At only three years old, Gabby Meza found the love of her life.
What started as her mother trying to find an activity for Meza turned into so much more: the aspiration of being a professional dancer.
As time went on in Meza’s life, however, she found that dance wouldn’t always just be cute tutus and getting to jump around onstage. Dance is a competitive, intimidating, mentally and physically challenging field of work.
None of that has stopped Meza, whose remarkable talent and drive has led her to Montclair State University, where she is now a junior dance major with the ambition of breaking out into the dance industry.
Meza has danced at four studios, two professional dance companies and is a Zumba instructor at Montclair State. She has scored leads in her dance recitals, solos in dance showcases and access to prestigious dance summer intensives. Not everyone can say they have that much on their resume all before turning 20 years old.
Charissa Poklikuha, owner of 5-6-7-8 Dance and a former teacher of Meza, is proud of Meza and how far she has come.
“Gabby has grown so much as a dancer throughout the years,” Poklikuha said. “She has always been very focused and practices a lot. She’s had a passion for dance ever since I met her as a 4-year-old. She’s a natural performer.”
When she’s not on stage, Meza works multiple days a week while still focusing on schoolwork and attending rehearsals for hours after classes end. Her work ethic and ability to stretch herself out to so many different commitments in a single week show she is a perfectionist and that her kind yet impenetrable heart will always lead her to be successful in her passions.
But all that success comes with a cost.
While dance is her greatest love, it is also one of her greatest foes. The dance industry poses a challenge for many dancers, as it can be extremely draining.
Meza notes the relation between dance and mental health, revealing she often forgets how far she has come because she is so focused on improving.
“It can really put you in the mindset of how you’re not good enough and can be damaging for self-esteem,” Meza said.
A lot of dancers are faced with the demand of needing to have extremely thin and petite bodies. This contributes to many body image issues in young girls who hope to become professionals.
“There was an artistic director who told my parents I needed to lose weight even though I was only 135 pounds,” Meza said. “I think dancers have too much pressure on their bodies to be ‘perfect,’ but in reality, everyone is created and developed differently. We’re all human.”
Meza wishes for a future in the dance industry with a more diverse environment that is accepting of all types of dancers.
With most of Meza’s mental struggles coming from a lack of self-confidence, her older sister, Diamond Meza, a dance teacher at 5-6-7-8 Dance, reassures her sister and all young dancers that they are so much more than they perceive themselves to be.
“I wish she could see herself through the eyes of others and know how great of a dancer she is and how beautifully she performs,” Diamond Meza said.
While dance is a tough world to be in, it is still Meza’s favorite thing to be a part of. Dance is an escape from her personal problems and gives her the chance to express her feelings and play different characters of her choosing.
Meza wants those who truly love the art of dance to not let the struggles of it discourage them. She encourages everyone to go for their dreams no matter what and offers advice to the younger generations of students who will soon enter the world of adulthood.
“Pursuing their dreams is so much more worth it than to pursue a career for the money,” Meza said. “If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life.”
Following your dreams, even if it is in a competitive field, is an important concept Meza wants to share with the world. Being a dancer doesn’t guarantee her money or a job after college, but she knows that’s where she’ll be the happiest.
“It’s going to take a toll on your mental health and it’s physically draining,” Meza said. “But if it’s what you love, it’s more than worth it.”
After Meza’s journey through growing up and learning about what it takes to succeed in the industry, she is certain one day we will all see her on stage living her dreams.
If there’s anything to take away from Meza’s wisdom, it’s that it will always be worth it to pursue your calling, even if you have to fight for it.