In the mid-'90s, the allure of UCLA had always been a distant dream for me. Nevertheless, I was determined to not let my perceived shortcomings define me. At age 16, I decided to do something out of my comfort zone and frankly, needed to figure out my "in" to UCLA - I turned to dance. Although I had never been formally trained and was competing against dancers who had been perfecting their art since childhood, I was determined to take that leap of faith.
My journey began when I discovered I could apply to UCLA through the dance department , through a series of auditions over the course of three days. I knew this was a long shot but it was my chance to follow my heart, despite knowing that I lacked the technical finesse that many others possessed. Armed with an unwavering spirit, I ventured into a world that was completely out of my comfort zone.
In preparation for this audacious audition, I knew I needed to go the extra mile. I had six months to transform myself into a dancer who could at least hold her own in the competitive world of the UCLA dance department. It was an uphill battle, but I was determined to face it head-on.
To bridge the gap between my raw enthusiasm and the polished skills of my competitors, step one was to find a dance instructor who would take me under their wing and with a stroke of luck, I found an unconventional, talented and patient instructor who was willing to work with me. But there was a catch: in exchange for her expertise, I had to teach her kids' dance classes.
This arrangement was a perfect reflection of my determination to make my dream come true. With an eagerness to learn, I embraced the opportunity to not only receive training but to give back as well. I spent countless hours in the dance studio, learning the nuances of various dance forms, from ballet to contemporary, jazz to hip-hop.
The dance instructor not only honed my technical skills but also became a mentor, teaching me the importance of discipline and perseverance. As the months went by, I felt myself evolving from a young enthusiast to someone who could, at the very least, hold their own on the audition stage and had become comfortable teaching others what I was learning. The commitment, hours, and sweat I poured into my training were, very much, a reflection of what I knew I had within me.
The day came to make the trip down to Southern California. As audition day approached, I was nervous, doubtful and wanted to quit, but my newfound skills and confidence helped quell some of my fears. The voice that had been saying "Give up" was now the voice that said "Show 'em what you got!"
As I walked into the UCLA dance department audition room for the first time, nerves threatened to consume me. There were so many girls tapping about in ballet slippers against the hardwood floor; I didn't own ballet slippers. It was truly a journey of self-discovery. I could feel the piercing looks and heard the whispers amongst the dancers "Who is she?" It was intimidating, to say the least.
For my solo performance, I chose Whitney Houston's iconic "I'm Every Woman." The choice may have been unconventional, but it was a song that resonated with the woman I aspired to become - strong, confident, and authentic. It was also the song my dance teacher picked for me. She wanted my solo piece to stand out, starting right with the music choice. Stand out it did.
Once the music started, I danced my heart out, pouring all my passion and determination into each movement. It was an act of vulnerability that took every ounce of courage. I knew I was far from being a professionally trained dancer, but it was an honest expression of commitment, and although it was strange and didn't go as well as I had hoped, it was genuine.
The department heads saw my determination and commended my perseverance and bravery. They admired my willingness to push myself beyond my comfort zone and the strength it took to step into a room filled with talented dancers, many of whom had trained their entire lives.
Even though ultimately I was not accepted into UCLA's dance department, that audition taught me invaluable lessons. I realized that it's not always about the outcome but the journey itself. It was a defining moment in my life that showed me the power of follow-through, determination, and the strength that resides within me, waiting to be unleashed.
Over the years, that single experience has continued to shape and influence me. It taught me that pursuing my passion is worth the risk, and that even in the face of adversity, or even looking like a fool, I can find strength and dare to be vulnerable, brave, and unapologetically myself.