Humans of Harker: Balance in performance

Tiffany Zhao express herself through various forms of art


Helen Zhu

“Dance represents my growth; it allowed me to grow as a person. [Piano and dance are] both art forms, but they’re also so different at the same time. I wouldn’t be the pianist I was today if I didn’t dance, and I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if I didn’t do piano, so they’ve definitely helped each other,” Tiffany Zhao (12) said.

Blending into the blur of students rushing to their second period class, Tiffany Zhao (12) makes her way towards the dance room to start practice with her team, the Harker Varsity Dance Team. To her peers, Tiffany is known first and foremost as a zealous dancer who exudes a vivacious energy in all aspects of her life. Her close friends and teacher, who have witnessed her transformation throughout her high school journey, know that the brightly lit dance stage is practically a second home to Tiffany.

A longtime student at Harker, Tiffany has participated on dance teams since fifth grade. Christie Chen (12), her close friend and team member of 7 years, has grown up alongside her from lower to upper school. She recalls memories with her back on the lower and middle school dance team, Dance Fusion.

“We went to Johnny Rockets… with all the rest of Fusion, it’s like a tradition. I think we sat at the same table, and I had my first milkshake, and I’m pretty sure it was with Tiffany. Then we went back and she goes, ‘Oh do you remember Johnny Rockets?’ and I was like ‘Of course I do!’ She’s the only Varsity member that’s been on Fusion with me so it’s a very unique memory to us because we definitely go very far back,” Christie said.

Upper School Dance and Varsity Dance Team Director Karl Kuehn fondly recollects a piece he choreographed, “Celine,” in last year’s annual dance production that Tiffany played an integral part in. The piece itself was lyrical, a graceful style of dance that Kuehn says highlighted Tiffany’s ballet and lyrical training. Kuehn also proudly describes Tiffany’s open and energetic approach in self expression through dance.

“Her dedication shows in her performances, and I think that she’s passionate about being onstage and enjoys it, and that’s really kind of fueled her performance fire because she’s been doing it for so many years [and] that’s always fun to see,” Kuehn said.

To Tiffany, the stage isn’t just her happy place for dance; her flawless performances on the piano have won her many awards and recognition in the musical world. Starting at the young age of five and a half, Tiffany’s teacher entered her into competition only 2 years later, an experience she says she’s thankful for. Endless hours of practice brought her the honor of playing at Carnegie Hall four times, as well as being the winner of multiple international competitions.

However, Tiffany was pulled in so many directions in middle school that she almost did not continue playing piano.

“I’m really thankful because there [was], in middle school, a time where I didn’t want to do piano, and [I] thought this was just too much, I can’t really handle doing both,” Tiffany said. “I’m thankful [I continued] because through performing on stage constantly, it matured me a lot.”

Her decision to continue piano has influenced Tiffany’s has strengthened her love for dance. For Tiffany, piano and dance are equally important aspects of her life that heavily rely and support one another.

“Dance represents my growth; it allowed me to grow as a person. [Piano and dance are] both art forms, but they’re also so different at the same time. I wouldn’t be the pianist I was today if I didn’t dance, and I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if I didn’t do piano, so they’ve definitely helped each other,” Tiffany said.

Ever since a young age, Tiffany pushed herself to be a dancer and a pianist, stepping out of her comfort zone to connect with an audience.

“Piano has been a confidence boost ever since I was little because I gain recognition from these judges and professors. It boosted my confidence to continue and motivated me to perform,” Tiffany said. “My parents don’t push me to do competitions; they never pushed me to play piano or do dance. But for me I have a really special connection to music so when I’m onstage performing for judges, I just show them my passion for music. I train myself to show all of my hard work.”

Tiffany continues to describe a feeling of respect that she connects herself to her audience.

“When you’re in front of a lot of people you need to respect them as well, and when you perform for them, it’s like you’re showing them respect,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany’s steadfast diligence in continuing dance and piano parallels a surprising enthusiasm in more STEM related academics, especially math and economics.

Samuel Lepler, Tiffany’s economics teacher since junior year, describes Tiffany’s animated participation in the classroom as well as her dedicated work ethic.

“She’s very diligent, very hardworking, and very conscientious of her studies, so she manages to be incredibly hardworking and incredibly intelligent while also being very fun,” Lepler said. “She’s got a great sense of humor, an infectious smile [and] personality that just spreads a sense of positivity in the classroom atmosphere. She laughs at even my terrible jokes, which I appreciate, and I’m never sure if its genuine laughter or she’s just being really nice, but … she’s a positive force.”

In contrast to her bright and vibrant personality onstage, Tiffany also showcases her humble spirit and quiet determination in her many other interests.

“She’s good at things, but she won’t say it out loud. She’s very humble and quiet about what she’s good at, and I didn’t know that she’s taking a lot of advanced CS topics and courses. I didn’t even know she did computer science until this year, which is insane because it takes three to four years to get to this level in CS,” Christie said. “She does amazing things and I didn’t even notice, so she definitely has a lot of hidden qualities.”

Although she may be perceived as quiet and reserved by those who don’t know her well, Tiffany’s friends know that she is the embodiment of positivity, and always knows how to elicit a laugh, brighten a conversation, or just be there for a friend in need.

“She has a bubbly personality and if I’m in a bad mood, she always lifts my spirits because she has a lot of energy,” said Pamela Duke (12), a close friend. “Sometimes we call past midnight just talking to each other [and] she’s always there for me. [Tiffany] always speaks her mind and I really appreciate that because I’m always able to get an honest opinion, and I’m glad we’re always able to support and be honest with each other.”