My Personal Statement: UC Berkeley, USC & NYU - Shreya T.

19 FEB 2021

In the essay that got her into UC Berkeley, USC and NYU, Shreya describes how her Kathak dance teacher taught her to be “hard on performance and soft on people” in her own leadership roles. She explains how the strict dance rehearsals she endured every Sunday informed the balance between discipline and empathy she found as a coach and mentor.

This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go…

From Disciple to Guru

“Lift that foot higher off the ground or you will keep falling out of your chakar!”

Namita’s stern reminder rings sharply in my ear. It’s around 5pm and I’m well into my sixth hour at my dance studio. It’s been another long day where I leave feeling exhausted and sore but, every Sunday, it is my home.

During practices, everyone in the class is pushed beyond what seems possible. Talking, except to ask questions, is unacceptable. We forgo water and we run drills time after time until each step is mastered by every person in unison. Namita hurls strict corrections across the room as we move our way through eight count after eight count.

Yet, the minute rehearsal ends, the scene changes. Namita facilitates the conversation asking us about our school, our friends, our love lives, and our families. She nurses our wounds from both the physically demanding rehearsal, and the emotionally wounding drama in our personal lives. It is during these conversations that I have become incredibly close to the woman that is the heart and soul of our company, my teacher Namita. Namita’s roles as a strict disciplinarian and a loving caretaker are often split based on whether or not we are in the studio, and in my own teaching endeavours I have aimed to converge the two. Rather than separating results and empathy like Namita, I have become a coach and mentor that is “hard on performance and soft on people”.

Modeling off my teacher’s truly unique style, I’ve been able to find a happy medium between being empathetic and results-driven. As a coach for the Rocky Heights Middle School debate team, I expect engaged discussions, quick turnaround times for speeches, and enthusiastic acceptance of criticism after mock debates from my students because I want them to succeed at tournaments. Yet, I know to be understanding when my expectations aren’t fully met because of excessive schoolwork, poor mental health, or other outside factors. Being only a couple years past my own middle school years, I know the rigour and often excessive stress that plagues students, not to mention the petty drama and pressure to fit in. I quickly found that being both a reliable source of information and an approachable one resulted in the most productive team. This meant knowing my audience.

Meetings are a mix of days where we all pull out our laptops and research for hours, but also of days where kids come to me exhausted from the school day, and we eat candy, laugh, and make slower progress. I practice the same style in mentoring biotech research students so that they are better prepared to conduct and present their research. Even in drilling students on how to use the autoclave, being able to be simultaneously understanding of their perspectives has allowed me to more effectively pinpoint where students are struggling.

From days where I was demotivated by excessively strict dance rehearsals, I’ve learned the necessity of being able to read the room. I’ve begun to find methods to motivate my students in ways that are unique to me. In the advanced kids dance class I teach, I’ve attempted to draw attention and excitement by playing games like “freeze dance kathak”, letting kids contribute to choreography, and even ending every class with our ceremonious team Tik Tok. My ladies class and I run drills on new steps until they have been mastered, and immediately follow it up with conversations regarding how to bring joy into our dancing and let ourselves be truly vulnerable in a safe space.

Through watching Namita interact in different situations, I have learned much more than tatkar and technique. Both discipline and empathy are incredibly important to me. By balancing both of Namita’s personalities, I have become someone who is not only respected but has a relationship with the people I coach and mentor.

NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Waki S. into the University of Exeter!

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