25 ASIAN AMERICAN & PACIFIC ISLANDER
DANCERS TO FOLLOW
It's May! This month is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. So, lets take some time and hit up the Insta and follow these 25 Talented Dancers reshaping the conversation about Asian Dancers in Ballet.
So, here is the problem. I was going to make this great post about 25 Asian American and Pacific Islander Dancers to follow… The problem? When it comes to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Ballet… there aren’t very many. While we have many amazing Asian ballet dancers from their respective countries, I realized that there aren’t very many Asian American Ballet Dancers who have risen through the ranks. This once again serves the purpose of talking about the representation of Asian Dancers in Ballet.
By definition, an Asian American is an individual who is American of Asian descent.
There is a lot to be said about Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islanders in Ballet. There are both the positive and negative arguments regarding being of Asian descent in pop culture, in medicine and in the arts. Last year, New York City Ballet’s Georgina Pazcoguin (soloist at NYCB, Broadway Artist, TV star, and activist) and Phil Chan really started the change by advocating the end of Yellowface in ballet productions, specifically, the Nutcracker. While this has started arguments on both sides of ballet, many directors have stepped up and pledged to end yellowface. You can read more about their new initiative here. A former grad school professor from the University of Minnesota recently was quoted for the organization and I thought to myself, “Why I haven’t I signed?” I thought, ” I am already a huge advocate of Asians in the Arts, so that is good enough. I don’t think we should have special treatment for being Asian. I definitely believe that talent matters and that this whole affirmative action in ballet is diluting the talent pool.” I then thought, “But, I don’t want ballets that portray Asian stories to go away. I don’t mind watching the Ballet version of Madame Butterfly danced by a white woman. Is it that offensive that she drew her eyeliner on heavy and powdered her face?”
My personal experience with being Asian in Ballet mirrors the story of most Asians in ballet: The Nutcracker. My first soloist role was Chinese in the Nutcracker, no surprise. I was young, but I thought, who cares? I am dancing alongside Darci Kistler. I was excited. I was then put in Chinese in every production of Nutcracker I have ever done, with the exception of CPYB, where I asked not to be cast. My time in ballet as an Asian man was jaded. I remember my time at CPYB where I was called oriental and living in Carlisle and not seeing anyone like me. It bothered me so much that I enrolled at 16 at Dickinson College just to be around diversity. There I started to question my racial identity. As someone who grew up in Southern California, and specifically the Inland Emprie, race was never a pressing issue. My neighbors to the right were a biracial family (Black and Japanese) and my neighbors on the left were Latino. The schools I grew up in were filled with every ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic status. I went to summer programs in major cities so I never really had this experience before. After I ended my career at Minnesota Dance Theatre, where I was the only Asian, and one of two people of color I decided to go get MFA. It has always been a struggle being a Korean Adoptee. Even though I am Asian, I didn’t grow up in Asian Culture. I grew up with white parents, have a white name, but white pirvelage and white racial identity doesn’t apply to me. I wanted answers so I thought I would focus on cultural studies in the arts. It started off as a great experience, but when I had to take dance classes I was bored and irritated at the lack of talent. It wasn’t helpful when the University of Minnesota’s Dance Department went through an intense racial divide. My issue then became that those who were complaining about casting were blaming it on race and not realizing that it was about talent.
Anyways, my mind is wondering.
I then had to stop myself and remember that regardless of my own personal thoughts, I am coaching an entire generation of Asian American Ballet Dancers. No really… I am. 60% of the kids that I coach are Asian American. And what kind of mentor am I if I am just chillin behind my blog. So, I signed it. As we are faced with changes in ballet, we look to the brilliant artists who are leading the way. Click the Photo to follow the dancer and celebrate their stories and achievements as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ballet.
Georgina Pazcoguin, NYCB
New York City Ballet’s first Asian American, let alone Filipina American woman, ever to be promoted to an upper tier. The only other Asians who have been promoted at New York City Ballet was the 19080 Prix De Lausanne Winner Gen Horiuchi from Japan. He also danced Tea in the 1993 mainstream movie of the Nutcracker. The other was Edwaard Liang who was promoted to soloist in 1998. Georgina Pazcoguin has also been on Broadway in On The Town and Cats where she played Victoria the White Cat. She is also now on FX’s Fosse/Verdon.
