Profile: UCLA Dance Major, Ria Julian Proves That With Passion, Dreams Can Become A Reality

In my time as a student at UCLA, I have met a lot of incredible Bruins. This campus thrives with remarkable individuals, who are able to brilliantly explore their passions while diligently pursuing an education at the same time. One woman who epitomizes this is Ria Julian, a 4th year Dance major and Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE) minor. Born in Japan to Filipino parents, Ria was raised in Koreatown/Los Angeles, California. I met Ria through UCLA’s Korean Culture Night production this past year, and had the opportunity to speak with her about her passion for dance! 

Image Credit: Issei Morrissey

Her Campus: When did you start dancing? What are your favorite dance styles to perform? 

Ria Julian: My parents told me that I’ve been a performer my whole life, but I first knew I loved to dance when I was in the 5th grade. I was performing in a Shakespeare play when my teacher suddenly asked me, “Do you like to dance?” For the first time, I realized how much I enjoyed dancing. I love performing Hip Hop, but recently I’ve been getting more into West-African dancing. Hip Hop has always been my go-to technique, because I grew up with it. The style is also extremely diverse, so I can switch between styles of Hip Hop such as Waacking, into House, old-school Hip Hop and Hip Hop choreography. As for the West African style - I started learning this technique when I entered UCLA. I love the technique because it has taught me some of the roots of Hip Hop, and it also allows me to access an energy that I can’t really express in other styles of dancing. 

HC: Why did you decide to pursue dance at UCLA? And what has been the hardest part about being a dance major? 

RJ: I decided to pursue dance when I was a junior in high school. I’ve known for most of my life that the only thing I’m good at is dancing (haha) and so I stuck with that until the college application process came around. I legitimately love dance/movement so much - I have no idea how to live my life without it. People around me were worried about my major of choice, but since I was so adamant about being a dance major, they stopped being “worried” for me. After getting accepted into UCLA with dance, I now have this philosophy: if dance was able to lead me to UCLA, then dance will lead me to the other great opportunities in life. 

I think the hardest part about being a dance major is the action of constantly trying to prove to everyone, including myself, that I can dance. For most of my life, dance was my identifier, but when I came to the World Arts & Cultures/Dance department, I suddenly met 100 other “me’s” in the room. It was great meeting people who were as passionate about dance as I am, but I began to constantly compare myself to my peers. It didn’t help that I was one of the few people who came in with Hip Hop - everyone else had either trained in a dance studio for their entire life, or they were already making money in the dance world. I knew I had the passion, but I wasn’t sure I had the talent (I’m still battling with this idea today). The other hard part about this major is always proving to people that I can create a career out of dance. It may not be clear right now, but college has really opened my eyes to the many opportunities I can have as a dancer. I can go into arts education, performance or even non-profit art organization work. It took me a while to realize that I am basically a trailblazer at this institution. I hope people can change their view about dance students or performing arts students in general. 

Image Credit: John Nyboer 

HC: You are an active member of the UCLA-based dance club SEOULA! Among the dance covers you have been a part of, which one is your favorite, and why?  

RJ: I really enjoyed doing a cover for BTS’ "GoGo" and most recently BlackPink’s “Don’t Know What to Do.” "GoGo" was so much fun to do, because I was performing with my close friends on the team. I just remember practices were 80% laughing and the rest was dancing. As for “Don’t Know What to Do” it felt like a comeback of sorts. I left the group to pursue other commitments, but I always knew I would come back eventually. I’m so happy that I’m able to participate in SEOULA activities again! It’s been nice to see the club grow from a small group of friends doing K-pop dance covers to a successful dance team on campus. 

Image Credit: Jucel Andrin, Jenny Kwak

HC: For the 2019 UCLA Korean Culture Night Production, you were one of the coordinators for the performance team, Modern! Can you share about this experience and the lessons you learned from it?

RJ: Being a coordinator for KCN Modern was a real journey for me. I heard the news that I would be one of the coordinators for Modern around this time last year. At the time, I mostly felt fear. I had barely choreographed, I had never lead a team of 30+ people before, and I didn’t know how to live up to the KCN Modern legacy that Joe, Mary and Danyel had all left the years prior. If I wanted to do a good job with my co-coordinators, I knew I had to prepare for the job. To prepare, I made the decision to lead a Foundations team over the summer (with my co Merton) and to also be a part of this year’s KASA Dance-off Leadership.

