Madison Catalano: Rediscovering Your Passion After Feeling Stuck

Have you guys ever felt like you're stuck doing the same things just out of routine or because it's what you've always done? Maybe it's a sport you've always played or a club you've been in for awhile. You just go through the motions and never really take the time to check in with yourself.

Do you still enjoy what you're doing, or do you just feel obligated to keep doing it?

As someone who grew up being involved in everything under the sun, this question hit me hard. I always was taught that once you committed to something, you stayed committed and worked hard.

While I strongly believe in that lesson still, I also believe that people change. Experiences change. Things change when you go from one level to the next.

Our INSPIRE guest this week had the courage to quit a collegiate dance team after dancing for her whole life.

Madison is one of the sweetest, hardest working people you will ever meet. Her quitting her team didn't mean she was giving up on dance. In fact, this decision allowed her to start an awesome new club on campus that allowed her to continue her passion for dance in a brand new way.

If you've ever felt stuck in life, be ready to get some awesome advice from Madison herself.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a senior at the University of Illinois majoring in Kinesiology and minoring in Psychology. My hometown is Itasca, IL, I am an only child, and I have three cats. I have worked for Universal Dance Association (UDA) the past three summers and I have the opportunity to teach dance to high school teams nationwide. At the University I have been an undergrad research assistant in the Exercise Psychology Lab for two years, was a member of the Illinettes Dance Team for two years, worked as a barista at Array Café, had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy last summer, volunteer at the Disability Resource Education Center & OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center, am in a sorority, and I am secretary of the Pre-Physical Therapy (PT) club. My love for movement has led me to want to pursue a career in PT. I have been grateful for all my experiences so far at the University and would love to talk with anyone that might be interested in any of these opportunities!

2. What is at the top of your bucket list?

Ahh I actually made a bucket list about a month ago and there are so many good ones… A couple of my top ones are to go surfing, run a half marathon, change someone’s life for the better, and travel to Europe with my family!

3. What are some of your hobbies that aren’t related to school or work?

Some of my non-work and school-related hobbies include spending time with family, friends and pets, journaling with my morning routine, reading, physical activity (strength training & walking/running), watching Grey’s Anatomy or YouTube, and yoga. I’ve recently started my 200 hour yoga certification, so I will hopefully be a certified yoga instructor in about 6 months!

4. Explain your journey of starting your new club on campus, Mindful Movement, while being a busy college student.

This is a challenging question and going to be a long one, so I apologize in advance... Growing up as a competitive dancer, a member of my high school team, and a member of a dance ensemble, dance was embedded in me. It was something so heavily part of my life I didn’t know anything other than the joy it brought me. When applying to college I knew my intent was not solely to pursue dance, as I had explored other options for a career involving movement. I also knew that I wouldn’t exactly be able to let it go. As I was accepted into the University of Illinois and made the dance team I decided to follow that path, still very unclear if that was what I wanted.

I am forever grateful for the memories I made on the dance team at the University of Illinois. Never in a million years did I think I would be able to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, perform at Soldier Field, and travel with the Marching Illini to the Ohio State University to perform at a football game. These unforgettable moments were made with people I am now lucky to call my best friends and it was truly a unique time in my first two years of college. It was also a challenging time for myself mentally and things began to worsen, which was a lot on top of my additional responsibilities as an undergrad student. At the same time, I landed a job as a barista, worked in a research lab as an undergrad research assistant, and had a full 18 credit hours. Everyone lives a busy lifestyle and has to choose what is most important to them. As much as I loved the memories I made on the team, the dancing was not the same as I had grown up with, and it felt more like something to cross off on the to-do list than something I actually enjoyed. Performing for large audiences, practicing with the band over 20 hours a week, and needing to look a certain way was not the kind of dancing I wanted to continue with. I had been a member of a team my whole life, so making this decision was definitely a challenge. As I fought with myself I decided the best thing for me was to not continue with the team. I knew that I would always cherish those memories, support everyone on the team, and keep my friends close, but it was not the type of environment I was looking for in my undergrad experience. I knew another individual deserved this once in a lifetime opportunity more than me and that was completely okay!

Coming back to school in the fall was so different not being on the team, but I genuinely loved it. I was volunteering, working in the lab, balancing a heavy course load, etc. As the semester progressed I worked diligently on my physical and mental health with the help of various professionals. Returning from winter break I was stronger, healthier, and happier, ready to tackle another semester. One morning in the first week of the semester I had an idea about creating a dance club, something I had always considered, especially since I did miss dancing with my teammates. I knew it was a crazy thought with everything else I was balancing, but it was something I was passionate about. I also knew this would probably be my only chance to start my own organization for free and did not want this opportunity to slip away. I wanted to create a stress-free environment and an outlet for individuals to release all the negative energy in their lives and express it with dance. I knew it would be an outlet for my mental battles, and I wanted to make it a place for everyone to release whatever they might be going through. In a judge free, supportive environment I wanted to bring together a community of dancers that share a similar interest. As the creativity kept building I decided to go to the Registered Student Organization (RSO) office and learn everything I needed to do to start it. After several phone calls, various forms, and support from my friends and family I was able to get it all organized in under two weeks.

We met two times and I fell in love with the energy in the room. Everyone was motivated and inspired in our short time together, and no one felt like they needed to prove anything to do what they love. In our meetings, we warmed up, went across the floor, and learned combinations choreographed by myself and other members.

