Prior to the year 2008, Asian Americans were fairly unknown to the hip hop dance scene. Many dance related movies, such as Step Up, Footloose, and Dirty Dancing, featured casts of primarily whites and blacks. However, Asian Americans (AA) broke the scene in 2008 on MTV’s show America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC). Of the 7 seasons that have aired, 6 of the winning crews have had at least one Asian dancer, and 4 of which were predominantly AA. From this point, the AA presence in the dance community grew sporadically to the point where it reached overseas, and this post will be examining the impact of this presence.
The original hip hop dance community originally started from black culture many years ago in the urban parts of New York. But today. it isn’t just blacks in the culture, but also whites, latinos, and AA. More recently, there has been a growth of AA especially in mainstream media. Why is that? Now, Justin Timberlake’s back-up dancers include AA dancers like Lyle Beniga. Now, the main dancer on the shows are AA, namely Harry Shum Jr. on Glee. Now, the choreography of AA dancers are being featured on shows like Ellen and So You Think You Can Dance. Of course there has been grand criticism that AA dancers are taking the spotlight away from the black history and culture that hip hop dance sprouts from, but others say that the rise of AA dancers and dance communities is due to AA values. Ingrained in many AA cultures are the lessons of discipline, respect, and family. Those are the same values that the model minority myth is grown from. In the stereotype, AAs are generally very disciplined in school and follow whatever their parents say and continue to respect their family. For instance, the very studious, overachieving AA student that goes to private music lessons, aim for good grades, and does whatever their parents request of them. Now, imagine that same student, but a dancer instead. So then the story goes as follows: imagine the very disciplined AA dancer that takes private dance lessons, aims to succeed in dance, and follows whatever their family requests. Same thing, right? Well, those values are the ones that have helped to build numerous AA dance communities, like Movement Lifestyle, Choreo Cookies, Kingdom Made, and numerous others. There is now a whole generation of young AA dancers who are taking classes and continuing the growth of these dance communities.
Besides breaking into the dance scene, AA are able to break the model minority stereotype through dance. Instead of the stereotypical images seen of AA, like Data from Goonies, the characters from American Born Chinese, and many of the characters from Shattered. Because of dance communities, AA looked cool, looked innovative, looked artistic, and looked passionate. With the dance community also comes “dance chic” or dance style. Dance style is very modern, and very cool, and if anything dancers are starting to be seen as style icons for others. Very unlike the model minority myth, AA are their own figures now, and are successful in other ways outside of academics. Now, AA are being seen as the next innovative leaders of dance to some people. The reign of AA is now spreading to other Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan. Choreographers Shaun Evaristo, Keone Madrid, and Mariel Madrid are AA dancers who are known to have gone to South Korea in order to provide choreography for their KPOP stars. This is only a small portion of the growing culture of dancers in Asian countries. The dance communities from around the world are linking together and creating a seemingly revitalized image of Asians to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, AA stars who sing and dance have tried to make it in America, such as Rain, BOA, and the Wonder Girls, even when some of their choreo has been provided by AA dancers. Although the dance community has given AA that step into the mainstream, there is still a barrier for asians to “make it” in America, regardless of the talent that they hold. Although, maybe after AA are considered part of the usual dancer crew, that can maybe grow to AA recording artists, and then eventually to foreign asian artists in America.
Asian Americans have not only trickled into the American dance scene, they have exploded. Famous choreographers now include those AA dancers from their own AA dance communities, and the fame has spread to other Asian countries around the world. The rise of America’s Best Dance Crew can attribute to the success of AA dance crews into the mainstream, but these crews and communities have managed to very strongly being consistent and innovative and now include a very young generation of AA dancers. The future of AA dancers and looks bright and exciting!