Hi, I'm Karen. I learned to dance in a year.

People who watch me dance today sometimes assume I've been dancing for many years. I made this video so you could see the awkward body that started just one year ago.

Here's my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don't have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.

This isn't a story about dancing, though. It's about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway. Maybe you're a musician dreaming of writing an original song. You're an entrepreneur dying to start your first venture. You're an athlete but you just haven't left the chair yet.

When you watch someone perform, you're seeing them at the top of their game. When they score the winning point or sell their company for millions — you're seeing them in their moment of glory. What you don't see is the thousands of hours of preparation. You don't see the self doubt, the lost sleep, the lonely nights spent working. You don't see the moment they started. The moment they were just like you, wondering how they could ever be good.

You'll get it if you really want it.



Practice every day

I don't practice every day because I'm disciplined. I practice every day because I'm obsessed. I love dancing and my body craves it. If I didn't have this raw hunger, there's no way I would've had the discipline to practice every day.

When Jerry Seinfeld was trying to make it as a comedian, he used a simple trick. Every day he wrote jokes, he marked an "X" in his calendar. Pretty soon he had a streak he didn't want to break.

Practice every day, even if it's only for 5 minutes. No exceptions. If I'm not feeling well, I'll practice exercises that use only my fingers or arms. If I'm really sick, I'll close my eyes, listen to music, and visualize myself dancing. I use Lift to help keep myself accountable.

If you practice something every day, you're guaranteed to get good at it.

Set goals you can actually control

It's great to have dreams. My dream is to get good enough to dance in a Coca-Cola commercial. It gives me something to aspire to, but it's not the yardstick I use to measure my success.

Don't define your self-worth against things you cannot control. Set goals you can control and measure yourself against those instead. I started with a promise to dance at least 5 minutes every day. When I got more into it, I upped my goal to 14 hours a week, about 2 hours a day.

Weekly goals offer more flexibility than daily ones. It's not always feasible to dance 2 hours every day — work and life happen. But if I miss a day, I know I'll have to make up those hours later in the week.

Become your own coach

Record videos of yourself dancing. I know, it's awkward, especially when you're just starting out. I can't stress this enough, though.

You'll see things in the videos you didn't catch in the mirror. You'll think you danced well, and then you'll watch it back and be mortified. Embrace those moments — that's when the learning happens. Where do you look stiff? What could you be moving more? Carefully watch videos of the pros. What are they doing differently?

I've practiced about 500 hours so far, which isn't much if you think about it. I've got a full-time job and I'm dancing only 1-2 hours a day. The real professionals are practicing 7, 10, 12 hours a day. You probably don't have that much time to dance, so you've got to make the most of it.

Be smart about how you practice. Don't just mindlessly dance the same moves over and over. Critique yourself and identify the things you need to work on. If you can coach yourself, you'll learn much faster.

Keep a dance journal of everything you're working on.

Here's mine. I write down how long I practiced, what looked good, what didn't, and what I need to practice more.

Learn from YouTube

Some of the best dancers I know have never taken a dance class. They learned by imitating what they saw on YouTube. The best part? It's free.

Watch videos of all different styles of dancing. Start learning the one you like best. Check out my favorite YouTube videos by other dancers, who break down the steps for you.

Go to dance class

Yelp can help you find a well-reviewed dance studio near you. Gyms are a great resource for dance classes, too. Explore different styles. Go to a hip hop class. A contemporary class. A belly-dancing class.

Ask for private lessons when you find a teacher you really like. Lessons are expensive but worth it, if you can set aside the money. You'll learn much faster with a professional critiquing your moves, tailoring the lessons to your needs, and holding you accountable for improving. Every week your teacher is going to ask to see what you worked on. What better motivation to keep practicing?

Staying in San Francisco? My favorite spots are City Dance Studios, Dance Mission, and House of Mayhem.

Say Hi

Thanks for reading this far — or at least scrolling to the bottom of the page. Say hi @karenxcheng or check out my blog. Now get off your computer and dance!

Shout outs are in order: Thank you Pharside for infecting me with this obsession for dance and for teaching me so much of what I know. Thank you C for inspiring me to dance true to myself and for directing, editing, and filming this video. Thanks to my teachers: Pharside, Austin Gumban, Percy Agoncillo, Boogie Frantick, Jocquese Whitfield, Amber Divina, Emerson Aquino, and Sandy Lee. Thanks to my friends for critiquing early cuts of this video and website: Lynn Tao, Laura Copeland, Finbarr Taylor, Rosa Lee, Amy Lin, Josh Leong, Cedric Dahl. You push me to become better and I am lucky to know you.

We should consider every day lost in which we don't dance.

Nietzsche