Urban Dance – For Me

This curatorial statement will consist of two parts: Part I- Movement exploration & Part II- Artist Statement

PartI- Movement Exploration

password: popculture

For Me from Iris Hsu on Vimeo.

Part II- Artist Statement

Why I make dance

I have chosen to use dance a medium for Part I of my curatorial statement because I believe that dance is a powerful tool of expression that is thoughtful, political and visceral. Specifically in the discussion of Asian American pop culture, dance useful in that it sits on the fine line between being culturally specific and universal. It is culturally specific because the way we move is informed by societal structures that cut through multiple spheres of identity, including, gender, sexuality, disability/ability and race. On the other hand, there is an innate desire and drive for humans to dance as it has always been a part of celebrations around the world. This class pushed me to think about my responsibility in creating dance and the power it has in presenting agency. Most strongly, for me it is a way to perform a discourse that challenges the stereotypes of Asian American women. In this way, dance is political and is used to challenge hegemonic structures that attempt to limit the way in which we are allowed to move.

What inspires me

The movement exploration in Part I is informed and inspired by the transnational urban dance community and the Asian American trendsetters within this community. I have chosen to use the term urban dance because it is more reflective of the dance style that is being performed and better describes the negotiation between appropriation and affiliation of Asian American dancers with black culture.  The use of this term is informed by an article by Steezy, which describes urban dance as

“a genre, community, and lifestyle revolving around choreographed pieces and performances by a dancer or groups of dancers. It is influenced by several different dance styles, but is ultimately based on the choreographer’s individual interpretation of the music”

While this definition is fairly vague, it is helpful in its emphasis on the multiple styles that urban dance is composed of and the importance of visual musicality. Furthermore, the article highlights the importance of Asian American collegiate dance teams in the inception of urban dance and the development of concept videos as distinct in its urban dance identity. This can be juxtaposed with hip hop, a style of dance rooted in the historical and social struggle of black youth and specifically refers to social dance and breakdancing. In my previous blog post, although I did not yet use the term urban dance, I demonstrated how the movement style of the Kinjaz is an example of Asian American dancers creating their own dance style.

Urban dance as a term also recognizes the transnational aspect of the community and how the style is also being performed and developed in countries in Asia. This is evident in the collaboration between dancers from Soul Dance Center in South Korea and Asian American dancers based in L.A.. The annual Summer Jam Dance Camp, a dance convention held in Singapore that brings together over 13,000 dancers to take workshops from established choreographers, is another example of urban dance being localized and incorporated in Asian countries. The fact that urban dance is being created and performed around the world also challenges the hegemonic cultural hierarchy and the concept of “cultural forms”.

Even though urban dance is a better term to describe the dance style that many Asian Americans are taking a part of, it still has its limitations, particularly in acknowledging the influence of hip hop and black cultural heritage. Especially when incorporating codified hip hop moves like the whip, nae nae or dougie, the violence and social significance of hip hop can easily be ignored and the line of appropriation crossed. In order to recognize hip hop’s rich cultural narrative, the urban dance community needs to be educated on its history and recognize that the moves are rooted in racial struggles. For the purpose of this movement exploration, urban dance is going to be used to talk about the style being performed, while recognizing that the process of categorization in itself has limitations.

What it represents

Part I aims to challenge the stereotypes of Asian American women through the performance of movement that feels authentic to my experience as an Asian American woman. The body of an Asian American woman has long been used by the media and pop culture to perpetuate the stereotype of the Lotus Blossom and the Dragon Lady. This is often times done through restricting the amount of space an Asian American woman is allowed to take up and the way that their bodies are allowed to move through space, often sexualized and for the male-gaze. For example, the dance in Flower Drum Song, uses ballet to reinforce ideas of hegemonic femininity and uphold heteronormative relationships. Even the Kinjaz participate in this categorization to some extent, as seen in their exclusion of female dancers and their objective in cultivating “brotherhood at all costs”. In reaction to pop culture telling me how I can move my body, this movement exploration rejects these notions of feminine and racialized movement. Through strong hits that accent the music and movements that take up space, I hope to challenge the stereotypes of Asian American women.

What is unique

Music is an essential part of dance and in thinking about the song for this movement exploration I intentionally looked for Asian American music producers and artists. One issue of the appropriation of black hip hop culture in urban dance is the use of music by black artists. This problem arises specifically when Asian American dancers use songs that speak to the black struggle and use slang words. While this highlights deeper issues of the appropriation of black culture in the music industry, it also points to how Asian American dancers sometime do participate in the trend of consumption without real understanding or credit to its creators.

As a result, I believe that in order to continue the trajectory of urban dance as an expression of Asian American identity, we need to also start using music that is produced by Asian Americans. Particularly in urban dance where musicality is so essential to the movements, the incorporation of more Asian American artists will be crucial in moving towards a radical style. Using music produced by Asian Americans also becomes an important part in addressing political economy and exclusion of Asian Americans in the music industry. The process in which Asian American Youtubers grow their representation by featuring each other in their videos should be extended to Asian American dancers and music producers. Given these considerations, I chose a song by the Japanese American producer, StarRo.

What it means to me

This movement exploration is a reflection on how my understanding of the Asian American identity has shaped my dancing. I have always thought that my dance training took place in studios, but this class has shown me that my identity as an Asian American woman has also influenced the way I dance. Additionally, this is the first time that I have choreographed something that is not meant to be performed on stage. It’s a piece of work in which the intended audience is mainly me, hence the title, and primarily serves the function of allowing me to viscerally explore the Asian American identity.

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