Unfortunately, COVID changed our plans for our scheduled meetings for the rest of the semester, but I was able to post a few videos online for members to learn different routines if they were interested. As we hopefully return to campus in the fall my goal is to continue having meetings about two times a month and allow at least one opportunity to reach out to the community. I think it would be great to connect with a local middle/high school or a nursing home to teach them a dance and get them moving to some degree. Even if the people we reach out to are not able to learn much about dance in our short visit I hope it can bring a smile to their faces and make them appreciate that anyone is capable of doing something if they put their mind to it. Before saying “don’t” or “can’t,” we can show them that they are able to dance if they try.

5. There are literally hundreds of clubs at UIUC, and there are even many dance clubs. Were you ever nervous to start your own, and how did you make sure yours would stand apart from others?

Yes, I was most definitely nervous. In fact, the week before I started it I attended a different dance organization’s try-out to get a feel for what it was like. This club was AMAZING, and it was similar to something I was part of in high school where you choreograph routines and have a performance at the end of the season. I knew I wanted to create something different that totally erased the audience element, and simply was a place for individuals to do what they love. As a college student during the day you are being evaluated all the time from your performance on exams, to the expectations from a boss or professor, and other life stressors. When I started the club I emphasized that the goal was to eliminate accumulated stress from the day or week. Not to say performing for an audience isn’t an exhilarating feeling, because it is truly incredible, but the feeling of a supportive, loving, and connected room is beautiful and indescribable. To make it “stand out” I wanted to make sure everyone knew they could come feeling comfortable and safe to move in whatever way makes them happy.

6. What was the hardest part of starting Mindful Movement, and how did you overcome it?

Hmm, I feel like the hardest part was worrying about what other people would think of me. This is something I think a lot of people can relate to… But taking that thought and reframing it to something more positive like “Even if people do think it is weird for starting this club I can’t control how they think, I know this is something I want to do for others so I’m going to stick to my plan.” Remember thoughts are just thoughts, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily telling the truth, so reframing those negative thoughts was my best way to overcome that fear. Reframing my thoughts also made me realize people are focused on their life or what they need to get accomplished and it does not matter if they think the club is “bad” or not. The second most challenging part was getting my account confirmation and spreading the word in a short amount of time. To “activate” an RSO you need an account number that takes about two weeks to process. I couldn’t confirm the space I requested until I had that account number approved. It was a little stressful because I only had a few days to advertise & share the club before our first meeting, but luckily I had amazing friends that helped accomplish it.

7. If you could give one piece of advice to girls in their twenties, what would it be?

This is the hardest question because I have plenty of tips I could give to young girls in their twenties, and most of them come from my mistakes. Short and sweet: Be honest with yourself, don’t overschedule yourself, figure out what your values are, and accept help from others are some ways you’ll be able to live your most fulfilled life!

In terms of life advice: Take time for yourself and learn when you need to slow down or ask for help. Taking a break is what changed me and helped me discover what I really value. I let stressors build up in my life which spiraled my mental struggles out of control. When I became aware of that and wanted to recover for myself I was able to surprise myself and appreciate everything in my life, even start the club. :) Whether you have a goal of getting straight A’s, changing your daily routine, meeting new people, or even starting your own organization I would say the most important thing is to check in with yourself. Finding balance is what you should strive for in becoming happy with yourself and crushing your goals. Remember no one is perfect, so don’t expect everything to be perfect the first time around! To go along with that, stop comparing yourself to others. You have no idea what everyone else’s goals and intentions are, and it is most likely not the same as yours. Remember that even if you are working towards the same goal, your day 12 could be someone else’s day 200. If you need help on how where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, I would love to do what I can to help get you going.

In terms of creative advice: Prioritize & make time for the important things… for me making a schedule for the next day at night helps me stay on track and get accomplished what I need. Along with that, I am working on flexibility if unexpected things come up, because life is unpredictable. Writing my schedule at night keeps me organized, but if a calendar or planner is easier for you, do what is best for you! When I was creating the club that became a new priority in my life, so I adapted and made time for that in my daily routine. The best place to start if you want to do something but are unsure about having enough time for it is blocking out short chunks each day! If you are passionate about something, devote a little time each day (5, 10, 15 minutes are all you need) into your schedule to simply focus on that. That short amount of time will add up faster than you think. Maybe add it in the morning right when you wake up, during a break at work, or at night before bed? I am pretty confident almost everyone is capable of setting a timer for 5 minutes a day to focus on that one thing rather than scrolling through their newsfeed on social media or playing on their phone.

If you have any questions ranging from starting an RSO, involvement in other organizations, physical and mental health, or anything in between don’t hesitate to reach out! I am more than happy to share more about my experiences and help anyone who wants some motivation or advice! I can be reached via phone at (630)240-7607 or by email at

8. Where can people find you and Mindful Movement?

Our Instagram account is: @mindfulmovement.uiuc.

We will be more active towards the end of summer about plans for the fall, but follow us to meet some of our members and other exciting news that comes up! If you have any questions email:!

After playing every sport I possibly could while growing up, I really struggled to give any of them up when I was no longer enjoying them. I mean you spend YEARS working to get better. People expect certain things from you. It shouldn't matter if you've lost your interest, right?

Heck no.

I'm not telling you to quit everything just because you have a hard week. Things are never going to always be rainbows and sunshine, but that doesn't always mean you need to feel obligated to keep doing something that just doesn't feel right anymore.

It's terrifying to remove something from your plate that has been on there for so long, but it can sometimes be so worth it... Madison is the perfect example of that.

She was able to find a new outlet in life and had the support of her friends through it all.

I encourage you all to occasionally check in with yourself. It's okay to outgrow something or want something different. Your everyday life shouldn't feel like a long list of chores :)