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? L.A. L.A. L.A. ?
What are the first things that come to mind when you think of Los Angeles, California? Maybe fulltime sun, beautiful beaches, and flip-flop tans. Well, I got all of this and more during my four day stay in LA over spring break. However, this was not the ordinary California vacation. A lot of hard work and time were invested before the thirteen of us were even invited to go.
A few months prior to the trip, the Chinese Cultural Arts Institute (CCAI), the organization where I take traditional Chinese dance, caught wind of a Chinese Folk Dance competition. Each team had to submit one video of each dance which was reviewed by the judges in Beijing. If your technique and training were not to their standards, you were excluded from taking part in their competition.
For the next couple of months we worked tirelessly to perfect the moves and details of our dance. Filming was a nightmare. No cuts or editing of any kind were allowed, so everything had to be perfect. One error cost us having to do the dance twice more and even seemingly flawless runs needed one more go. Sweat dripping, breaths heaving, everyone’s worst fear was to make a mistake and have the whole team start again.
After a week of anticipation, we got the results of the videos… we were in. If I thought the filming was the worst, I was dead wrong. Almost every day we would be down at the studio for at least an hour and a half working hard and perfecting, always perfecting.
When the time came for us to pack our suitcases and head to the airport, excitement was an understatement. It took us a while to pass through all of the bag checks due to the large size of some of our props, but before long we were settled on the plane. Seats rumbling and ears popping, our smiles were infectious.
The first flight was very short-only about 15 minutes. Our next flight was much longer during which we worked on homework and were served free drinks. I only missed two days of school on this trip, but the amount of makeup work was still substantial.
When we landed in LA and rode a bus to the car rental place, we gaped and snapped pictures of palm trees like shameless tourists. Soon, we shed our jackets and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine. When the rental cars were all taken care of, we piled into two huge 8-seater vans. Giggling loudly, we made our way to the hotel and began to wheel our massive amount of luggage to the room. Upon passing the front desk, we were delighted with a warm cookie. Gooey and delicious, we gulped them down without a second to spare.
The rest of the day we spent rehearsing for the second round of tryouts. CCAI was entering one group dance, two duets, and four solos. When we went back to the hotel, we decided to check out the pool in the back. It was entirely empty, so we got to enjoy both the hot tub and pool completely privately.
The next day we went in for the second round of tryouts. Here, they would be judging dances until only four in each section (group, duet etc.) remained. We spent the entire morning and afternoon practicing and priming our moves until it was our turn to go. This round was only in front of the panel of judges, but if we made it to the finals we would perform in front of the live audience.
After a few hours of waiting in anticipation, they hung up the results one by one. They were written in all Chinese, but from the pleased look on my dance teacher’s face, I could tell we were into the final four. She was not satisfied yet, but until the finals the next day, she was content.
The end half of the second day is when things started to go astray. There was absolutely no refrigeration in our hotel room, so we were forced to eat out every day. We still don’t know exactly what food it was, but one by one our dancers began to get food poisoning.
I was staying in a room with my friend and her family and luckily, none of us even got a hint of the sickness. Four other people in our group were not so fortunate, however, and began to throw up, contract fevers, and diarrhea.
My dance teacher’s husband and one of the other dancers were the first to get sick. On our visit to Hollywood two more began to feel woozy and as you can imagine, our sightseeing of Grauman’s Theatre and Hollywood were much less fun. Everyone was extremely cautious of any food eaten, and anything not refrigerated in the last 20 minutes was promptly thrown away.
Unfortunately, most everyone fell ill the day before the finals, and my dance teacher was extremely worried, to say the least. Everyone was ordered to go to bed early for a good night’s sleep and hopefully wake up feeling better. Not a chance. In the morning I woke up to very grave news. Jessica, our youngest dancer in both solo and group, was driven to the hospital the night before due to excessive vomiting. She stayed there for almost four hours before being seen by a doctor and given treatment.
She was back in her room now and we decided to swing by to see if she was any better after medicine. Her mother opened the door, and their room took me by surprise. Unlike our room, their curtains were tightly closed to shut out the bright California sun, it smelled strongly of cleaning materials and medicine, and everyone was in bed with the covers pulled all the way up. Three out of the four sick group members were sleeping in this room, and it was not a sight you want to see on the day of your dance final.
They told us that they would be still attending the dance competition and hopefully everyone would be able to make it through the day. We went back to our room very worried and began to put our makeup on and pull our hair up. We arrived early for the finals and went through the same routines as the day before, except today our anxiety and anticipation were turned up a notch.
Our sickly dancers came a couple hours later and to our slight relief they were feeling a little bit better. We watched the other performers in silence, too nervous to speak. One girl from the solo section was particularly eye-catching. Graceful and confident, she weaved her body seamlessly with the music.
Finally, it was time for our group dance to perform. Standing in position and rubbing my sweaty palms nervously, the next five minutes were a blur. Our performance was better than the semifinal, and no major mistakes were made. We were lacking a little in the energy department, but that couldn’t be helped since some of our girls were sick.
Again, an important-looking lady walked to the wall and began hanging up the results. A big mob of people surrounded the papers, and she got out just in time. Walking up to the wall, breaths shaking and excitement rising, we looked at the results. Second place, third place, fourth place, and honorable mention in solo, first and third in duet and…. Second place in group dance.
All of our dancers had placed, and we came home feeling content and accomplished. The months and months of training we endured, all boiled down to five short minutes of focus and perfection. Maybe this wasn’t the trip I imagined, but I still had an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.