The Social Experience of a Minority Dancer

“5 6 7 8…and up!…hit, HOLD…reach…and down!…no, no, NO don’t tuck!…yes good, better.” I would hear these words for at least 3 hours everyday ever since I was six years old. As my sweaty black leotard and tights stuck to my body like a second skin, I focused on nothing else but the space around me, the movements I made to the beat of the music, and the instructions my dance teacher would bellow over the music. The countless pieces I practiced and performed have given strength and athleticism to my physique, but dance is so much more than just a physical experience.

Since I was raised in a primarily wealthy and white community, I had always felt a little out of place as a minority. There were a few other Asian American girls at my dance studio, but most of them were either mixed or not first generation. They weren’t exposed to the same hardships of cultural or language barriers that my immigrant parents had to deal with and still deal with today. They also lacked the traditional Asian ideologies that I was raised with. These cultural differences made it difficult for me to get close to most of the girls I danced with.

One uncomfortable interaction I had with a girl who was half Asian and half white still bothers me from time to time. She had blatantly stated that she hated being half Asian and wished she were just white. I was so stunned that I was unable to respond and, at the time, decided to just brush that remark aside. Now, I definitely regret not expressing the offense I had taken from that comment, but what I regret the most was not taking the time to understand why she felt that way.

Socioeconomic differences also influenced my time at the dance studio. I was fortunate enough to be able to receive private lessons for two summers, but I lacked the financial means to have private lessons for the rest of the time. In order to land big roles, getting the guidance and coaching of a dance teacher in private lessons was crucial to perfecting a dance piece. So, it was discouraging to know that I wouldn’t be able to land a dream role due to my lack of wealth in comparison to other girls. However, this issue extends to other areas in life and is shared by many others, and now I am just extremely grateful for the privilege to be able to even afford such an expensive pastime.

Despite our differences, most of the girls were friendly and supportive. We had a strong sense of teamwork, and we would be there for each other whenever dance became too demanding. This solid bond of trust we shared partially grew out of the intimacy of dance: a key factor that makes dance pieces engaging is partner work. It also grew out of a mutual understanding of how stressful dance can be. From getting yelled at for messing up on stage to not landing a dream role, we were each other’s support system.

Published by Mary Chern

First gen living in the Bay Area, software engineer, animal lover, and story teller. I love eating, traveling, and connecting!

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