Enjoy the Music: How Dance Philosophies Inform My Work

For Jeremy Park ’20, whether it’s conducting computer vision research or preparing for graduate school, it all traces back to lessons learned from dance.

The love was dormant.

I fell in love with dance at a young age. I remember stumbling across America’s Best Dance Crew on TV in a hotel in Ohio when I was in fourth grade, visiting my brother at college. It was my first glimpse into hip-hop dance, and instantly, I was hooked.

The next day, we were at Tim Horton’s, and my brother asked if I was okay.

I was okay. I was just dancing.

I consequently fell down the YouTube rabbit hole of dance, starting with the crews I saw on America’s Best Dance Crew. I watched thousands of hours of dance videos. I was (and still am) obsessed with dance.

Then I put that passion to sleep. You see, even though I was completely smitten by dance, I never actually learned how to dance. I would try to replicate what I saw online, but I never formally trained in dance or got involved in a dance community.

The love was dormant.

Everything changed.

Fast forward to my sophomore year, when my friend Ana, who’s also a Goodnight Scholar, invited me to a community class hosted by Fusion Dance Crew: a hip-hop dance crew at NC State. Although I was nervous to come in with no dance experience, it was the no-pressure context of a community class that drew me in.

And after finally experiencing dance for the first time, I never wanted to stop. 

At the same time, people were encouraging me to try out for Fusion. Though I was afraid to continue and get cut from the team, I couldn’t fathom the idea of not dancing anymore. So I took three more community classes, tried out for the team, and made it. And my life has not been the same since. In this past year, I’ve taught my own Fusion community class, choreographed and directed my first concept video, staged my first team performance, and fell in love with freestyle.

Finding your creative passion.

When I say my life changed as a result, I really mean it.

I’ve always had a creative disposition, but I never had a creative discipline until college, where I found both writing and dancing. As a result, I’m completely different from who I was my first-year. I was much more anxious and self-conscious back then. Today, I’ve never felt more confident in who I am. And I do believe that’s largely contributed to what I’ve learned from my creative pursuits.

In my two years of dancing, I’ve learned the value of applying my dance philosophies to the rest of my life. So I wanted to write about what dance has taught me. These lessons aren’t exclusive to dance. You can learn the same lessons from basketball, music, etc. But, hopefully, dance serves as an image to help you understand these concepts.

Dance rewards those who listen.

The best moments in dance are when a dancer shows you parts of the music that you didn’t hear before. They pick some obscure beat in the background and blow your mind with how they interpret it. Because in order to show your musicality, you have to listen closely and be in tune with the music. For that reason, dance has taught me how to listen in other areas of my life.

Like with music, there’s always things that we miss by not listening. But when we actually slow down and listen, we can hear the voice that asks us: 

What really matters in life? What problems am I most passionate about solving? And how can I use my knowledge to help?

Listening to that voice led me to start dancing in the first place. And now that voice has led me to want to pursue sustainability research in graduate school. I’m still learning how to listen, but through dance, I’ve learned the value of being in tune with what’s in front of you in the moment. Which leads me to the second thing I love so much about dance:

Dance rewards those who are in the moment.

In dance, one of the worst things you can do is be early. You don’t want to predict the music; you take the music as it is.

I dance my best when I simply let the music guide me. The music will make you move in ways you never imagined before. Because sometimes the best moments are those we never planned.

This goes for the rest of life too:

At the start of college, I wanted to work at Pixar. My creative disposition was leading me to pursue a career in computer graphics. But I had a schedule conflict. I couldn’t get into Computer Graphics, so I took Game Engine Foundations instead. Though not my first choice, I was still following the voice of creativity. That led to taking the next course, Advanced Computer Game Projects, which led me to doing computer vision research with the instructor of the games courses, Dr. David Roberts.

Today, I’ve published my first academic paper with him and will be presenting that research at the International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction in Israel.

At the beginning of college, I didn’t think that I would be working on a research project that uses computer vision to track dog tails in order to learn more about dog communication. But with the help of dance, I’ve learned the value of being in the moment, taking one step at a time, accepting each moment as it comes.

“That’s all we really can do.”

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in Dr. Joshua Gray’s office in the College of Natural Resources. I listened to Dr. Gray speak at a Faculty Dinner, a regular Goodnight event where we get to interact with and learn from NC State faculty. I wasn’t able to meet him that night, but I emailed him to see if we could meet to talk about sustainability research.

After a long session of me stressing over which graduate school pathway to take, I said, “Well, I guess all we can do is take the best opportunity available in the present.”

He said, “That’s all we really can do.”

Enjoy the music.

That’s been the overarching theme of my undergraduate experience: be present.

That’s why I love dance so much. When I take a break from homework, go outside, and freestyle, I’m grounding myself in the present. And I want to be equally present in the rest of my life too.

Being present unlocks us to pursue our passions with flare, combining them as we see fit. Though the world rages around us, we’re free to live in the now, not enslaved to the future. We’re free to dance like a child, simply enjoying the music.

Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program