time. The need for approval caused me to not enjoy dancing as much because at that point, I was dancing for others. Although I knew I should keep striving to meet my instructor’s and family’s expectations, this mindset alone was not sustainable. If I wanted to continue to dance and enjoy it at the same time, I needed to first and foremost, dance for myself.
Ownership. Perhaps it’s because of my Chinese culture where modesty and humbleness is valued, I always had a hard time owning my story and accomplishments. Having danced for over 12 years, I had a lot of time to work on my skills and artwork. Not only did I put a lot of hours and energy in, I had incredible teachers that guided me to be the dancer I am today. As a result, when I go to competitions I would place 1st place overall or acquire a high level award. At performances, I’ve had people tell me that I have a big stage presence . Writing and now reading this over still makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, because for the longest time I thought any type of boasting or evident pride about an accomplishment was bragging. That’s why a few years back I hid or toned down a lot of my dancing identity to my classmates and peers. Certainly, the concept of too much bragging exists. At the same time, I believe i was secretly afraid that if I told the world about my dance passion, an expectation would be set and I wouldn’t be able to live up to it. However, I’ve come to learn that if I’m passionate and have invested a lot into something, why not take ownership of my experience? In a way, being verbal about my love for dance has pushed me to work even harder because it frees me to embrace it to the fullest extent.
Identity. What I’m going to say next may seem like I am contradicting myself because it seems like dance is my identity, but hear me out. Evidently, dance is such a big part of my life. But what I had to learn the hard way during my knee injury in junior year of high school is that there’s a problem when I believe dance is my life. That slight difference between “dance is a big part of my life” and “dance is my life” is everything. Before my major injury, I’ve morphed my identity with dance so much that when I was forced to take a break and lose dance for a period of time, I also temporarily lost myself. I had been leaning on dance so much for validation and proof of my self-worth that losing dance gave me an identity crisis and hard blow to my self-esteem. It took months for me to recover physically. However, it took me even longer to recover mentally. Although yes, dance has practically shaped me to the person I am today. I had to realize the hard way that what made me wasn’t dance. What made me was the experiences, values, and viewpoints she chose to get out of not just dance but also her childhood, school, and people around her: compassion, vulnerability, and love for self-expression.
I could keep talking about dance but we would be here all day! So I will just leave us with a highlight of the most impactful lessons that I’m so grateful to have learned from dance. But to have the dance journey that I had, I have so many people to give thanks for. I am so grateful for the dance community, my friends, my dance teachers, and my family for supporting me throughout my journey with dance. I cannot express enough the gratitude I have for my parents for all those times they drove me to and from dance classes, all the hard work they do so that we could afford dance classes, going to all my recitals and competitions and so much more. All of that, the people around me and dance, has led me to be where I am and a big reason to why I am here today as a SEA article volunteer! Now that leads me to my next point. I am so thankful for SEA and the incredible people I’ve been working with for the past few months. Lastly, I hope you all are having an incredible Thanksgiving break and while we are celebrating this holiday, here’s a gentle reminder to not forget to recognize and educate ourselves about the true origins of Thanksgiving and uplift the Indigenous Community as well! Thank you if you’re still reading this and thank you for being the person that you are. 🙂