Asian American Urban Dance: Breaking Stereotypes, Entering American Mainstream Thought

Nothing says mainstream like a show on the Las Vegas strip, and the Jabbawockeez’s new show Prism that my family and I recently saw in Luxor is one sign that Asian Americans as hip-hop dancing has hit the mainstream. 

This article from Voice of America News talks about how Asian Americans doing hip-hop (or urban as some say) dance is breaking Asian American stereotypes.  When I first saw the headline of the article, I thought, “What took so long?  It’s old news!”  On reading it in detail, I was pleasantly surprised that it had some history that I didn’t know, although I felt it definitely missed a few things.

New to me was the history of Arnel Calvario’s founding of Kaba Modern at UC Irvine.  During the early 1990’s, Calvario incorporated a hip-hop routine into a Filipino Cultural Night (you can see some of it in the video below).  He later went on found the dance group Kaba Modern in 1992.  Soon other Asian American groups at UCI began to do urban dance, and it then spread to other campuses in Southern California.  Says Calvario:

“It quickly spread to the Chinese associations, the Japanese, Vietnamese…it was a really interesting time because within a year, it spread so fast”

Years later, Asian American dance crews would achieve television visibility when Kaba Modern appeared on the first season of MTV’s America’s Best Dance CrewCalvario would stay involved with dance, even after he received a doctorate in Occupational Therapy.

I did think that the VOA News article should have mentioned a few other items.  One was that Kaba Modern ended up losing to that season to the mostly Asian American dance crew called the Jabbawockeez.  The Jabbawockeez would end up having their own show on the Las Vegas strip first at the MGM Grand and then at the Monte Carlo.  What could be more mainstream than a show on the Las Vegas strip?  Also, the article missed this episode from Tosh.0 about a white mother who tells her son that he will never be good as “those little Asians”.  She wasn’t talking about homework; she was talking about dancing!  To me, if some middle aged white mother had absorbed the idea of Asian Americans as expert urban dancers, the concept had definitely hit the mainstream.

My nephew, music producer Ryan Buendia, and his DJ Crew The Bangerz did the music for the Jabbawockeez new show, Prism.  A theater was built specially for them in the Luxor on the Las Vegas strip.  Ryan was able to get us some complimentary tickets, so we went to see the show.  I was wondering how a hip-hop dancing group could fill up an hour and half show and keep me entertained.  The Daughter commented that they were all pretty short.  “Those little Asians!” I said.  “They also started late,” I added.  “Must be the Filipinos in the group.”

Despite some skepticism at first, I liked Prism.  So if you have some time and in are in Las Vegas, see the Jabbawockeez’s show.  Not just because it shows how Asian American Urban dance is breaking stereotypes and entering the mainstream, but because it is fun and entertaining.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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