For This Teen, Dance Teaches the Value of Vulnerability

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Daisy Kwok freestyles hip-hop at Abraham Lincoln High School's talent show in February. "I was feeling super nervous, but also really emotional because everyone I cared about was in the audience," she said.  (Courtesy Daisy Kwok)

Daisy Kwok, 18, joined her school’s hip-hop club and discovered a passion for dance. Over the years, her initial shyness transformed into self-assurance as she embraced the chance to learn new skills. For Kwok, dance is a way to express herself and come to terms with being vulnerable in front of an audience. Kwok now leads a hip-hop dance team at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco and helps new dancers find their own passion for dance. She shared her story as part of KQED's Youth Takeover Week.

The music starts.

I freeze, not for the first time. In five rounds, I'll be met with imploring eyes, begging me to take that first step.

But I can never seem to do it; my feet are cemented. When I’d joined my school’s Hip Hop Club all those years ago, how was I supposed to know that I would end up here? Shaping a budding dance team when I couldn't even freestyle without crying.

From a young age, I grew up unconsciously adhering to stereotypes. I was in student government, got straight "A's" and played volleyball. They aren’t necessarily bad things, but I felt tied down by obligations. I’d forgotten what it was like to be passionate.

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Then came high school, and with it, a fresh start.

Daisy Kwok (middle) with her dance team, ADV. ADV stands for Ascension, Deviate, Vibe. (Courtesy of Daisy Kwok)

Filled with a sudden surge of bravery and the revelation that I could be a new me, I started dancing.

Back then, my inexperience was obvious in the way I moved: full of tension and hesitation, hitting the right beat but not the right feeling. But that's what made it easy, at least for awhile. There were no expectations, so I chased improvement knowing I had nothing to prove, no one to impress. I moved with uncertainty, but I was certain in my new passion.

As dance grew from time killer to hobby to definition of me, I found myself growing too. Learning new choreography and styles became second nature, and I figured out how to move with intention and control. I became more comfortable with me, from what I looked like and sounded like to how I carried myself around other people. But even as I gained self-awareness and self-assurance, even as I discovered how to teach with patience and lead with courage in and out of the dance room, something was missing.

I was never able to pin it down, but looking into [my dance students'] five pairs of questioning eyes, I found my answer.

Dance — among feelings and family — is one of the few things that makes me unsure of where I stand. If a choreography is a controlled showcase of self, then a freestyle is putting all your emotions and anxieties on the line, on the spot.

Dance makes me feel like I can fly, but it also translates into my biggest fear: vulnerability. And though it’s hard not to run away from it in my relationships, I can’t run away from myself. So I do what makes sense.

I take that step in.

The music continues.

And I have never been so thankful to be so afraid.

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