I feel like a broken record.
These days, when someone asks how I’m doing, I answer with the same heavy sigh and response every time: that I’m so stressed, have no purpose in life, and that if I could sell both my kidneys on the black market to get into medical school, I would do it in a heartbeat.
I walk around campus like I’m a cartoon character with a mini thunderstorm hanging over my head. I’m constantly gripped by thoughts of career failure. I wallow in self-pity because I’ve already whined too much about my mediocrity to my friends.
My mom has stopped calling me because she says all I do is talk about organic chemistry and bore her to tears.
And yeah, I’ve also become a little melodramatic.
So it’s only fitting that when I competed in Manhattan last month with my dance team, I told myself and my teammates that I’d be heartbroken if we didn’t win. Before the prizes were announced, I might have dropped a few devotional lines to my man Ganesha so that we’d win. The way I saw it, if we won, I could at least say I was doing something well.
Sure enough, we got second place—and then had to be kicked off stage by the organizers because we wouldn’t stop jumping and screaming about our win.
Winning intercollegiate South Asian dance competitions might not be my ticket into med school, but at a time when everything is too hard, I need every win I can get, as small or seemingly unimportant it might seem. If there’s one thing being on a dance team has done for me, it’s been keeping my spirits up—even on my worst days, I go to practice and I feel just a little better.
I told myself that when I came to college I’d cut everything out of my life and do only the things that I needed to do. In other words, I’d sell my soul and be exactly like every other desperate, obsessive-compulsive pre-med college student. We’re not a very creative bunch.
So I spent most of last year doing nothing but school. I was miserable. It was bad enough I was having a hard time adjusting; on top of that I had nothing to look forward to outside of classes. I wasn’t even being efficient because I had nothing to do but work all the time. I wasn’t playing my violin much, I wasn’t in any way dancing, and I felt like I’d become an overstressed head case.
I spent inordinate amounts of time in my room and called my mom far too much for my own good—or hers. Suffice to say she told me to stop calling or to transfer to Berkeley.
I finally tried out for and made it onto Deeva Dance Troupe, an all-female South Asian fusion team, at the end of winter quarter last year. I suddenly had regular practices to be at, performances to clear my schedule for, “mandatory” bonding sessions to show up for whenever the girls deemed it necessary. Right after I joined the team, we started rehearsing for our annual spring show. We had practice all the time, extra rehearsals for the 12-13 dances we had to choreograph and learn in less than two months.
The week of our show, we had over six hour rehearsals every day—between which I had to study for two midterms. It was the most stressful week I’d had all year.
But I still loved spring quarter—largely because I had survived and escaped the horror of winters in Chicago. But more than anything, I felt like I had found my “place”—I’d found people who loved dancing as much as I did. It didn’t matter that we all came from different backgrounds—some of us bharatanatyam-trained, others with jazz or ballet training. We all tried our hardest to pick up every move, despite how out of our dance style it might be.
For the first time, I didn’t watch my teammates dance and resent that I wasn’t on stage doing the same. I wished I could leap through a grand jeté and watched in awe as the girls whipped through fouetté after fouetté. I actually knew what to do when somebody yelled rond de jambe!
I’ve always dreamed of being trained in ballet and lyrical—I may not be doing exactly that, but I do get to fake my way through jazz routines. And I get to teach the jazz girls all about the “flower” and “deer” hand gestures we use in bharatanatyam, along with the manly, thunderous stomping we do. It’s impossible for any of us to feel inferior because everybody on our team has something to learn from each other. We don’t claim to stay completely true to each dance type but we try our hardest to do so—as much as a fusion team can, at least.
Some people might say it’s ridiculous that we care this much or put this much time into a collegiate dance team. We spend hours standardizing, synchronizing, polishing, and practicing our routines, down to specific arm angles and head turns and facial expressions; we’re perfectionists.
In fact, my mom told me a few days ago that I’m constantly stressed because I spend too much time of my time on Deeva. Let’s be honest: I’d be stressed regardless. I’m high-strung, and that’s never going to change—but when I’m busy, I’m forced to work fast. I have to be on top of everything or I’m screwed. And I can’t imagine myself going through four years at a university with an amazing dance department and tons of dance troupes (including our four Indian teams) and never being a part of anything.
Winning the Manhattan competition reminded me, again, why I’m doing any of this. Because in my small, small world, these are the things that count. I’m not going to be a practicing doctor for at least eight years. I’ll run around Chicago getting man-on-the- street interviews for my journalism articles. I’ll pore over my biology and organic chem books. And most importantly, I’ll pray to Ganesha 5,000 times a day to get into medical school. But that’s not stopping me from doing what I want to do right here, right now for the next three years.
Pavithra Mohan is a sophomore at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism