By Juliette Chirol Hill
At a very young age, I absolutely detested children’s ballet classes, because putting on tights was a real pain. Ten years later, ballet has become my favorite form of dance. The vocabulary of ballet mostly comes from the language my mother speaks: French. So, over the years, my ballet instructors would often asked me how to pronounce various French ballet words such as “déboulés” and so on. I have always loved those cultural moments, especially since finding another French person in my neighborhood was as likely as finding authentic French crèpes in a local pancake shop. Ballet, like my French culture, is now part of me in the way I move and in the way I think.
Following a growing interest for Indian culture, my parents encouraged me to take Bollywood dance classes. Since by this point, I was practically exclusively listening to Bollywood songs and watching Bollywood movies, I fit right in with the Indian dancers who had grown up with all those tunes and films. Occasionally, I would amaze my friends by mouthing songs they would never have expected a non-native to know. Since this style of dance is so different from the unyielding poses in ballet, which I had practiced my whole life, it was a difficult transition. The hand positions proved to be particularly tricky in all their intricacies (quickly switching between the “lotus,” “peacock,” and “deer” challenged me for a few weeks). With the help of the dancers who had grown up in this style, I was able to improve my technique, and in turn, I taught them how to do ballet “déboulés” and useful stretches. Bollywood dance provided me with some of the most fun I ever had dancing, with so much life and energy bouncing between the dancers who pushed through their exhaustion and still managed to nail difficult moves to the beat of the music.
Arriving at USC, I wasn’t sure how I would fill in the gap that both ballet and Bollywood dance had left in me and so I started searching for dance clubs. I soon tiptoed into USC’s Traditional Chinese Dance. Once again, I surprised most of the members by the fact that I spoke Chinese without much of an American accent. So we got along right away. Chinese dance styles being much closer to ballet in the postures and footwork, most of the combinations were second nature for me, but unfortunately, not for all of us. Like my friends in the Bollywood classes who had helped me through my clumsiness in my early steps, I helped the USC dancers who were toiling, even sharing tricks I had learned to make the movements work and look best.
Languages and dance, two completely different but nonetheless powerful forms of communication, are the two mediums that have allowed me to find a home within cultures, regardless of whether I was born into them or not. And I’m thankful to be in a country where it is so easy to experience all these cultures, whether it be through verbal interactions or through dance.
Juliette is currently majoring in computer science at the Viterbi School of Engineering, with a potential minor in linguistics. She is local from Los Angeles, but has traveled to both Europe and Asia several times. On her free time, she likes to dance, watch films, read, do puzzles, and learn Chinese and Hindi.