What would you do if you weren't afraid? 

That's the question that Seema faced earlier this year, in April. She had moved to Arizona not knowing a soul besides her roommate (who is busy preparing for her marriage) after getting her master's degree in L.A. and graduating from college in India, where most of her family lives. She wasn't finding a lot of fulfillment in her coworking crew. And her longtime friendships with people from school were starting to drain her, with the distance not exactly making her heart grow fonder but more so realize what was missing in the friendships. But then she decided to follow in the footsteps (literally) of one of her favorite Instagram accounts and take a dance class at their studio. 

"I felt there was a point in my life where I didn’t have anyone, virtually or in person," she said. "I did these things for myself but when I got into them I realized there are amazing people out there."

Seema is the kind of person who gave up her bed, twice, for me to sleep in. We met when I sublet her old apartment in L.A. for an internship as she moved out to Phoenix. And she also generously hosted me when I visited Phoenix for a work conference last fall. From our conversations in both encounters, I got the sense that she was going through the same thing I was: trying to figure out how to have those social bonds of friendship in adulthood. Then the past few months, her own Instagram has been alight with her amazing dance moves in the studio, modeling pictures from a photoshoot, and most importantly, her smile. 

Here's how Seema started investing in herself, built her new network of friends through her dance studio, and changed her life over the past five months. (I feel like that sounds like a pitch for a self-help conference but I promise this isn't.)

Your friend,
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Christine: My impression, at least over social media, is that you’ve really been able to dive into your dance classes as a hobby and also a community and find friendships there. Is that true? 

Seema: 100% true. 120% true. When I moved to Arizona, I didn’t know many people. i just knew my roommate and some of her friends here and there. But my roommate is also very busy and is about to get married. She wasn’t very much into the things that I’m into. It was the same with work. Everyone has families and there’s not many young people. I had to figure out what am I going to do. 

I didn’t go into these dance classes thinking that I’m going to find friends. Mostly I went into it for myself. These past few months I’ve been saying this a lot, but you are your own best friend. I’ve relied on myself more than anything. I felt there was a point in my life where I didn’t have anyone, virtually or in person. I did these things for myself but when I got into them I realized there are amazing people out there. It almost restores your faith in humanity. Even though you’ve known them for a couple of months, they care about you more than people you’ve known for many years. 

There’s a studio I found around April called Danceplex. I just saw the videos of people dancing on instagram and they’re professional dancers following the LA scene type of dances. I thought this was so amazing, but I could never do it. But then I did it! I stepped into a class and they were super amazing and i was horrible, but people didn’t care. They were so kind and would give you a hug. I kept coming back even though I was scared, and they'd say we see you growing, we see you pushing. Those kind of things made me want to keep coming back. 

We’ve formed a dance studio fam. We do stuff not only within meeting at the studio but we celebrated a friend’s birthday and this was the first time we’d met up outside the studio. We’re not really social butterflies — we stick to our dance studio. That was our social circle. We didn’t go to a club every Friday night, we’d go to the dance studio. They’re talented but they never judge you. That’s the most important thing. 

Then there’s the pole dancing community I started a year ago but there it’s just women. It’s a completely different environment: women supporting women of all different ages, sizes, shapes, whatever. You will see women who have grandchildren or newborns or people just out of college. We go pole dancing for different reasons. Sometimes it’s to gain our self confidence back. Whenever I dance and I hear the cheering from the ladies, it makes me feel — those little things have helped me and formed a lot of friendships there. People who were in depression come out of it and feel stronger and more confident. It’s the woman-to-woman relationship. 

I’m so used to seeing the same kind of people. I’ve been only surrounded by people from my background, and now finally I feel like coming and doing these classes I’ve gained perspective from different backgrounds and cultures and their kind of struggles. It makes you wiser in a way and makes you appreciate people differently. I go to acting class too, and that’s another whole set of people. I was talking to three other women the other day and all three are servers. They were talking about how it is to deal with customers and I realized I’ve never thought of it in their way. I’m so used to thinking of the customer’s perspective but we never think about how much they have to deal with people and to be patient. I was so fascinated by them talking about it. 

Christine: But so why these particular activities? Why pole dancing/dancing/acting classes?
Seema: A lot of them started out almost like therapy to me to be honest. When I’m angry I dance, when I’m sad I dance. Dancing lets out my frustration. When I saw those videos of people doing it and excelling at it, I thought I wanted to take it to the next level and be better at it and be able to cultivate my talent. After graduating college and being stuck to that 9-5 job I felt like my growth was only on that side. But I wasn’t growing as a person. 
I know a lot of people who are software developers who all love to just code code code even after work. That’s their fun and that’s great. But for me growing up I’ve always loved creative stuff. My parents always told me to focus on my education. Now I did and I feel like I have a way to support myself to do the things I love. I truly do love dancing and acting — that’s why I went to the University of Southern California, I said I’d move to L.A. and try to make it in Hollywood. In a way I’m actually working toward that. I’m really taking it seriously, going to classes, looking out for agencies. I love what I do as my career too but I like to call myself an engineer by day and a creative being by night. I work and then I come back by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., take a rest, and in the night I’m out and going to a class. 

