Off the beat: Go-go dancing and confidence at Cal

AmmabelleOcampo

After a tough first semester at UC Berkeley, returning for a second term can bring the fear on. Instruction is starting, and I’m still at a crossroads — afraid to add classes to my Tele-BEARS.

Last semester was not one that I finished unscathed. There had to be a casualty, so I suffered a fail in one class to pass the others. I didn’t do well because I took on too much — I didn’t manage my time well. Failing negated the strength I gained in passing my other classes, so when the semester ended, my original excitement at returning to campus after more than 10 years had turned to shame.

Accordingly, I spent winter break in dismay. The damage was done. I had lost my inner sexy.

Then, earlier this month, I went on a pilgrimage to Las Vegas Fusion Exchange, a dance event that brought together dancers of all genres, including blues, swing, tango and hip hop, and blended them together into one great dance movement.

It was a go-go dancing workshop that helped me get my groove back. My instructor introduced us to the dance with a warm-up. Steps in place. Forward. Back. Forward. Back. Then she added some styling. Step, hip, flick. Step, hip, flick. We rotated legs as each eight-count syncopated to Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know — Tiesto Remix” and then to Ke$ha’s “Die Young.”

The warm-up did wonders for my confidence — I felt like a superstar. Then reality hit. The students had to walk across the floor, projecting our “inner sexy” — Suck in that gut, stand up straight, accentuate that butt, tousle that hair, pump those arms and connect your eyes with the audience on the runway, we were told.

Many of us promptly staggered to the back of the line, urging peers to go first as we huddled in the shadows trying to calm our nerves. Finally, we managed our way in small teams to the other side.

Like a go-go dance runway, the UC Berkeley campus can be intimidating, especially when you lose your footing like I did after my trying fall semester. The dance exchange taught me that, to make it through this semester, all I need to do is remind myself of the reason that I came here in the first place. I need to project confidence and my inner sexy.

Being a re-entry student, I’ve had to constantly remind myself of my original goal: to earn a college degree from UC Berkeley and become the journalist I always wanted to be. After not being in school for so long, it takes even more effort to return following a difficult first semester back on campus.

Attending UC Berkeley has been my dream since seventh grade, when I asked a campus tour guide what I needed to do to get in and was told that I needed to work hard and get good grades. Now that I’m here, I realized I also need to remember to not give up when the going gets tough. Balancing academics, work and everything else burned me out once. I can’t let that happen again.

Aside from building confidence through go-go dancing, I was inspired to keep going after rereading a speech from former UC president Benjamin Ide Wheeler. In the 1899 address, Wheeler told students that what they gain from university life is “not what is pumped into the pail, but what goes over into life. And it comes not only from the lecture room, but from association with the best minds … in the faculty, alumni, and student body — association with the whole life and character of the University.”

I’ve come to acknowledge that part of exploring that “life and character” is asking for help from friends and “guides” on my college journey. My guides are my professors, graduate student instructors and fellow students who help when my confidence is low. In tough times, they still say, “You’re OK. Keep going forward.” In the future, I need to find a way to better cultivate these relationships instead of trying to figure it out all on my own.

So this semester, if ever I feel overwhelmed with school work, I’ll remember my go-go dancing lesson, Wheeler’s speech and my guides. Through all those lessons, I will find my inner sexy — and the strength to dance through college to graduation.

Contact Amabelle Ocampo at [email protected].