I first began ballroom dancing as a necessity. During the Cultural Revolution in China, I was forced to fervently practice ballroom dance to avoid deportation. I dropped out of school after the ninth grade to begin honing my skills to avoid the risk of poverty. I was one of the many children forced to take up skills in the arts to avoid the devastating effects of the Cultural Revolution.
Even though ballroom dancing was first a survival instinct, I still hold a passion for it today. I did take a break from dancing until my arrival at Harvard Medical School in 1987. During this time, I joined the Harvard Ballroom Dance Club. We even took first place in the U.S. National Collegiate Championship hosted by the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dance Association. I danced for fun in the years following, but was studying diligently and therefore could not devote as much time to dance.
Now that I have picked up ballroom dancing again fervently, I have found that dance has benefitted so many aspects of my life. In my autobiography “From Darkness to Sight,” I discuss my new found passion in chapter 17, I write, “Ballroom dancing has served a much bigger purpose in my medical career…it has taught me how to better connect with my patients.” The drive and focus that ballroom dancing involves, coupled with the sensitivity required to perform with a partner has helped me find a greater connection to my patients. On page 233, I write, “When insurance companies and modern technology erect barriers between doctors and their patients, this sensitivity [learned from dancing with a partner] allows me to overcome those barriers and to listen, care, and more fully connect with my patients.”
I still practice ballroom dance and even spend evenings giving free ballroom dancing lessons. Dance is a factor that shaped my past and it will continue to be a factor that shapes my future.