JR Dongalen: 2014 was a springboard for so many new experiences in my life; I graduated high school, I got my first job, I applied for college, and I went to the Philippines for the Church’s Centennial anniversary. I was there at the Philippine arena, watching the Centennial Dance Company perform in perfect sync. The entire dance company, the entire performance had a gravitational pull on me; I wanted to go down there and start dancing, too. After the celebrations, friends of mine approached me about an opportunity to dance for local and district activities. No hesitation, I said yes, without having a lick of experience. Boy, I was no good at it. I was mixing up my dance steps, forgetting where to be, and looking like a floppy mess on stage. One day, I joined a few friends for a dance class at a local studio. Couldn’t pick up the choreo either, but I kept coming back. That was the start of my rollercoaster ride of a dance journey, with three difficult lessons that defined my overall experience.
I was so addicted to improving my skills, I nearly dropped everything from hobbies and friends to even skipping out on Church activities. Fast forward two years later, I became a co-director for one of the community’s top competitive dance teams. It was the peak of my dance career, but the pressures I faced didn’t stop there. Our team accomplished a lot: we won competitions, performed at live events, I also had the opportunity to travel to different cities and regions across North America, learn from talented individuals; people who choreographed for famous artists. But being in the entertainment industry comes with a lot of baggage. It has its own culture. Its own little world.
In the dance community, you needed to stand out on social media. Your reputation mattered. If you didn’t have one, quite frankly, you weren’t respected. Posting your dance pieces on social media, adding filters to it to make it look good, following every single person that you crossed paths with. Even if they were meaningless connections, you had to. Simply for the numbers.
Remember how I dropped everything to improve my skills? Well, I spent a lot of time in the dance community. It was a toxic environment, filled with people who put a life of vices and dark experiences in the limelight. It was tempting. “Why don’t you just try?” “Indulge a little bit, you deserve it.” And if you didn’t? You heard about it. All. Night. Long. I can look at my dance career one way: I lived out a childhood dream, earned tons of accolades, had fun experiences, traveled, and met new people. But all I felt was: anxious and scared to mess up, depressed, insecure, guilty, lost, lonely.
One day, my parents sat me down. We hung out together for the first time in a while; we hadn’t had much quality time together as a family when I was dancing. My mom spoke about everything from my career plans to upcoming Church activities. But her next words hit me like a train. “Anak, son,” she said. “Everyone is always looking for you. I miss seeing you at all of the activities.” They were simple words. Nothing too dramatic, just the truth. I had started to reevaluate my life, reflecting on everything that I was doing.
I called it quits. I left the dance scene and I felt a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders and I finally felt at peace. Shortly after, dance opportunities came down the pipeline. I was asked to lead multiple dance-related programs and activities in the Church, from musical productions to dance workshops and music videos. It was also much more fulfilling than what I had done in the past. It’s a different kind of reward, knowing that what you’re doing is more than just for yourself. That what we were doing was for the good of others; that ultimately, it was for God.
So winning competitions, performing at big events, being surrounded by big names; it was fun, but this was different. Performing for God felt like I was winning at life. My aim, whether it’s in dance or any other hobby or interest such as sports or arts, is to create an environment where we can thrive through Christian culture. It’s true, we can live a fulfilling and adventurous life without succumbing to worldly things around us as long as we stay focused on Christian culture.
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