Sweat dripped down the faces and bodies of the 14 exhausted teen dancers and scattered onto the slippery hardwood floor. Several stifled yawns.
“Let’s do one more round, then we can go home, ladies,” leisurely said my captain. The group pushed through one last routine as the clock struck 12:30 a.m. It was hot and musty in the spacious basement studio at Sunrise Plaza in St. Paul. There were no windows to let in the cool breeze. Instead, a fan by the door wailed loudly, forcing us to turn the music up higher.
We were days away from the Minnesota Hmong New Year dance competition, an annual event that draws in as many as 60,000 people. At that point, we were eating, breathing and dreaming about dance. Our lives were already packed with homework, jobs and house chores, but we squeezed in practices, too. Our lower backs, knees, ankles and shoulders were strained and bruised. But instead of stopping, we massaged and iced them and pushed forward.
The night before our intense competition, we were at it again, practicing. While we rehearsed in our brown and maroon edgy-like fitted costumes, we cheered each other on. Cries of, “You can do it! Push through! Together, we got it girls!” filled the air. We reminded ourselves that there was a lot at stake. The money. The fame. The trophy. But most of all, we wanted to show people what we were capable of.
On the day of the competition, Hmong families crowded the massive arena in their finest traditional clothing adorned with coins that jingled and swished. Some people tossed a ball back and forth while flirting with other attendees. Others devoured some delicious, greasy Hmong food and sipped on sweet cold drinks. The vendors sold crispy fried egg rolls, and the scent of the spicy peppery papaya salad had my mouth watering.
Uneasily, I arrived in the backstage area and walked up to my teammates, who looked superb in their costumes. As we started preparing for the competition, my nerves were shot. My heart was about to burst from beating so fast. Pausing, I took a minute to remind myself of how profoundly dance has impacted my life.
Dance trained me to heartily motivate myself to unexpectedly be the champion I wished to present. Struggling to push through, doubting myself and my abilities, I leaned on others for support and to never give up. I mentally and physically felt stronger when I gained the self-confidence to express who I am and strengthened what I had planned for my future. “Dream. Believe. Achieve,” as I recall our dance slogan.
That evening at the 2016 Minnesota Hmong New Year dance competition, we were named champions. Hard work does pay off.