Welcome back to another STU Arts Dance blog, May is the month of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Appreciation, and what better way to celebrate the AAPI community than to uplift some of the most influential dancers in the industry. STU Arts Dance wants to help amplify the voices of AAPI dancers. Let’s get into it!
1. Alex Wong
Canadian born Alex Wong is of Chinese descent and started his tap and jazz career at the ripe age of seven, and at age ten started ballet training at Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver, Canada. In 2005, he danced briefly with the American Ballet Theatre before joining Miami City Ballet and In 2007 was promoted to the rank of soloist at the MCB. (wow!) While already having such an extensive career, Wong shot to fame when he appeared on So You Think You Can Dance and made his way to film, starring in blockbuster productions such American TV series Glee and The Greatest Showman. When starting his career, Alex stated that “I knew that obviously no one was going to cast an Asian in West Side Story, and I wasn't used to seeing any Asians on TV. The commercial route just wasn't realistic. I pursued ballet for seven years. Then I started seeing more Asians on TV, and that's when I auditioned for "So You Think You Can Dance." he also mentions that “After that, I went into the commercial industry. I've seen improvement within my career. It's gone from "You can't have more than one" to recently: I've been on shoots where there are so many Asians in the cast."
2. Bailey Sok
17 year old Bailey Sok is a powerhouse both in dancing and choreographing. Sok is of Korean Descent and was born in California, USA where she started taking up dance classes at age 6. She was a former competitive dancer with Dance Precisions who later joined Plain Dancin’ where she trained in Ballet, Jazz, Hip Hop, lyrical and tap. At age 10, Sok decided to focus on Hip Hop and make it into a career. Bailey is most notably known for featuring in the ever so popular dance videos of Los Angeles based dance studio Millennium Dance Complex with iconic choreographers such as Matt Stefania, Kidda the Great and Melvin Timtim. Her precision, sharp movements and all-around charisma landed her dancing with music icons. Bailey Sok started dancing for artists such as Janet Jackson, Steve Aoki, Jason Derulo, Alessia Cara, Marshmello, Sofia Carson, KCamp, and Meghan Trainor. Bailey, at just 15 years old was one of the youngest choreographers to choreograph for the Kpop group Red Velvet along with Mina Myoung for music video “Psycho” garnering over 270 Million views. She is just 17 years old and killing it in the industry!
3. Hannahlei Cabanilla
Filipino -American Hannahlei Cabanilla grew up in Orange County California, and started dancing before she could even remember. All she ever knew was dance, and recalls that “my older sister started dancing when my mom was pregnant with me. I was in the studio before I was even born.” She took her first classes at just 2 years old and fell in love with dancing so much she started competing by age 6. Hannahlei is known for winning season 15 of So You Think You Can Dance and went on to be a fireball in entertainment landing her roles in Rent: Live and the uber popular American drama series This is Us. While dance is her main passion and career, she has come to face some hardships solely for her race. She states that “I am often the only Asian on a dance job. I never realized that was a problem, but now I am aware of tokenization, I wonder if I’m chosen because of my race, and that is not fair either… It’s hard because I’ll do anything for dance…it should be about our talent.”
4. Kyle Hanagami
Kyle Hanagami is a Japanese-American professional choreographer and one of the most sought after names in the Los Angeles Dance industry. Unlike many of the dancers mentioned earlier, Hanagami didn’t start dancing until he took a dance class at age 18 when attending UC Berkeley as an economics major (it’s never too late to start friends!) He then quickly shifted to dance and started choreographing then. Since then, Kyle has made a huge name for himself choreographing for some of the most iconic artists in the industry such as BlackPink, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, CNCO, Justin Bieber, and NSync. Kyle has been able to build a bridge between social media and mainstream media by his captivating choreography and charisma. His unique and authentic work has become instantly recognizable in the dance industry and has come to inspire many people and the next generation of dancers and choreographers.
5. Sean Lew
If you want to talk about versatility, Sean Lew is for you! Lew was born in California and is of Japanese, Chinese, and Mongolian descent and started dancing when he was able to walk. He started his professional career at age 8 when appearing as a dancer in American TV Series Glee, but originally rose to fame with a viral video of him dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Applause.” At only 15 years old, Sean has appeared in the X-factor as a dancer at the 2012 Kids Choice Awards, competed in the second season of World of Dance, and also joined a talented dance crew called lilBEASTS Dance Crew. He has danced for Janet Jackson on her Unbreakable World Tour, and was featured in Sia’s short film video “The Greatest '', as well as guest starred on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. Since then he has added choreographer, award winning chef (!), writer, creative director, editor, philanthropist, pianist, and singer to his resume. (okay wow). Sean Lew is definitely going to take the industry by storm soon enough with all that talent and hard work! As for the future, Sean has mentioned that “I hope people start supporting more Asian-owned businesses—and Black-owned businesses—but we should be doing that always. If we focus on supporting each other as humans, it'll allow us to see each other for what we do as opposed to where we come from or what we look like. Dance has always been about staying strong together, being together and building community. We can use dance to hold our community together and look out for each other.”
It is important to take the time to celebrate the AAPI community, however don’t limit it to just one month, we should be celebrating the AAPI community every day. These dancers are a great inspiration for all that they do and deserve to be recognized for the work in the dance industry. Support your local AAPI shops, educate yourself on the world and show lots of love! If you were inspired by any of these amazing people listed above, come join us to learn how to dance or to just have some fun! To check out what we have to offer click here, and to get registered check us out here. Can’t wait to see you soon.