I was diagnosed with alopecia totalis [an autoimmune disease where your white blood cells think your hair follicles are a foreign body and attack them—ultimately making your hair fall out] during my eighth-grade year. I was living in the constant unknown, and it was a really hard time for me. Every day I would wake up with bigger circular patches on my head, with the inevitability of going completely bald looming over me.
What was happening to me was so weird. Going completely bald? That's pretty different and distracting. But through it all, my teachers and team at The Dance Zone never looked at me differently.
I remember in the beginning, I decided I was going to need to wear a wig to school, because I wasn't ready to be au naturale. My teacher Kaydee Francis, who has always been a big influence in my life, met my mom and I at the wig shop and helped me decide which one would be the best. She and my other teachers (Jami Artiga, Caine Keenan, Erina Noda, Stephanie Minarchan, and J.V. Goeke) have sent me kind words and supportive energy while pushing me to become a better dancer. They have loved me when I could not love myself, and it's that love and support that has inspired me to be a teacher myself.
Gonzalez with her teacher Kaydee Francis (courtesy of Gonzalez)
The weird thing about alopecia is you're losing your hair, but you're not sick, and it's not by choice. So, the biggest advice I would give to a studio with a student in this situation is to treat them normally. Don't ask them how they're doing more than you would ask anyone else. This is even harder to go through when people look at you differently.
At the end of the day, it's just hair. I always keep that in mind—this isn't changing my insides. At first it was hard to look at myself and accept the fact that I was actually bald. But just like anything new in life, you get used to it. Happiness is always a choice. You wake up and you can choose to let the negative get you down or to be grateful for what you have, and take on the day.
I'm a graduating senior, and though I don't know what I want to do next exactly, I know I ultimately want to open a dance studio and inspire kids the way I've been inspired. My experiences at my studio has given me the strength and confidence to carry through whatever my future has in store.
Dance is my true passion. I'm not sure where I'd be without it, or the endless support of my teachers in my life.