Pulsating bass notes and loud cheers reverberate throughout UCLA’s parking lots each night, encapsulating many students’ experiences with the campus’ diverse array of dance teams.
UCLA’s dance culture supports all skill levels of student participation, from introductory dancing to the more competitive dance teams. While the aesthetic appeal of dance may be the reason to start, many stay because they find a supportive community and space for self-expression.
Fourth-year international development studies student and co-executive of Foundations Choreography Liana Liang said she believes being able to integrate and encourage new dancers at an introductory level is important in fostering a vibrant dance community.
“Having a really supportive community to introduce you to dance is really important,” Liang said. “Especially with something like dance, which can be a very new and unfamiliar challenge for some people.”
Liang said she thinks many people become interested in dance thanks to the increasing popularity of viral videos featuring talented dancers performing visually pleasing choreography to well-known songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Rihanna’s “Work.”
While she had always been interested in dance, Liang said competitive dance team auditions had always felt daunting for students like herself who came to college with no previous dance experience. By joining Foundations her first year, Liang said she found an encouraging community of new dancers much like herself.
“If you mess up choreography during practices, your teammates are actually going to cheer even harder for you,” Liang said.
Many students use their experiences with Foundations as a stepping stone to explore other avenues of dance at UCLA. After participating in Foundations, Liang went on to dance for popular competitive and performance teams at UCLA such as Samahang Modern and KCN Modern.
For first-year psychobiology student Kaʻiu Nakawatase, dancing hula as a part of Hui O ʻImiloa, UCLA’s Hawai’i Club, became her way of nurturing an important aspect of her heritage and also receiving a warm reminder of home whenever she is feeling stressed in college.
“Being a first-year student from Hawaii, comfortably transitioning from home to UCLA was difficult,” Nakawatase said. “Luckily, I was able to find a piece of home at UCLA through dancing hula.”
Whenever she feels homesick, Nakawatase turns on some of her favorite Hawaiian music such as “Pua Mohala I Ka Wekiu” by Keauhou and starts dancing along. For Nakawatase, dancing hula helps her navigate the bustle and sometimes overwhelming nature of college.
Similarly, second-year linguistics and computer science student Vincent Kim, who was introduced to dance through Foundations and has since danced for KCN Modern as well, said dance has created a space for him to become the best version of himself and break out of his shell.
Having been a generally shy person all his life, Kim said dancing in college has helped him expand out of his comfort zone and become a more confident person in general.
“With dance, you’re forced to put down your reservations when performing and reach out for help with choreography,” Kim said. “All I ever received back were positive vibes from my experiences and fellow dancers.”
According to Time, dancing may have considerable impacts in fostering a positive emotional state and has been an effective therapy for those who have social anxiety or a fear of public speaking.
Although she said dance has been one of the most challenging things she’s done, Liang added that it has also been one of her biggest confidence boosters. This challenging but equally satisfying quality may be the reason why students are so attracted to dance in the first place.
Whether dancing is a way to manifest your own identity or a challenge you want to conquer, it is undoubtedly a flexible form of expression for students that has many purposes and is distinct to each individual’s experience.
“You can say dance is to exercise and de-stress but that’s definitely not the focus for me,” said Liang. “It’s just such a fun way to participate in a supportive community and find people that will work alongside you towards the same goals in dance.”