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Juliette Louie, Dancer & University of Toronto Graduate

Sometimes we have to make difficult choices. For Juliette, it was the decision between trying to make it as a dancer and living her dream or graduating university. Putting her dreams on hold to finish university wasn’t an easy choice but she hasn’t looked back. Now, 3 years later, with a degree in hand, Juliette is ready to take the dance world by storm again.

Tell me more about your journey with dance in your life. How did you know that dance is what you wanted to continue doing?

My mom put me in ballet class when I was 4, maybe 5 years old. Back then, it was just an after-school activity, something fun just like swimming or piano classes. Growing up, I’ve always loved performing arts, whether it was singing at a talent show or choir, or doing theatre and musicals –triple threat. It wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong at the age of 7 when I started Jazz and Hip-Hop that I knew dancing (in those styles) was my passion. I did a variety of shows in Hong Kong (dance, theatre, fashion shows), and through that, I realized being on stage was where I belonged. I wanted to perform. I wanted to show the world my talent and I have yet to still prove it to everyone that I belong on a stage.

Why did you make the choice to focus on university instead of dance for a while?

To be honest, my family was not in the best financial situation when we moved to Toronto in 2012. I knew dancing wasn’t going to make any money until I established myself –especially now that I’m in a city where I didn’t know anyone, I couldn’t just forget about reality (we have bills to pay) and go dance. (I guess you can say I had to sacrifice for the greater good…) I also knew that if I wanted to go to university, I would have to take a year off after high school and pay that tuition to help my parents out. It sucked not being able to see my dad who had to work in China to support his family here in Canada. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew one day, I could take care of my parents who worked so hard for us to survive.

Seeing as how my tuition was paid by my own blood, sweat, and tears, I might as well be the best version of me as a student. I worked so hard to GO to school, I better damn well get those A’s. Sure, going to university was not my choice, but it was something I had to do, thus, I should make the best out of it. Also, it’s good to have a plan B, as my parents said.

You mentioned before how you weren’t that focused in high school. What made you suddenly so focused & motivated to do well in university?

Throughout my entire life, I didn’t have the best family relationships. I was the black sheep, always left out and thus, I didn’t care to do well in school. Everyone has their own personal problems, mine was with my mom. It wasn’t until the year we moved to Toronto that I learned the nature of one of her part-time jobs and I recognized that she too was working hard to keep us under a roof and put food on the table. In the situation that we were in, I realized I shouldn’t be asking for anything from my parents, I have 2 arms and legs, I am perfectly healthy, so, I can go find a job and save that money for university. Every year since I moved here, I kept telling myself: “Hey, since I’m here, I shouldn’t waste my time or money on screwing up my future by not doing well in school. Why not hurry up and do well, get that BA and graduate in 3 years so I can start working and pursuing my dreams?” And so I decided to do it. Now, I’m done: I can go do what I’ve always intended to do.

It’s so admirable that you were able to work so hard & be so dedicated to finishing your studies earlier. How did you find the strength & determination to focus on school when it wasn’t what you were truly interested in?

It was definitely not easy; the trick is to change your perspective. Even though school wasn’t what I really wanted to do (but had to), I look at it as something temporary and positive. Temporary meaning that I set myself out to finish undergrad in 3 years, and after this, I can dance. Positive as in all the material that I’m learning in undergrad is educating me and helping me grow as an individual –having a degree is not a bad thing! It takes a lot of self-discipline to accomplish big things. I know a lot of people still trying to figure out what they want to do, and that’s when they’re stuck. My determination came within myself because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had a goal, thus, I could focus my efforts on achieving that goal. For me, I had to be very efficient and productive every day in order to manage 6 courses and still leave time to cook, go to the gym and play volleyball. My motivation came from my dad who I barely got to see. My drive is that I want to be successful doing what I love, so one day I can take good care of him and make him proud. I also knew that at the end of the day, I can only rely on myself and what I do to get to my goal. No one is going to help you get out of bed in the morning but yourself. Before I sleep, I feel satisfied and happy because I know I used my time efficiently and productively. Your sense of achievement can only be fulfilled by your own actions and no one else’s. That picture and imagination of me being on stage is what drives my hunger for achievement, and it is what keeps me disciplined and focused throughout those years.

Did you have moments of doubt that you made the right decision? How did you overcome these moments?

I never doubted my passion for performance. It is more like I have options as to what else I could do, such as working in Employment Relations, people or event management or opening a restaurant –because I also knew I could be good at those things. There was a moment where I considered doing my masters, which shifted my focus. There were times when I didn’t believe in myself. I’m thinking “Oh, you’re years behind the girls that have been training during the time you were in school, you aren’t as good as you were and you’re letting time slip”. I’m human, so when that happens, I have a moment to myself, but then I remember why I’m here: to do school for my parents, and hey, look, I’m doing really good in school! I should be proud of myself. And I remember that the only reason why I fast-tracked university was because I wanted to dance ASAP.

I know I am making the right decision because I believe that I can do it. I believe I’ve got what it takes to be on stage and perform. I will catch up and train hard, and do anything to get there (while keeping it classy and professional) because I want it so bad. Now is the time where I have to be thinking for myself and what is best for me. One day I will have a family and I won’t have time to do the things I can do now at this age. There are a few things I had to give up, family and friends so I can chase my dreams –I’m not going to waste that and compromise. I don’t want to half-ass my efforts because that’s where excuses come in; I want to give myself the best shot I can get.

How does it feel to finally get to start dancing again? What are some of the challenges that you face in starting your journey with dance again and how do you overcome them?

It’s been 5 years since I’ve trained; it is definitely a great feeling to be back in the studio and to be around that community again. As expected, I’m really rusty, but I know I still got it since I’m making it past audition cuts for the Raptors Dance Pak after not dancing at all since I left Hong Kong. I would say that my biggest challenge is to get that memory of mine working again! Classes are about an hour and usually at the end, dancers perform the routine they learned. For me, I know that I need another half an hour to be able to ‘kill it’, whereas, within the hour, I only got 70% of the routine down. I will need a lot of practice before I’m ready to go back into the industry so that’ll take time. I will also have to make new connections and network my way back into the circle. In the meantime, I’ve been setting up my portfolio, doing work that is related to this industry, and building a social profile for myself so when I meet people in the business, they can get a gist of what I’ve done and what I can do.

A lot of people talk about “putting their dreams on hold” to do the “practical thing” such as finishing school. Do you feel like you put your dreams on hold? Is there any advice you would give your past self when you were making that decision 3 years ago?

The truth is, yes, I felt like I put my dreams on hold, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When my parents told me they wouldn’t support me to go to a triple-threat school in Toronto after high school, I was devastated because I wanted it so bad (at the time, I had an epiphany that I wanted to drop everything and go to LA because that’s where the industry is hot). I could have just packed my stuff and ran away, but then I think about it now and I recognize that I have responsibilities as the eldest in the family. I had to stay and help them get back on their feet. I may have put my dreams on hold, but I look at what I’ve got now, and I learned so much during these years about what I can do and the power that I have to drive myself to be successful.

For almost 1 year, I was working at an Italian restaurant to save up for tuition. At one point, I worked 2 jobs, 7 days a week and standing 8 hours a day with little food and rest. Since then, I often feel pain in my ankles after 1 hour of standing or walking. Now, I do physio so my feet and legs can be strong again –after all, I need them to dance. So, if I had to give one piece of advice to my old self, it would be “take care of those feet and legs, don’t overwork yourself, it’s not worth it”. My first advice to anyone who’s chasing their dreams is to take care of your body. Without health, you cannot do anything.

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