“I allowed myself to stop thinking and just began to dance.”

Lal Derin, a 15-year-old student from Istanbul, Turkey, feels her eyes filling with emotion as she describes her favorite thing in the world: dance.

“I was always in love with music,” Lal said. “I just found a way to feel it with my body.”

She began dancing at the age of 6. She had never taken any lessons, learning how to dance on her own. According to Lal,  dancing was not a common hobby for people to pursue in Turkey, and she didn’t dance to Turkish music. What Lal enjoyed to dance to the most, and still does, is pop and electronic music, mostly in English.

Lal’s role model has always been her dad, a well-known race car driver in Turkey, and a champion since 2014. “He’s my role model and my everything,” Lal said. As an only child, she enjoyed doing several things with her father, like kitesurfing.

Lal has always enjoyed non-choreographed dance, which is why she never thought about joining an academy. In 2014, while she was dancing at a club with her father, the owner of a dance academy in Turkey saw her. In that moment, he offered her a full scholarship to the academy.

She rejected the offer. Lal felt dance as a “link to soul,” which choreographies did not allow. However, the director had told her that the door was still open if she ever changed her mind. Almost three months later, after thoughtful discussion with her parents, Lal finally agreed to study in the academy.

Having successfully finished two years in the academy already, Lal has to study for three more years if she wants to achieve a position as an assistant instructor. This was all a part of the original offer. To her relief, she has solo dance parts in the academy, which allow her to convey emotions in her most cherished way: dancing freely.

Though dance is such an important part of her life, she does not aspire to become a professional dancer., she wants to be an architect.

But that doesn’t mean she plans to give up dancing. “I want to still do dance on the side as much as possible,” Lal said.

Lal is constantly trying to learn new styles of dance. Taking full advantage of Exeter’s rich cultural environment, she has learned about all the different cultural dances that she can, such as Latin American, Spanish, and American dance.

At Exeter, she is planning on participating in the Talent Show. She is not preparing a choreography, so people will see her true talents live. “I lose control, I don’t think about anything but dance,” she said.