There were still times when I still felt unfit for the job. I was incredibly insecure about my choreography, I felt that I couldn’t take charge when I wanted to, and I didn’t purposefully take the time to learn who the people on our team were. Despite these insecurities, I was able to pull through, thanks to the support I felt from my co’s Patrick Gilles and Ryan Kim. I know that I would have a completely different experience on Modern if I did not have them around. Being one of the coordinators for KCN Modern was definitely one of the most memorable things I did throughout college. After this experience I feel more confident in myself as a choreographer, and as a leader in the dance community. I may not know much right now, but I do know how to band a group of strangers together to create a team that will put on a great performance for all to see. 

HC: How has dance shaped you as a person / how do you hope it will shape you in the future? 

RJ: Being a dancer has taught me how to be disciplined, physically/mentally strong, and have the ability to appreciate all kinds of movement. Without dance, I don’t think I would notice the world in the way that I do now. Everything to me is like a dance! For example, I would watch people walk to class and think of their walking path as a kind of choreography. Dance has also allowed me to meet the best people in life. Dancers are such a special breed of people - they know how to communicate without words and they know how to use movement to entertain, heal and educate other people.

HC: You were also a director of a training team for Foundations Choreography. This dance club is known to encourage and teach inexperienced, beginning dancers as well. Why is it important to provide students on campus the opportunities to dance, no matter how inexperienced they may be? 

RJ: I believe dance, as well as other art forms, should be accessible for all who are interested. I think many people think that art forms in general are a waste of time, but it is clearly needed! So many people on this campus want to dance. Foundations Choreography offers students a chance to train in dance (for free!) as well as create relationships with people from all over the campus. I don’t think anybody is “bad” at art. There are only the newbies and the experienced! I have seen many dancers blossom from Foundations Choreography and I think it would be unfortunate not to give people who are interested in dance a chance to try something new in a safe environment. 

HC: What are your plans for after college?

RJ: It’s still not set in stone, but I want to continue going on an arts education route. I want to train myself into becoming a dance teacher for K-12 schools or after-school arts programs. On top of that, I want to continue performing on stages with various dance groups. I would also want to practice and train in my freestyle so I could feel more confident signing up for Hip Hop All-Styles or Waacking battles in the future. 

HC: What advice do you have for incoming Bruins who want to pursue dance in college? 

RJ: I say - don’t overwork yourself. Teams are awesome if you want to pursue a close, tight-knit family, but just always remember to put yourself, your physical and mental health, first. There are plenty of dance opportunities on campus that can cater to your availability, physically and mentally. If you decide to pursue dance academia, never forget why you love dance in the first place. Just get ready to have your perspective on dance be turned upside down by the classes you will take. After taking dance history and choreography classes, I appreciated dance as more than just the movement. Dance is a subject of study, just like anything else on this campus. And don’t ever let other people tell you that dance is an easy major (it is not). Ask anybody else if they ever have to get up at 9 am to physically work and sweat for 3-4 hours in a day and then go to their other classes. Tell those people that dance is “easy” because us dance majors are studying what we actually love. We came to college to pursue our dreams, not anybody else’s.   

Image Credit: Haven Kim

HC: What does female empowerment mean to you? And who would you say is your Girl Boss? 

RJ: Female empowerment means the disruption of the idea that my gender will limit me from doing anything I want. It means to love being female and acknowledging all the strengths that come with it. We are more emotionally intelligent, empathetic, we can bring life to the world, we do not quickly turn to violence, etc. Female empowerment is not needing anybody else to care for you but also knowing that asking for help is okay. It means uplifting other women to reach their full potential. 

I don’t have one specific person who I can call my girl boss, but recently I saw this dancer, Mari Madrid, perform on a live stage while she was 6 months pregnant. She, and many others, inspire me to rethink the notion that becoming a parent means to give up on their dreams and their livelihood. I think there are so many mothers, like my own, who put their children first but lose some of their identity in the process. I have never been a mother, but I would love to continue dancing if I ever had a child. Watching Mari Madrid dance inspired and motivated me to believe that I can really do it all. 

Watch Ria's recent performance with KCN Modern at Battle Royale 2019! Thank you so much for speaking with Her Campus UCLA Ria! We are so excited to see what lies ahead in your future, you beautiful and bright star.