We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Adao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
Consistent experiences with failure, combined with my drive to become a better version of myself, is where I developed solid habits. I can identify 3 habits and mindsets that have allowed me to succeed in the 20+ years of being a dancer: 1. Consistency: I consider myself a hard worker, and what that means to me is to do the work on days I don’t feel like doing it, and that regardless of what my life is experiencing I should still do the work to the best of our abilities. It also means that we need to “Water our bamboo”, which is a metaphor that we are happy to put in the work consistently for 1-5 years without seeing any results. And after many, many years of putting in work, we start seeing results. Watering our bamboo means we are setting the foundation for our mindset, values, characteristics and habits that will allow us to be successful in the long term. 2. Always being a student: I recognize that having a Masters Degree in Dance and being a Professor at 2 community colleges is a privilege, and I’ve never considered those “titles” as a sign of power. If anything, I think as educators, we should be active learners, practitioners, and contributors in our communities. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best dancer and to never fail in front of my students. But once I put my ego to the side and started taking classes with my students, placing myself in vulnerable positions as I learn the basics of other dance forms and became a student again, this leveled up my classes overall. My students didn’t care that I wasn’t the best dancer. They saw that I cared about being a better version of myself so that I can be a great educator for them. 3. Impeccable with my word: Shout out to Don Miguel Ruiz for writing The 4 Agreements. That section of the book spoke to me. One thing that I recognize the community sees in me is trust and reliability. When I say I will do something, I will always come through. And if adjustments need to be made, I will communicate ahead of time to make sure these adjustments work with both parties. I’ve held this standard since the first time I read The 4 Agreements in my mid-20’s. Having this characteristic and habit has allowed me to get opportunities that other higher skilled artists should have earned, but didn’t because they have a reputation of not being reliable. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
What tends to happen in an over saturated dance community is that everyone tends to look the same, and people lack originality. It is not my skill that sets me apart from other dancers, but my narrative. And it is my story that I like to share often because it tends to inspire all walks of life to take a look in the mirror and say to themselves, “I can do this”. I hope to send a global message that “you are never too old and it is never too late” to pursue your dreams and dive into a new passion. I will turn 41 years young in 2 weeks. I started breaking at 37, entered my first battle three months later, took my first gymnastics class at 39, and am currently on a journey of training, developing my style, building relationships, and succeeding and failing forward towards my dream to qualify in an international breaking competition, most notably Freestyle Session, Red Bull BCOne, or in the Olympics (Breaking is on the shortlist to be a category in the Olympics) before I turn 50. It is extremely rare for a 37 year old female to begin a breaking journey with intentions to compete against other bboys and bgirls who are half their age. “I’m too old for this” is what I usually hear people who have interests to try something new that’s as physically demanding as breaking, But through my journey and being transparent with the successes and failures breaking offers to a 41 y/o practitioner, I will talk the talk, and walk the walk. My biggest obstacle was not necessarily a particular situation, but rather a perspective and habit that I’ve developed and lost control of over time – I have a hard time saying “no” to people coupled by this desire to take care of the needs of everyone around me except myself. I used to be a hard “yes” person; and the habits, behaviors, and characteristics that have allowed me to thrive in my career have also led me down a rabbit hole of burnout, injury, mental breakdown and developing anxiety. I am currently working on this 20+ year habit to make changes that will push me to practice self-love, say “no” and be ok with it. As a professor of higher education at multiple public institutions for over 15 years, it has been my commitment to empower students to apply skills learned in hip hop culture to build confidence and life skills to become a better version of themselves. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to apply my teachings to a practical level. I want to send a global message and impact to the world that “you are never too old and it’s never too late” to reach your goals.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is a fun question because before the pandemic, I would have people from different cities and countries stay at my house when a breaking event was happening in San Diego. People enjoyed staying with us because our house is centrally located next to the beaches, tourist spots, shopping and nightlife. Our normal hosting “go to’s” include satisfying their Mexican food craving by taking them to spots like Adalbertos, Humbertos, or La Fachada in the Sherman Heights area. We’re dancers, so we usually organize video or photo shoots around the city with eye-popping art somewhere in North Park. And since San Diego has amazing weather year round, we will walk around the beach areas or maybe have a picnic on the beach. For those guests that love the nightlife, we find out which of our DJ friends are spinning and go support them which is usually at a club in the North Park or Gaslamp area.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
If I were to acknowledge everyone who has impacted my dance journey, I don’t think a novel can fit in this box. For the record, everyone who I’ve crossed paths with, whether the experience be positive or negative, has made an impact on me and shaped me to become the artist, educator, and woman I am today. What I can do is give shouts to individuals whose skills and practices I learned and pass down to others: Angie Bunch – who I learned the accumulation approach to teaching cardio hip hop dance. No one was doing this in San Diego at the time and Angie paved the way for future teachers to use this approach to teaching beginners. John Maxwell (author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and other leadership books) – reading his books made me dig deep on what my strengths and purpose was as a leader, and how to make positive change in the space around me. Jan Ellis – Rest In Paradise, our former Department Chair at San Diego Mesa College. Being under her wing taught me how to teach and lead with grace. Tessandra Chavez – She is an Emmy award-winning choreographer now, but when I first met her, she was a young choreographer who was creating work that was ahead of our time. She took me in her company as an apprentice, but never promoted me in her main company. I was “watering my bamboo” while training under her, but never saw the results I was hoping for. But this kept me humble and taught me the importance of working hard for something you want. Eddie Styles – one of my breaking mentors who taught me skills and technique, hip hop culture, and mindset since I started breaking four years ago.
Kai Goh Stephanie Persu Jae Calanog Golden Days Photo