Inside the New Wave of Asian Hip-Hop

Because he lacked social skills, Cha didn't even know how to talk to people. That is until he discovered his perfect form of expression through dancing.

A hip-hop student instructor teaches choreography to a group of different level dancers.  Photos by Bonny Chu
A hip-hop student instructor teaches choreography to a group of different level dancers. Photos by Bonny Chu

By Bonny Chu

Feeling unappreciated, anxious or even invisible are struggles that almost every person has experienced. David Cha, an arts and entertainment technologies sophomore, said he went through this experience during his childhood as the shy Asian kid. Because he lacked social skills, Cha didn't even know how to talk to people. That is until he discovered his perfect form of expression through dancing.

Over the past few years, a new wave, known as Asian hip-hop, has steadily gained momentum hitting the modern world. Asian-Americans were considered reserved and introverted, but with the globalization of hip-hop, many, like Cha, were able to break out of this stereotype. Not only has this emerging movement of convergence culture helped them break out of their shell, it has allowed Asian-American dancers to discover their individuality.

"I feel like dancing helped give me a sense of identity in my community," said Cha in a recent interview. "It changed me. Especially from when I was younger, I didn't have that much of a social life. My old self didn't know how to really communicate my thoughts and feelings in a proper manner. However, dancing helped me because it taught me how to let out my emotions properly."

Cha performs in a dance battle right before winning the title of Dance Sense.
Cha performs in a dance battle right before winning the title of Dance Sense.

Cha now dedicates himself as a member and instructor of multiple UT hip-hop clubs. While dancing encouraged him to become more open and social, Cha said other Asian-Americans have also expressed themselves through dancing.

"I think for other Asian dancers, it probably helped them find an outlet to express themselves and also meet similar people," Cha said. "And we enjoy these experiences which is why we dived so deep into it in the first place."

Although hip-hop originally began in a house party in the Bronx as an underground phenomenon among the black and Latino community in 1973, many say Asians are now the new "wave" of hip-hop culture. Organizations such as Asian American Culture recently hosted an official showcase that presented different Asian hip-hop dance groups cultivating across campus, including Cha as a guest performer.

"Asians are definitely the new wave of hip-hop culture," said Cathleen Joy Fuertes, a psychology senior and the head event organizer. "Like you hear K-Pop on the radio here now, and it's really different. You wouldn't have expected it to be especially in Texas, where it has more Hispanic influences. But people definitely reacted to the BTS wave that came in. It's not even just Korean but all of modern Asian influences in general."

Business freshman Natasha Hsu who attended the event, said she really liked how expressive the dancers were.

"It was really fun to watch them, especially the dance competitions, and it made me appreciate how they can free-style so easily," Hsu said.

Regardless of race, Cha said dance is meant for everyone. It's not just about self-expression, but also a life lesson.

"I feel like dance is one of those things that you can learn from," Cha said. "What you learn from dancing can be applied to other things as well, like not giving up. Even though you might be struggling with something, as long as you keep going at it and not give up, you will be able to persevere and get better. And then you'll be able to achieve whatever goals you have."

Organizers and other attendees of the event Dance SensAsian! went on stage for a final commemorative picture before leaving. They celebrated with goofy poses for the success of the first official showcase of various Asian-interest dance organizations.
Organizers and other attendees of the event Dance SensAsian! went on stage for a final commemorative picture before leaving. They celebrated with goofy poses for the success of the first official showcase of various Asian-interest dance organizations.

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Bonny Chu is a junior journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin.