Humans of Harker: Dancing with dedication

Larissa Tyagi ('20) makes the most out of her interests by pushing herself to her limits

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Provided by Larissa Tyagi

“It’s really hard to find time for things that you genuinely like to do for yourself, not for anyone else, not for college, not for any reason, just because you simply like to do it and dance is one of the few things that make me genuinely happy, and I really don’t feel obligated to anyone,” Larissa Tyagi ('20) said.

“Five couples on the floor with four events. The first dance is,” a heavy pause fills the air around the couples on the dance floor as they await the news of which dance they will be improving to. “Cha-cha,” finishes the commentator of the City Lights Ballroom Competition. Latin music fills the space, as Larissa Tyagi (‘20) glides effortlessly towards her partner, her gold and blue sequined costume catching the light of the bright stage lights stationed around the room. Though four other couples dance around the pair, Larissa’s composure never wavers, smiling through every swish of her hips and flick of her wrists. 

“In ballroom, the audience is pretty much in your face so you have to be very aware of that and obviously keep dancing no matter what people or distractions you see,” Larissa said. “You have to be really focused on yourself and have a lot of spacial awareness but also be really confident in yourself and your style. A big part of ballroom is adjusting to the music and filling it with your own style and your own flair, no matter who’s around you.”

Though she now specializes in ballroom, Larissa, who began studio dancing in fourth grade at Dance Academy USA (DAU), has experimented in nearly a dozen different styles of the art. For years she trained and competed in well-known dance forms such as jazz, hip hop, ballet and tap. This seemingly impossible versatility sprung from her willingness to put in extra hours towards dance. 

“When I started out at DAU I was on the biggest team with 100 girls. I was just a dot on stage; I barely had any role,” Larissa said. “After my first year, I started taking more and more classes, and I got to the point where I was doing close to 20 hours per week, doing multiple routines and solos at each competition.”

Despite her love of dance, she soon subconsciously began to distance herself from the competitive studio aspect of it, realizing that it caused her more stress than comfort. To combat this feeling, in her freshman year Larissa stopped studio dance and instead started learning ballroom dancing at Top Dance Ballroom. 

“I knew my friend Riya Chandra (‘17) was doing ballroom dance, so my sister and I went with her to a class with her instructor,” Larissa said. “I really enjoyed that first class and after that, I started learning the fundamentals and met my dance partner soon after in freshman year.”

Since that first class, she and her dance partner have attended countless competitions for cha-cha, rumba, jive and salsa. Just a few months after this introductory class she attended her first ballroom competition. She owes her ability to adapt so quickly to ballroom in part to her experience with other styles of dance. 

“When I started, I didn’t have to spend a lot of time stretching and training myself to have really pointed feet and straightened legs and cleaned lines because that was something that I learned in ballet and other styles,” said Larissa. “When I came to ballroom, it was more of me learning how to shift from the ballet mentality of having very strict technique to filling the movement with my own flare and moving my hips and learning the rhythm of ballroom.”

Another major contributor to her success is her partner, Artjom Shmigely, who helped guide her through her competitions and classes. In ballroom dance, the dancer finds a partner who is a professional. That partner becomes the instructor, and the dancer starts out competing in the Pro-Am level where they are the “amateur.” Over the course of a few weeks to months, the dancer learns routines with their partner, then competes with the same partner. 

“The biggest part of competitions for me is having the support system of my partner, from rehearsing with him before to those last-minute pep talks that he gives me right before we enter,” Larissa said. “One of the biggest things that he always tells me is you have to be competitive but also have to keep your poise and be respectful of the dancers around you. That’s something really important in dance, but also applicable in so many parts of my life.”

She applies this confidence through public speaking. Larissa, who’s been very active in business leadership, uses what she’s learned through dance in her work organizing events and pitching ideas. Last year, Larissa attended the finals of the Diamond Challenge, a global high school entrepreneurship competition.

“I think overall, growing up on stage, and being on stage in front of a live audience isi something that’s really helped me overcome my fear of public speaking. When you make it to [the Diamond Challenge] finals, you have to pitch to an audience of 100 people and a panel of judges who are going to question you at the end and grill you on your business fundamentals,” said Larissa. “I remember telling myself and my partner, “we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to try our best, but we’re going to be poised and respectful,” which is exactly what I learned from my dance partner.”

She shows respect to not only her professional colleagues, but to her close and personal friends. Mahi Kolla (‘20), one of Larissa’s closest friends whom she met in freshman year, notes Larissa’s welcoming and kind nature. 

“My favorite quality of hers is her compassion. From organizing Red Cross events to just being a shoulder you can lean on, she is such an incredible person,” said Mahi. “Her passion for her initiatives and projects is so inspiring and it has been incredible to see her pursue her interests over the last 4 years.”

Last year, Larissa attended the ballroom world championships in Irvine, California. Having only been her third competition ever, she felt overwhelmed and at times felt as if she would crack under pressure. In the end, though, Larissa and her partner won first place at the competition, thanks to her months of rigorous training.

“Winning at the world championships was something that I never imagined doing, especially in high school,” said Larissa. “training so intensely for those few months, I never thought that I would work that hard for anything in my life. I think that experience brought out a whole new side of myself that I had never seen before and a whole new work ethic. It really showed me how hard I’m willing to work for something if I really want it.”

Though there have been difficult times where Larissa felt nervous under pressure, she always managed to overcome her stress. Mahika Halepete (‘20), who has been friends with Larissa since childhood, recalls her consistently goal-oriented personality.

 Larissa’s always been super driven and high energy, ever since we were young,” said Mahika. “Even now, she always inspires me with her passion and dedication in everything she does. 

At the end of the day, Larissa’s dedication to her interests are what drive her to work so hard. 

“It’s really hard to find time for things that you genuinely like to do for yourself, not for anyone else, not for college, not for any reason, just because you simply like to do it,” said Larissa. “Dance is one of the few things that make me genuinely happy, and I really don’t feel obligated to anyone.”