9 Reasons Why I’m Thankful For My Dance Background

This week, the themes of our articles are all about giving thanks. Having to choose just one thing to write about was tricky. I am thankful for everyone in my life right now, and for everything that helped me get here. I am thankful for my family and friends of course. I am thankful for my hometown. I am thankful for UCLA. I am thankful for having passions, having strong relationships and for the fact that I am working on gaining confidence and becoming a stronger woman every day.

In order to choose my one topic, I needed to look back in my past and find the root of my happiness. I needed to find the fire that fueled me through childhood and shaped me into the person I am today. I needed to find my first passion, my first challenge and my first love. Dance was all of those things for me. For 11 years, dance was my life, the years I grew up, the years I became Grace. And I am proud of who I am today, so here are 9 reasons I am thankful for dance - the part of me I owe it all to:

  1. 1. Dance taught me what it felt like to be passionate about something.

    Dance was the first thing in my life that I was passionate about. And for a long time, it was the only thing. My mom put me in jazz classes when I was four, but my parents primarily encouraged soccer. My dad, my favorite person in the world, would coach my teams. Soccer was what everyone did; I should have loved it. But even as a five-year-old, I knew how I felt when I got to go to dance class. I did not know what it was called; that feeling was nameless to me. But I knew it lit me up in a way I could not even describe…that is how wonderful it was. I asked my mom to put me in ballet classes when I was in the second grade, and although she was surprised, she happily obliged and enrolled me in a ballet school. Now, I got to go to class more than once a week, and I loved it more than anything I had ever known. I got to feel this feeling every time I stepped foot in the studio, and it changed me. I know now that this feeling has a name; it is called being passionate. I am thankful I hung onto it, because it now guides my every step through this newly adult-like life.  

  2. 2. Dance led me to my love of performing.

    When I entered high school, I was completely lost. It was probably the darkest time in my life. I was coming out of a tough year of being bullied, and I was aimlessly looking and hoping for anyone to be my friend. Entering high school is hard enough, but doing it alone was unlike anything I had ever and really ever experienced. It is a feeling of being so lost that I cannot even type the words to define it. The only thing I knew for sure in that time is how much I loved being on stage. I knew that the only time the pain I was feeling dissipated was when I was portraying a character, under the spotlight, in front of an audience of unknown faces. When I was up on stage, every piece of my pain fell away. There were no bad thoughts and no physical pain. The stage was my escape. This, I knew from dance. So, I joined the theater department. Joining this group was possibly the single greatest decision I have ever made - besides becoming a dancer. It completely changed my life in a time where I did not even know who I was anymore. It gave me a new passion, a new past time, and all of the friends I could ever ask for. The reason I knew to look to theater as my saving light is because I knew the feeling that dance gave me, and in high school, this was the closest thing I would be able to find. Thanks to dance, I knew myself well enough to save myself.

  3. 3. Dance taught me I am a creative spirit and I thrive in creative environments.

    Every time I have entered a new phase of life and I feel immediately uncomfortable, I look to find relief in something- anything - that can make me feel stable in that time of pure discomfort. When I entered high school without a secure friend group, I joined the theater department. I found love and peace and warmth and stability in acting and singing. When I entered UCLA with no major and no clear path in sight, I looked to the film minor - the one creative academic outlet I could find. And now, entering the scariest phase yet, adulthood, the one guiding principle I am leaning on is the only sure thing I really think I know: I have to be in a creative environment. I do not know what I want to do, or where I want to go, but I know as long as this is true, I am on the right path for myself. This indicator that I depend on to allow me to navigate new life phases and grow as a person in these times of utter anxiety and uneasiness is the only thing that has never let me down. I have made mistakes, but the choice to always find and follow creativity has never proved me wrong. I learned this truth about myself from my love of dance at a very young age, and I have no idea where I would be without it.

  4. 4. Dance helped me overcome anxiety.

    My anxiety started to manifest when I was about nine. This was the first time I went to therapy. My anxious tick was picking my lips and peeling the skin on my fingers, and my teacher and my parents became concerned about me when they began to notice. Therapy was difficult for me because, like any nine year old with anxiety, I did not have much of an explanation for why I was feeling the way I was feeling; it was just there. I remember being incredibly confused when the adults in my life would try to tell me that these anxious ticks were somehow connected to how I was feeling. I did not know what anxiety was and I did not understand that it was something I could (partly) control and recognize. It took me a long time to realize this, but the one thing I knew made me feel better was dance. Going to class after school every day gave me three things I needed to stay sane: a routine, loving teachers, and best friends. While my anxiety never fully went away, ballet and modern dance helped me cope with the confusing, looming sadness as a way of personalized therapy.

  5. 5. Dance gave me best friends when I needed them most.

    As I mentioned above, I was bullied when I was in the 8th grade. My best friends from elementary suddenly cut me out of their life. They started sitting at a new lunch table, ignoring my texts, and they disinvited me from every hang out. It was like I did not exist. This was the first time in my life that I experienced depression. I was sadder than I really know how to say; I am not sure I know the right words. I cried myself to sleep every night, and I cried the whole car ride to school every morning. Going to school, something that had always given me so much joy, suddenly became my worst nightmare. It destroyed momentarily my love for learning.