Even though it’s kind of scary to go to these classes because I'm exhausted or scared to be so vulnerable in front of people, I know I feel good. But I have to keep pushing myself to go because I know I’ll only get better if I struggle. That consistency is really important. Some people go for 1-2 classes and then I never see them again. You have to work hard for anything you do. That’s my philosophy. It’s really helped. What therapy meant for me to get through the tough times has almost helped me succeed and grow in different ways and I’m glad i made that decision to go for these kind of things and not just stay at home and keep to myself and keep my talents within. 

A lot of my friends and peers are all in the same position. We’re all working, but what’s after that? We’re done studying. We’ve done this. What’s next? I don’t want to say get married because that’s not my thing right now. As an individual what’s the next goal? 

Christine: When did your relationships with your fellow dancers move from just being in the same class to becoming friends? 

Seema: The more you go to class the more you see them. The first thing you do is follow them on Instagram. Everyone is so friendly. Even now when someone new comes to class they give each other a hug and say let’s follow each other on Instagram. It was an in-classroom thing where you’d watch people and cheer for them and ask them about a step. Then it converted to a more after-class conversation. We wouldn't stop talking. That was the point I realized we could learn a lot about each other and get the background of how they got into what they do. That was the point I realized we can be friends, the point where I’m able to be comfortable to message them. 

My friend Delaney is amazing. She is just the most friendly girl. Everyone knows her because she also works there. Whenever anyone sees her she gives them a hug and has the most beautiful smile. We were talking about how we should take a road trip. As I said I was in a phase where I felt like I had no friends. When people like Delaney came into my life, I felt like, “wow, these are the kind of people who need to be in my life.” I took control of the friendships I ended up making. Now I try to stick to people who are positive rather than those who are going to be destructive or negative. I don't need that or deserve that. The more good you put into the world the more comes back to you. Meeting these people justifies that more. 

Christine: You’ve also started modeling there as well. Have you ever done that before? 

Seema: No! I had gone to this first Friday arts and boutiques event they have in Phoenix every month. I happened to go into this one stall where there is this lady selling this amazing clothes. What was so cool about these clothes is that they were unique, they were all done by her, it was a self-made business and I really respected that this woman is hustling and trying to do her own thing. At the same time her clothes were perfect for me. They looked just amazing on me. We cultivated a friendship because I sent her pictures when I tried it on. She said I looked so pretty that I should do a phootshoot: “You should be my model!”

It was cool that I get to be part of the brand and help her in any way I can and that was good for me too because that was a huge confidence booster as well. I could never imagine myself being in a place where I could do that. There were amazing models there too and they were all cheering for me too. It’s super random that I met her but after cultivating that friendship I got the opportunity to do that. Meeting the right people at the right time can lead to great opportunities. That gave me so much confidence to actually start trying out for agencies now for modeling and acting. 

Christine: It seems like you’ve really made a ton of progress since starting these classes and getting involved in the studio just a few months ago. What do you think life would be like if you hadn’t done it? What would you tell someone who is where you were before you started? 

Seema: I wouldn’t be as happy or as satisfied with life as I am now a year ago. A year ago I don’t think I was focusing on myself. Now I feel more focused and I feel more ambitious to do things for myself but I’m not going to say I’m more selfish. I’m definitely focusing on myself but at the same time I’m trying to be a better human being. Every day I’m thankful and grateful I get the opportunity to do these things and that I'm in good health. Also I always try to be nice to people even when they haven’t been nice to me or at least be cordial. 

We all are growing and if I hadn’t done this I wouldn’t have grown. I wouldn’t have realized these qualities about myself. I’m still learning. I am by no means an expert at these things. I am working hard and I will work hard in anything I do. I keep saying I'm going to keep growing and challenging myself. That’s where I feel like I am versus a year ago where I wasn’t doing this. I feel more stabiliized and happier and that’s what important.

I’ve seen a lot of my friends also who are like, “wait, we’re out of college — what do we do? I feel like I’ve done nothing with my life." I’ve said you can find these things anywhere. It’s about going and doing it. I’m definitely not the kind of person who likes to talk talk talk. I’m like do do do. Try it out, if you don't like it move onto the next thing. I’ve tried things where it has not worked out for me. I have to move onto the next thing. You have nothing to lose, only something to gain from it. Go onto the next thing where you feel like you’ll succeed. A lot of people will go to 1-2 classes and say “I suck." I say you have to keep going and struggling and one day it will all pay off because hard work pays off.

Go sow: Challenge for the week. 

In the words of my great aunt (whom I never met, but is a family legend for being a stickler about this): "You have to try something three times before you can say you don't like it." I'm not going to make you eat all your cauliflower, but I am going to poke you to think about an activity that may have flitted across your brain but you brushed aside. Think about what Seema did — what could you try, and persist with?

Grow the Sow.

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