Lia Cirio, Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet is known for their Asian dancers, but when it comes to Asian American ones, Lia Cirio Cirio is queen. Technically ferocious, Lia Cirio and her brother started the Cirio Collective in 2015. They are celebrating their fifth season. Additionally Lia is now choreographing throughout the US, making her one of the only Asian American Female Choreographers out there.
Candy Tong, Complexions
Candy Tong (ballerina and model) was born in San Francisco, California and graduated from the school at English National Ballet. After dancing professionally in Europe she went back to school to get her BFA from UC Irvine. She is one of Instagram’s trending dancers and currently dances for Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
William Lin Yee, Pacific Northwest Ballet
William Lin Yee of PNB is from San Francisco, California. He trained at the Contra Costa Ballet Centre, San Francisco Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet. In 2004, he joined New York City Ballet as an apprentice and also was a Mae. L. Wien Award recipient. Mr. Lin-Yee joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2008 and was promoted to soloist in 2014 and principal in 2016.
Noelani Pantastico, PNB
Noelani Pantastico is from Oahu, Hawaii. She trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and attended summer courses at Pacific Northwest Ballet School from 1994 to 1996. She joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 1997. She was promoted to corps de ballet in 1998, soloist in 2001, and principal in 2004. In 2008, she left PNB to join Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo as a soloist and was promoted to first soloist in 2009. In 2015, Ms. Pantastico returned to PNB as a principal dancer.
Jeraldine Mendoza, Joffrey Ballet
Ms. Mendoza was born in San Francisco, California and trained at the City Ballet School of San Francisco since the age of five, mainly under the artistic direction of Galina Alexandrova. At age 17, Ms. Mendoza was invited to train in the Russian course at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and she graduated with honors. She later won first place at the YAGP San Francisco Regional Semi-Finals in 2011.
Lily Saito, Nashville Ballet
Lily Saito, NYC, began her training at School of American Ballet where she had the privilege of performing at Lincoln Center for three years as a child in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. She then trained at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and Ellison Ballet before joining Washington Ballet as a full scholarship trainee.
Chisako Oga became an Apprentice at SFB in 2015, and then joined Cincinnati Ballet. Oga was promoted to Soloist in September 2016 and Principal for the 2017-2018 Season. Chisako Oga trained at San Francisco Ballet School on a full scholarship received at Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition.She is from Carlsbad, CA. This season was her last season at Cincinnati Ballet
Regina Montgomery, Tulsa Ballet
From Los Angeles, Regina began studying ballet under former Mariinsky Principal, Marat Daukayev. She attended the Rock School for Dance in Philadelphia and received 1st Place at the Youth America Grand Prix. Regina joined TBII in 2013, the main company in 2014, and was promoted to Demi-Soloist in 2018.
Jessica He, Atlanta Ballet
From Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. She received her early ballet training at Inland Pacific Ballet Academy. Jessica moved to Philadelphia in 2012, at age 14, to enter the pre-professional training program at The Rock School for Dance Education on full scholarship. While there, she received multiple awards and merit scholarships at competitions such as the Youth America Grand Prix and World Ballet Competition. She joined Atlanta Ballet in the 2017-2018 Season.
Angelica Generosa, PNB
Angelica Generosa is from South River, New Jersey. She studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet. Ms. Generosa joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice. She was promoted to corps de ballet in 2012 and soloist in 2016. She also was the recipient of the School of American Ballet Mae Wien Award for Outstanding Promise.
Courtney Schenberger, Carolina Ballet
Courtney Schenberger is from Hawaii. She competed at Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) San Francisco and won 3rd place bronze in the Junior Women Classical category. She also competed at the World Ballet Competition where she achieved the 3rd highest score in the Pre-Professional category as well as receiving the Jury’s Award. She joined Carolina Ballet in 2015, and was promoted in 2017.