    Luckily, I had my dance friends. The one thing that saved me was the fact that I was not alone. I arguably spent more time at the ballet studio at that time in my life than at school, due to rehearsal and class and the fact that I just liked hanging out there (I could walk from home). So my life began to feel like I would go through the motions to get through to school to get to the meat of my day: dance. I would stay at the studio for hours past my classes just to be around my people. I had a friend group of three girls who I had grown up dancing with, and within our larger level, I had about six or seven older girls who felt like the big sisters I never had. Dance gave me a family when I needed one most. It reminded me that I was loved and not alone. It reminded me to stay positive and hold on tight to the people that really cared. I hold on to this sentiment today.

  6. 6. Ballet taught me discipline and strength.

    I have never, like most people, enjoyed doing things I am not good at. I am used to liking to do the same things because I know I can do them well. Ballet, however, was a craft I never fully mastered as well as everyone around me, but I never stopped trying. I was less strong, less flexile, and much smaller than the other girls in my level. This meant ballet was naturally harder for me, and even though I was constantly trying to improve, I still developed at a slower pace. This meant that I could not go en pointe at the same time as my peers, for my feet and ankles just were not ready. I begged and pleaded to be let up to continue with my peers, and after a couple of months, I was injured. My injury meant that I couldn’t dance ballet for six months. This setback made me want to quit. I was now a level behind the peers I had grown up dancing with, and I thought my dance life was over. But the love of the sport was too strong. I could not give up, and I knew I was capable of coming back. When I finally came back, I was still in the same level I was in before, but now with a group of younger girls. Instead of quitting, I let it teach me a lesson. I let it make me a stronger dancer. I let it motivate me to move up and accomplish what I had always wanted. And it worked. After six months of regaining my strength and training to get back to where I was before, I was finally given the lead in the Nutcracker: a show I had been doing for seven years. Ballet taught me discipline in trusting your teachers and understanding your place. It taught me strength in that I learned to work hard for what I wanted; it would never just be given to me. And it taught me that sometimes, if you follow the path you think you’re too big to take, it can teach you something, and it can even end up taking you farther than you ever thought you would get.

  7. 7. My teachers taught me love in a different way.

    Growing up in a ballet studio was interesting because it was an incredibly different environment from my every day life in terms of the atmosphere and the people. As a seven year-old, I was a nice girl, and so adults treated me life what I was: a child. But at the ballet studio, even from a young age, I was treated as if I were older and tougher than my real age. Ballet is unforgiving, so I became used to being yelled at and made to cry. I was very sensitive as a child, so this at first made the studio a somewhat hostile environment for me. But eventually, I grew a thicker skin. I am thankful for this skin I built in all my young years there because my teachers ultimately taught me a crucial lesson: to be able to take criticism well. And today, as an aspiring writer, this is a skill I must possess fiercely and whole-heartedly. I am prepared, and dance helped me get there.

  8. 8. It made me independent.

    By the time I was 10, I was taking class almost every day. As the oldest of three, my mom did not have time to be at my beckoning call all day every day. She had other kids to worry about, so I quickly needed to learn to be pretty independent. When I got to middle school, I would walk there every day after school. I would stop and get a snack on the way, maybe dinner too to save for later if I had rehearsal, and then my mom would pick me up around 8 or so. When I had homework, I had to find time between class and rehearsal to time manage. If I had an issue at dance with a teacher, I had to talk it out myself. This was really hard for me at first, because I was shy and timid and somewhat babied at home. But like I said, I was treated there (as one of the youngest company dancers) as if I were older than I really was. For this reason, I was expected to be mature always, and I had to grow up and fend for myself a little earlier.

  9. 9. It taught me the importance of knowing yourself, and thus, the importance of knowing when to let it all go.

    Quitting dance was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and it is a decision I think about pretty often. I am not sure if I regret it. People ask me, and my instinctual answer is yes, but when I think about it long and hard, I do not think I really can be. I quit dance when I was 15 because I was tired. I was so emotionally drained and mentally unstable at the time that all of the joy I had ever known from the craft suddenly wasn’t there anymore. Going to class gave me a pit in my stomach instead of a rush. The idea of performing made me feel nervous sick instead of nervous joy. I quit because I felt like it was something I needed to do to better myself and the person I had an idea I wanted to be. And I think I was right. When I entered high school, I knew I wanted to be a part of my school community. I knew that I wanted to go to a good school for academics. And I knew that I most likely was never going to be a professional ballerina.

    I was right about all of these things. I wanted to be a part of my school community, and that is what I did. I made so many friends, I joined so many clubs and I played so many sports. I found new passions, I gained new leader positions and I connected with so many teachers who changed my life. And then, I went to a great school. I joined multiple organizations that have made me grow so much more in two years than I had ever before. I study two subjects that I love with all of my heart. I am surrounded by best friends that I love like family. And at this school, I am slowly but surely piecing myself together into the person I think (cause I feel like you can never really know) I want to be. I am doing well, but none of this would have happened if I did not have my dance background and then know when it was time to move on. Both of those decisions played a role in how I got to be where I am today.

So yes, I am sad I do not dance anymore. But I do not regret quitting. I felt a version of being alive when I used to dance that I have not really felt since. However, I think that is the point. That time came and passed, and I feel that version of being alive in a different way now through different things that I have found along the way. And I am sure I will find this in more things that I try in the future. But I would not have found that love in all of these different things if I stuck to the same thing my whole life. I needed space to move on and expand my heart for more things to love. Because now I know how many things - how many different things - I am capable of being passionate about. And isn’t passion what it is all about? Isn’t that what we should strive for? To wake up and feel passionate about the things you are doing and the people you are surrounded by? I think so. At least, that is what dance taught me, and I am thankful for that every day.