The Diva in Me

[VelaSusan Park #3] performance pic
Photos Provided by VelaSusan Park

I am a performer. I was only five when I first performed for a large crowd, dancing in the “The Nutcracker” ballet and a traditional Korean dance piece before hundreds of people. I loved every aspect of the performance; I loved the lights, the festivity, and the chance to do something new. But this moment also marked the beginning of my love-hate relationship with dance that would define the next two decades of my life.

[VelaSusan Park #1] 1996 dance photo+JPEG
Dancing in 1996
I’ll start with the “love” aspect of my relationship with dance. I love dancing because human movements fascinate me. This is partly due to my background: I was born in Japan, lived in Korea until I was nine, and then emigrated to the U.S. I often found myself in situations where I did not speak the local language fluently. As a result, I would focus on body language, and it was incredible how much I could comprehend without understanding a word.

On a more spiritual level, dancing makes me feel alive. Steve Jobs once said, “We’re here to make a dent in the universe.” Well, dancing lets me do that on a literal level. Dance reflects the many aspects of human life. Like life, there is a definite beginning and ending to the choreography. You can do whatever you please, but your moves will ultimately impact your choreography as a whole. Your performance is also influenced by external forces (e.g. music, crowd, lights) that are not fully under your control. Every time I dance, I have the chance to really examine what I am feeling that day, minute, and second. It is a gift.

But dancing is also linked to some of the darkest moments in my life. In middle school, my crush rejected me at a school dance because I was a “horrible” dancer. How did that happen, when I’d been dancing since age three? I had stopped dancing for a while after moving to the U.S., and I guess my body forgot how to respond to beats.

After that rejection, I resolved to start dancing again. I joined the cheerleading squad in high school. I was not the best dancer on the team, but my ballet training made me more flexible than most people. But being a cheerleader also made me extremely conscious of my body. I never felt skinny or pretty enough. I felt inadequate. I would starve for an extended period of time and then binge. Cheerleading sucked all the fun out of dance.

Then I reached another turning point. In college, I studied abroad in China, and I came across belly dance. It was an electric experience for me. I was enraptured by the melodic drumbeats combined with sexy, disciplined belly movements. I had never done Middle Eastern Dance before, but I had to give it a try. The muscle isolation and hip movements that are at the core of belly dance did not come naturally to me, but it came in bits and pieces.

Yale Belly Dance Society
Yale Belly Dance Society

For the past five years, I have been belly dancing. Since my novice stage in China, I have progressed to an intermediate level. At Yale, I was part of Yale Belly Dance Society, where I learned that belly dancing actually comes in many different types: American Cabaret, Egyptian, Turkish, Tribal Fusion, Arabic, etc. After graduation I was part of the Los Angeles Belly Dance Academy, where our troupe performed at the opening of Beverly Hills’ Centennial Anniversary on Rodeo Drive.

[VelaSusan Park #2] beverly hills 100th year
Beverly Hills Centennial Anniversary
At Columbia Law, my dancing journey continues. Art brings out the rawest parts of the human psyche. When I dance, I choose to forget who I am, which actually allows another part of me to emerge. I am a blank slate that can morph into anything I want to be.

You don’t have to be Eminem to be a Rap God. The Diva can emerge only if you let her come alive.


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