I always joke about how my first words were "I want to be famous when I grow up." Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I was meant to perform. Whether it was lip-syncing to Jesse McCartney songs in front of my parents or always being the first to volunteer to present my project in elementary school, I always had a passion for being on stage. My parents finally enrolled me in dance classes when I was five, and the rest is history. 

Fast forward 18 years later, to the last time I'm dancing on stage at my performing arts high school. I made the decision not to pursue dance after I got my diploma and moved out of my hometown of Louisville, KY. Quitting dance was one of the hardest yet most beneficial decisions I have made in my 18 years of life. Not only was I burnt out from the rigorous rehearsals and technique classes, but my body could not physically keep up with my dance training

milk, chocolate
Nikki D'Ambrosio

During my senior year of high school, I cut back the hours of my dance training because I knew I would not pursue dance in college. I knew that my body still needed to move and work out so I decided to join a local gym. I started off going a few days a week and just doing the elliptical, some ab exercises, and pushups. After seeing little to no change, I decided I needed more. I began group fitness classes, spin classes, and I met with a trainer every few weeks. I began to strengthen my body in a way that I had never felt before. 

As you can imagine, the diet of a second semester high school senior is not high in quality. I was broke and lazy, resorting to places like McDonald's and Taco Bell to curb my afternoon hunger. 

Feeling pressured by society and the people around me to eat these unhealthy foods, it took a lot of courage and willpower to decide to adopt a more plant-based diet. I was watching my friends order McDoubles or a Mac 'n Cheese Burger at Cheesecake Factory. As immediately satisfying as those foods are, I learned how much better my body felt choosing a salad or veggie pasta over those fatty foods.

I also began to research different "super foods" like quinoa, açaí, kale, and chia seeds. I began cooking with foods I barely knew how to pronounce, but I became aware of what I was putting into my body. This opened my eyes to what health really means. Health isn't a certain diet or fad but is about making conscious decisions about what you're eating and how you're working out. In the past year, I've learned that it's not about limiting what you're eating, but moderating it.  

Nikki D'Ambrosio

You may think I'm some health freak, but I'm a normal college student just like you. Sometimes I need a day to stay in my room and binge-watch "Shameless" for 12 hours straight. Sometimes I want a slice (or three) of pizza at 2 am with my best friends. And that's okay. Everything is okay in moderation. Listening to my body was what led me to decide to quit dance, and I still listen to my body to tell me when to take a rest day or when to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's. 

It's been about nine months since I stepped off that stage. I miss dance and performing every day, and sometimes I do wonder what would have happened if I continued to pursue it in college. But I look at myself now and I not only feel healthier and stronger, but also much happier. Dance will always be a huge part of my life. I thought quitting it would be a loss that I could never replace, but I know now that it has taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined.