Nina Zhao: Dancing through life
January 6, 2022
Bolles alumna Nina Zhao (21) loves dance and shares her passion with anyone open to it. Five minutes into our interview she offered to teach me a trick dance move, the cradle, which she had just learned at the time.
“So basically you use your hands and you use your elbows like a support point on the floor. And you use your head as a second support and then you basically lift your whole body. So you use your hand and then your elbow and your head. I feel the three supports your legs can go up high in the air.” Sadly, I could not take her up on this offer, as the interview took place over the phone.
Zhao currently attends Carnegie Mellon studying Decision Science, which combines psychology, economics, data analysis, and statistics, to try to quantify and understand human decision making, but Zhao has a 15-year long passion running parallel to her academic career: dance, specifically street styles like hip-hop.
At four, Zhao started with Chinese Traditional dance. “I didn’t really like traditional Chinese dances because they’re too much on flexibility and all the techniques, it’s too elegant for me to express myself.”
Later on, Zhao switched to street styles, like hip hop and jazz. She spent her senior year of high school attending Bolles online from her home city of Shenyang in the north east of China, which gave her plenty of time to start learning a new style of dance.
Although Zhao is a newcomer to hip hop, she says it is her favorite style.“I started hip hop [last] March. [It’s] really expressive and really free…Everyone has their own styles and it’s just peace and love for all.”
In Shenyang, Zhao’s teacher and her teacher’s teacher were part of a hip hop crew called the AKE crew. To become a part of the crew, one must pass a rigorous audition process of freestyle dance battles. “I haven’t battled for the crew yet because I left early, but if I go back to China, I’m definitely gonna try out,” says Zhao.
Even though she didn’t get the chance to battle for admission to the AKE crew in China, she still participates in battles and freestyling, as well as dance showcases that include the numerous Carnegie Mellon dance clubs. Zhao and her friends recently participated in one called the Dancer Symposium, which is a showcase of rehearsed and choreographed numbers as opposed to her usual freestyling techniques.
Now, at Carnegie Mellon, Zhao and her group love to listen to music and freestyle battle each other. “Outside of the building in the courtyard, we just like playing music and just [jump in] and dance.”
Zhao says that she plans to continue dancing throughout and after college, alongside her major and future career in decision science, but likely not as a profession. “Yeah, a lot of my friends are gonna be professional dancers. They’re taking classes and teaching classes. I don’t want to be like that, you know? Because sometimes when you teach, [you] lose the things that you really like about [the subject].”
Some of her friends are interested in dance competition shows for career purposes, but when asked if she would ever consider going on a dance show, she responded with a resounding no. “No. Much too commercial. I don’t want it to be commercial.”
Despite Zhao not wanting to dance professionally, she still helps lead classes with the rest of her club “So a lot of [diverse] people are breakdancing –sometimes we’re just teaching other people how to hip-hop, and teaching [moves] I learned from others who did breaking and popping. We just randomly hold small groups and classes and when I go there will be like 510 people standing behind me learning to dance from me.”
Unfortunately, Zhao recently experienced a non-dance related concussion, which resulted in her being unable to dance for a week. She said that that week was “painful.” “If I can’t dance, it’s painful because I don’t have a way to express myself. Sometimes I don’t like talking to people. So dance [is] like another way of talking, [of] expression.”