When entering college, finding a community can be difficult. For the majority of an individual’s educational career, the people around them are those that they have known for most of their childhood. They have reached milestones together and shaped each other’s personalities. In college, that changes.
Connecting with others and finding a place of belonging at a university is a whole different ball game, especially when the activity you are most passionate about is not offered.
Sophomore Cookie Yitbarek came to Seattle Pacific University from Las Vegas, hoping that she could continue her dancing career on the collegiate level. However, upon arrival, she was disappointed to find out that there was no formal dance team.
Yitbarek has been dancing since she was two years old for leisure and then began dancing competitively in eighth grade. In her competitive years, Yitbarek competed on two different teams in Las Vegas. One was an adult team called The Village Dance Collective and the other was a junior team called Empire.
Along with being a dancer, she has cheered since third grade, which helped the search for belonging on campus much easier. She knew how to dance and she knew how to cheer, so becoming a part of the SPU cheer team was a perfect fit.
Joining this team offered Yitbarek a community where she could express her love for dance and also engage with other sports teams on campus.
“We only really cheer for one sport, which is basketball, but I love watching basketball so it’s a really fun experience. I get super hype for the games because of my love for the sport,” Yitbarek said. “I find myself getting engaged in the game beyond just being a part of the cheer team, and I think that energy transfers to my teammates. We are all very energetic and feed off of each other.”
Dance and cheer are essential to Yitbarek’s life and give her a medium to translate her feelings to audiences through the movement of her body.
“I like how dancing is like a form of expression without words. Do not get me wrong though, I love poetry and similar things where you can express your emotions through writing, but there is just something about dance and the way you do not have to say anything,” Yitbarek said. “It is all through the movements you do with your body. Your movements allow the audience to interpret your expression in any way they want to.”
For Yitbarek, being able to feel all of these different emotions while performing can feel like a rollercoaster, but the feeling of release that comes with being on stage or in front of a crowd provides her with an escape.
She feels most at peace when she is dancing. None of her burdens follow her when she dances. The only feeling inside of her is the mood needed for the dance or cheer she is about to perform. Whether that be excitement, grief, joy or anger, the feeling envelops her completely.
Besides dancing and cheering, Yitbarek also loves to paint and lift weights at the gym.
“I paint a lot of customs, do tattoos and give piercings, but generally, I think I am just a very creative person. Album covers are my absolute favorite thing to paint because I love music and am very passionate about it,” Yitbarek said. “The expression part of it is so beautiful, like let me take an album I like and put it on clothes. There is something just so amazing about creating something new out of something you already love.”
When it comes to lifting, Yitbarek enjoys it not just because it is helping her grow healthier and stronger, but also because it brings her an intense sense of pride as a woman. She has noticed that when walking into Royal Brougham Pavilion at SPU to work out, most of the people there are men.
She is lifting mostly for fun, but cannot help the confidence that fills her body.
“When my friends and I go into the gym, there is a deep emotion surrounding our workout. As soon as we walk in, it is girl boss time. No hate to the guys at Royal Brougham, but it is majorly dominated by men, so when we walk in there with confidence it is like power move against them. It shows them we are strong too,” Yitbarek said.
As a female athlete at SPU, Yitbarek knows that there is a certain feeling of having to prove herself as an equal to male athletes, but she does not think that is the way it should be. She has found her place at SPU. A place where she can express herself emotionally, while also proving why all teams at SPU despite gender, should be given the same attention.
“Being a woman means not taking s— from others and proving that you are on the same level as all the men you are being compared to. We should not have to compare ourselves to men, but that is how it is,” Yitbarek said. “We should be seen as equals and as long as that is not true, we have to stand up and keep expressing ourselves. We have to keep performing and keep pushing to be our best selves.”