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Breaking Barriers on the Dance Floor

Kiana Lujan, a senior at the University of Guam, is an avid dancer who regularly choreographs ballet, modern dance and hip-hop for the local community.
Dex Honea
Triton's Call/UOG
Kiana Lujan, a senior at the University of Guam, is an avid dancer who regularly choreographs ballet, modern dance and hip-hop for the local community.

Kiana Lujan is a military child who has lived in Upstate New York, Colorado, Germany, Texas and now Guam. Despite the many changes in her life from moving one place to another, she shares one constant passion — her love for dance.

In addition to being a college senior at the University of Guam, she is a dance member at the University’s collegiate dance team called The Collective. Lujan is also a dance teacher at a local studio where she teaches ballet and contemporary dance.

For Lujan, dancing is more than just a performance on stage.

“I actually started doing gymnastics first, I did that from the Mommy and Me classes with my mom when I was 3,” Lujan said.

In her senior year of high school, she enrolled in the Dual-Enrollment program, an agreement between the Guam Department of Education and the University of Guam that gives high school students a chance to earn both high school and college credits. It is with no surprise that she has always been used to living a busy life.

“Dance is really my therapy. It’s a way for me to release my stress, even just to express my emotions.”

In her junior year of college, she did the unthinkable and cut her hair short. Lujan had long hair for a while and wanted a change when COVID hit. She shares the challenges of being perceived differently in public, especially as a ballet dancer because she could not put her hair in a bun.

“I’m also bisexual, so I felt that it helped me come into my identity a little more. That was a really big thing for a lot of people. I heard from some of my friends' parents that it was unprofessional and things like that,” Lujan said.

During her middle school years in Colorado, the ballet studio she was in at that time made her feel like she was stuck in a box. Body shaming and stereotypes were some of the things she remembered seeing from her friends, which greatly affected her.

“Because you are looking at yourself in the mirror almost everyday. Some of the teachers were very old school. They did have some comments regarding dancers' bodies. That kind of stereotyping regarding body image is definitely still there,” Lujan said.

Although she was not necessarily a direct victim of body shaming from her teachers, she was still affected by the way her classmates would feel when they were criticized about their body. Nowadays, it is unacceptable to comment on young students’ bodies. For Kiana, it was a painful part of her experience as a dancer.

The teachers from the ballet studio would require students to wear specific tights for every class. This was a huge discouragement for Lujan, but what topped it off was the multiple injuries and three surgeries that she endured, from her dancing.

When she was only 13 years old, she had two major surgeries in her knee. It took her three months to recover. In those three months, she was not able to dance at all or even walk properly.

She was on the verge of giving up until, a former teacher inspired her.

“There was a teacher, one from New York, who told me that dance will always be a part of your life if it’s meant to be. I’ve had quite a few injuries, but every time, dance has come back to me,” she said.

A moment where Lujan realized why she kept on dancing was when her students danced to a choreographed piece that she made. The piece was to Frank Sinatra’s hit, My Way. 

“I just felt like it encompassed my entire dance experience. It was really emotional for me just to see that I could share my passion for dance and give it to the kids and hopefully they share it with others,” she said.

Dance is more than just entertainment for her. It’s a form of art, therapy and most importantly, a sport. Lujan says non-dancers will never truly understand all the hard work that comes with dancing.

“You have practices six times a week. You have strengthening, conditioning and you rehearse. To prep for that, you stretch beforehand, you have a pep talk with your team, you ice your body. At the end of it all, you get an award if you’re lucky,” Lujan said.

Breaking barriers and inspiring others to do the same is why Kiana will continue to dance for as long as she’s able to.

This story was produced in collaboration with Isla Public News and University of Guam's Communication and Media Program.

Student reporter Kyona Rivera is a senior at the University of Guam. She's working towards a degree in Communication and Media.