Summer is a time of freedom spent with friends at different places, leading to unforgettable memories and hilarious inside jokes. However, this summer I have spent most of my time with strangers much younger than I am –– children, actually –– inside a room with an adult that demands that our bodies do the exact opposite of what they are meant to do: perfect posture, perfect flexibility, perfect turns and perfect jumps. Dance is my summer and my freedom.
Although I am now going to be a third year at UC Irvine, I came to college with a set plan my first year, and dance was nowhere on that agenda until first seeing MCIA and Kaba Modern during Welcome Week 2011. Both teams showed me that dance is not just a set routine with perfect movements, but it is something people do for the joys and opportunities of expression.
From there, I decided to try out for MCIA and, with little experience or knowledge of the dance world, I made it along with 13 other people who had no idea what this experience would bring. As a new addition to the team, college, which was once just tests and grades, not only transformed into the motivation to dance, but it also became about family, perseverance and memories; dance, without any notice, transformed my entire life into something filled with purpose and has become the dream that I strive for.
While falling in love with hip hop and its different styles on MCIA, I wanted to experience all types of dance, so I decided to take my first technique class in jazz at UC Irvine. Saleemah Knight, the teacher of my first jazz technique class, taught me a lot more than what I had learned on MCIA in terms of dance; she taught me that movement isn’t just moving your limbs to the rhythm of music, but a passion and understanding of your body. Only with time can one truly understand their bodies and the art of movement. My teacher always said, “It takes 10 years to be a good dancer; 20 years to be a great dancer,” and I completely agree with the idea that only with time and practice can you move forward with technique and form a relationship of understanding with your body.
With this idea, Saleemah woke me up to the reality that dance isn’t easy like so many people believe it to be; the social body that goes to clubs and does the dougie or cat daddy is not what dance amounts to; it is so much more than that and I am so lucky to be able to experience it all. After taking Saleemah’s class, I wanted more technique and understanding, so I decided to enroll in ballet, modern and jazz toward the end of my first year; I fell in love with the technical world while still on MCIA and I dreamt of becoming a dance major ever since.
Of course having only danced two quarters of technique was not going to be enough to dance with people who have been dancing since they were children, but the love for dance and the dancing world motivated me to work harder than I have ever worked in my entire life. The summer after my first year, I enrolled in classes at a studio and danced with little girls who were better than me at such a young age; I was intimidated and the goal of being a dance major felt so far out of my reach, but I didn’t care, I just worked harder and harder each day to make up for the years that I’ve lost. Unfortunately, that summer (summer 2012), I got injured to the point that I couldn’t dance for two months and I lost all my opportunities to grow in those few months.
Although I was injured, I recovered enough to audition for the dance major in fall 2012 of my second year, and with only an extra month of training, I still auditioned with the hope that they would accept me and trust that I have the passion and potential to grow and better myself.
I can only say that the audition was one of the hardest things I have ever done; choreography was thrown at us and we were all expected to know it perfectly in front of the professors, and to demonstrate the technique and hard work we have all put toward the life of movement. There were breathtakingly amazing dancers in that room and I was nowhere near their level of talent or skill; I was rejected by the UC Irvine Dance Department and, although disappointed, I let that experience push me forward instead of letting it drag me down.
I again enrolled in technique classes at UC Irvine and took studio classes when I could, along with being a student and dancing with MCIA for a second year. I tried my best to prepare for the dance major audition in the winter and again I was rejected, but I still chose not to give up. Although the dance major didn’t happen, I accomplished so many other things in dance. Before the auditions ever happened, I ended up becoming a Top 9 Finalist in Kaba Modern’s annual Dance-a-thon and after being rejected from the major, I decided to audition for Bare Bones, a dance show where non-majors like me could dance alongside dance majors, and I ended up making it into two pieces with dancers who are very talented and have taught me so much more about the world of movement. Not only that, but I became a “returner” on MCIA, the dance team where I began to dream about it all.
For me, dance has become something more than just movement and understanding. I am, in actuality, very soft spoken since an illness in high school, and people rarely hear me when I say things — I am constantly asked to repeat myself over and over — and, although that may not seem like a big deal, it takes a toll on your confidence and forces you back into the shell you constantly try to break to fit into societal functions. However, with dance, people actually hear me and notice me; I am no longer invisible and I am the most free I have ever been.
Summer 2013 came quickly and with more understanding of my body, I decided to give up my summer with friends and work hard every day; each week I am lucky enough to dance more than 20 hours and although my body is exhausted from the constant work, I honestly could not be happier and I would not have it any other way. We all search for purpose in the things we do and dance is something that I know I have to do; it is the one thing I live for and it is the reason I actually have purpose. The major and the world after it will come in time and I know, one day, my hard work will pay off; I will never give up until that happens.