Humans of Harker: Unity and grace

Elaine Xiao utilizes performing as a creative outlet


Helen Zhu

“I love seeing things that people create in unison. What the cause is, it doesn’t really matter in my eyes. Bringing joy to other people, inspiring them in the process to also [do so], and [seeing] the joy on their faces when they bring joy to other people … makes me feel really happy,” Elaine Xiao (12) said.

Her feet lightly gliding over the smooth floor of the dance room, Elaine Xiao (12) gracefully makes her way across the wood in a series of quick movements. Her body sways in tune with the song, moving of its own accord as the melody begins to pick up. With a final sweep of her leg, her performance is over.

Having performed since she was 3 years old, Elaine uses dance as an outlet to express herself creatively and to spread joy to others. She became increasingly interested in choreography around eighth grade, and she was able to try her hand at creating a dance for the annual dance production held in the Rothschild Performing Arts Center in her senior year.

“I had one hip hop teacher who was super inspirational, and she really made dance an art for me instead of something I did as an extracurricular,” Elaine said. “She always taught us how to improvise [and] how to use the creative aspect of dance. [Choreography] is the union of whatever inspiration you have in your mind that you want to express; that’s the medium of expressing it.”

A recurring theme that encompasses most of Elaine’s interests is the concept of unity and the final product. Elaine is specifically intrigued by the work that people can do together collaboratively and the joy it brings others.

“I love seeing things that people create in unison,” Elaine said. “What the cause is, it doesn’t really matter in my eyes. Bringing joy to other people, inspiring them in the process to also [do so], and [seeing] the joy on their faces when they bring joy to other people … makes me feel really happy.”

Close friend Michelle Si (12) commented that Elaine’s performances were truly a captivating sight and that she loved the intensity and energy she brought to the stage.

“There’s so much power in each of the movements that [Elaine] does, and I don’t think I have ever seen anybody else dance like that before,” she said. “She always stands out. I’m probably biased because I watch her more because she’s my best friend, but the way that she moves is super powerful and fluid.”

Dancing has also allowed Elaine to slow down during her performances and other activities, and she believes it is important every once in a while to think about the moment. 

“We don’t take our time enough to appreciate the slower moments, because I feel like a lot of the time, while I dance, or while I play music, sometimes the slower you go through the motions, time flies even faster,” Elaine said. “Especially at Harker, people aren’t really taking their time. And slowing down to me means having more time to reflect with yourself.”

Along with being a talented performer, Elaine is an exemplary role model for the other aspiring dancers in the program. She was elected as co-captain of the Harker Dance Company (HDC) this year due to her diligent work ethics and outstanding resilience.

“Our younger dancers really look to Elaine, not just because of her talent and skill but to see the type of behavior that she’s modeling,” upper school dance teacher Karl Kuehn said. “She leads with grace and humility, which I’m so proud of her for doing.”

Elaine also brings her strong leadership and personality to volunteering. She works as a performer recruiter for the student-run nonprofit organization Nanoseed, which hosts annual benefit concerts featuring performers both from and outside of Harker. 

Another organization that she actively participates in is named Alcove, an institute that focuses on the mental health of adults originally based in Australia. Her older brother’s experiences have served as major factors in sparking her interest in this specific field, and he is someone that inspires her to continue pursuing it. 

“Psychology and mental health is something [my brother] has gone through himself and is really passionate about,” Elaine said, “He’s one of my guiding purposes and one of the starting points of my passion in [mental health].”

Overall, Elaine is always cautious of the mental health and feelings of her friends and the people around her, and like many others, there were multiple times in her life where she had been hindered by her own feelings and emotions. Close friend Luisa Pan (12), who has known Elaine for seven years, appreciates her observantness and thoughtfulness. 

“She’s super considerate of other people’s feelings. She would catch things that other people wouldn’t be able to catch,” Luisa said. “She also has the same insecurities that a lot of people do, and she’s worried about a lot more things that she lets on and also doesn’t want you to worry about her.” 

One such insecurity that Elaine has struggled with is being more outspoken with herself, though she has improved that over her high school years. 

“Something I’ve struggled with is putting myself out there, and really advocating for myself,” Elaine said. “I’m better at it now, but in the beginning of high school, a lot of the times [that fear] held me back from putting myself out there for things that I felt that should be changed. I think in general, I’m a pretty open-minded person, so I like to try a lot of new things.” 

Merging her interests for mental health and sharing this valuable information to a larger audience, Elaine applied to give a TEDx talk about mental health from a youth perspective, and she points to this decision as a major turning point in overcoming many of these obstacles, including the fear of putting her work and ideas out into the world. 

At the end of the day, Elaine’s creative genius and open mind have convinced those around her to work harder in order to keep up with her level of determination and sheer will. 

“Elaine is a rock star,” Kuehn said. “She’s one of the people that has made an impact on me as a teacher; I strive to be a better teacher for a student like Elaine. She is an exceptional student and human and that alone makes me want to work with her every day. And because of that, I will miss her as a student. We will notice that she’s no longer in high school and in our program, but I know that her future is just so bright.”