By Kevin Belisario
What does it mean to be a dancer? Someone who moves in sequence to music. Their own toughest critic. Self-aware. While these are all common characteristics, being a dancer is much more than the aforementioned points.
I remember when I first started dancing. It was for my elementary school’s talent show and I was nervous to perform for an audience. I repeatedly watched *NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me” music video and did my best to memorize and replicate their choreography. My confidence grew little by little as I learned each step. This shifted my feelings from nervousness to excitement. The stage would eventually become a space where I felt most comfortable.
I spent most of my childhood in the dance studio and my first formal training experience came from an adult dance team called Formality. At just 8 years old, I joined Formality with the rest of the members being 16 years and older. I had a memorable first rehearsal and ended up learning the routine by doing the opposite side for every single move. During a short water break, I ran to my family watching from the side of the room. I was completely discouraged and cried because I did not look like everyone else. They encouraged me to continue on and finish the rehearsal.
A few months later, in January of 2002, we began our winning streak. We earned 1st place at Vibe, Ultimate Brawl, Fusion and Bust-A-Groove — the four major hip-hop dance competitions in Southern California. This had never been done before. I fell in love with performing and I was immersed in a family environment that provided a strong foundation for my dance career.
During that first performance, we made our way to the stage and I was extremely nervous, but excited to share what we had been working on for the past month. I preset on stage behind some of our props and thought to myself, “They have no idea what they’re about to witness.” All the hours of rehearsal and preparation were for the next five minutes of performance. Once the music played, I was so pumped to hit the stage and I trusted all the work I had put in during rehearsals. When I made my entrance front and center, the crowd roared. The lights were shining so bright that I couldn’t see anyone in the audience, but I fed off of their cheering and yelling. The energy and atmosphere from the crowd was electric and this definitely gave us a boost as we performed. There was a genuine camaraderie on our dance team. Those who were not currently on stage were cheering for those who were dancing. Before we knew it, we finished our set and I remember being raised up like a trophy and carried off the stage by my teammates. The joy we felt when we stepped off that stage was unforgettable.
I eventually pursued higher education at UCLA’s World Arts & Cultures/Dance Program with a minor in Visual & Performing Arts Education. Over the course of the next four years, I found myself participating Wacsmash’d, an interdisciplinary showcase of artists within the World Arts & Cultures/Dance Program. The show encompasses various styles of dance, live music, and film created and produced by undergraduate students.
I took many technique classes on styles of dance I had no prior experience in, such as West African and House Dance. This exposed me to dancing to live music, as well as deep historical analysis of different styles of dance. I was determined to equip myself with different techniques and movement qualities to foster my ability as a dancer. Initially, learning West African and House Dance were challenging, but my technique and understanding of how to move my body helped ease that process over time. I attended my technique classes extremely focused and always put forth my best effort. I tried to outdo myself each and every day. I found joy in stretching, working out and conditioning. These were small, but necessary steps in improving and growing as a dancer.
For my Senior Project Showcase, I created a piece that paid homage to four women who have had a significant impact on my life and who I have become today. My mother, grandmother, auntie, and cousin. I collaborated with a fellow artist — he created an original score of music that matched the feel I wanted for my piece. My cousin Abby, one of my biggest role models, played a significant role in my story as a dancer. We began taking dance classes at the same time and she graduated from UCLA five years prior to me in 2010. Throughout middle school and high school, I loved talking to her and picking her brain on every detail about UCLA. What the application process was like? What kind of atmosphere was a typical UCLA classroom? How to connect with the reader in my personal statement? She was like an older sister who provided me with constant support and a high standard that I always found myself working towards.
It’s been nearly 3 years since I graduated and I want to share how I continue to pursue my passion. I am currently a full-time dance teacher/director at studios in Shreveport, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I plan on pursuing a career in the commercial dance industry in Los Angeles. I plan on taking more dance classes to use as both a training ground and a networking space. Who you know is very important in getting a gig or discovering opportunities in the entertainment industry. My ultimate dance dream is to perform and teach while traveling the world. I would also love to backup dancing for superstars like Justin Timberlake or Chris Brown. Traveling, teaching internationally, and immersing myself in culture different from mine would be surreal. My ultimate dance dream motivates me constantly.
Being a dancer comes with a number of challenges, but an endless amount of possibilities. There are so many paths to take.
First, you have to figure out what you want and then create small objectives that will become stepping stones towards your goal.
No matter how big or small your objectives may be, consistency is crucial. Nothing worthwhile happens overnight. It will take a lot of hard work and dedication, but you will get there. Step outside of your comfort zone and seek the people who are already where you are trying to go. They can provide valuable advice and serve as your example. Be relentless in your approach and utilize every resource you can.
There have been many moments in my journey where I have been completely discouraged and nearly felt like I did not want to continue. I have been cut in the final round of an audition for being too tall. My dance piece was not selected to be part of Wacsmash’d at UCLA my 4th year. And I have had family members and my closest friends criticize the credibility of being a World Arts & Cultures/Dance major at UCLA. At the end of the day, I put in hours and hours of my craft. It is extremely difficult creating sustainable income off of a dancer’s income. This career path is mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally taxing I am also faced with the reality that dance is an ephemeral art form. But what keeps me going is my love and passion for performance, dance, and teaching the next generation of dancers.
Being a dancer is more than just storytelling through movement of the body. More than reacting to sound or music. Even more than being able to connect emotions and mental capacity into a physical product. Being a dancer means being confident and trusting your gut. The world is at your fingertips so seize each and every single day with passion and motivation.
Kevin Belisario was born and raised in San Diego, California where he trained in various types of dance including ballet and hip-hop. He attended UCLA where he studied World Arts & Cultures/Dance (WACD) and minored in Visual & Performing Arts Education (VAPAE). He is currently teaching dance full time at several studios in Southern California. IG and Twitter: @kevinbelisario