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DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Yvonne Huatin Chow On Being #UnapologeticallyAsian in 2023

DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Yvonne Huatin Chow On Being #UnapologeticallyAsian in 2023
Yvonne H. Chow

By Yvonne H. Chow
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Published on May 30, 2023
Members of the House of Chow; photos by @yekaterrina

Yvonne H. Chow

Moving Visions Editor, Yvonne H. Chow
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Meet House of Chow, the Asian Division of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory!

(L-R) Brenda Lin, Shayna Malhotra, Neha Sharma, and Yvonne H. Chow in the 2023 #UnapologeticallyAsian Campaign; photo courtesy of @ak47division 

The Origin Story of #UnapologeticallyAsian 

Photo and design by @ak47division circa 2020

It was May 2014, and I stepped into a sea of Asian folks at the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturday celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. My company religiously attends this annual event, and I can confidently say that — unless it was Chinatown or Flushing — I had never seen so many people who looked like me congregating in one space in NYC. We were all there for the highly-anticipated exhibit, Ai Wei Wei: According to What? 

The first quiet reaction in my mind was: 

“I’m so sorry we (all the Asians at Brooklyn Museum) are taking up so much space.” 

My follow-up thought was: 

“Why am I apologizing for my culture coming together to celebrate a prominent figure in our arts community? 

This intensely personal and internal experience was revelatory, vulnerable, and teachable. Whenever I tell people, specifically Asian people, this story, they often laugh out of discomfort, not humor. This thought, that I have brought to the surface to examine, is usually the kind of thought we bury very deeply in our psyche, embarrassed it exists, or unaware that it lives rent-free in our subconscious. It is the waste product of centering Whiteness coupled with a lack of Asian representation in almost all arenas, and the signaling that we (Asians) have been “other” and never “main.”

This birthed the beginning of #UnapologeticallyAsian, my call to arms to let go of the apologetic thoughts surrounding my presence, and to start owning the space that I take up in my communities. #UnapologeticallyAsian would become House of Chow’s leading, annual advocacy campaign committed to the new and evolving image of Asians in Hip-Hop Dance and beyond.

From West Coast to East Coast

The San Mateo High School Dance Team circa 2005; photo courtesy of Yvonne H. Chow

Growing up in the Bay Area, California, I lived an interesting dichotomy of being surrounded by fellow first generation Chinese Americans while navigating White-mediated spaces (unless I was at culturally-specific spaces like Karate training or Chinese language school). It’s fair to say that the comforts of having your culture in close proximity can be illusive. You feel like everything is “OK,” but it’s only because a bubble has been carefully crafted for you to assimilate. Even the dance team I was on in my high school was majority Asian, so it felt normal to enter this space of Hip-Hop without much question. 

It was only when I traveled to New York City for college and to pursue a career in Hip-Hop Dance that I truly was “the only Asian in the room” (or one of the only ones desperately trying to eye the other across the room.) This strange and uncomfortable awareness would require years of questioning, research, and writing to make sense of the place I wanted to occupy in this world.

Yvonne H. Chow at the Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem, NY; photo courtesy of @ak47division 

New York City. The birthplace of Hip-Hop. The site of my potential creative future, raw in environment, and colored with the pace of dance. My pathway of building a profession in the art form was ambiguous, but my inclination was ever present. I stumbled through a couple of Hip-Hop Dance classes before I finally wound up at H+’s open class: 3 hours of exhilarating sweat and freedom. That Friday night, I knew I had found a fertile ground for my development as a person and dancer.  

My conservatory-level training in Hip-Hop Dance was the stuff of dreams I fantasized about in the sweltering California sun as a teenager. My educational journey has been intense, perception-defying, and gloriously powerful thanks to the genius of H+ ‘s teaching methodology, The BLADE Dance Technique® (S. Thomas, 1995), an acronym for ‘Building Leaders through the Advancement of Dance Education’). A couple of months ago, I did the math and discovered I have trained for over 20,000 hours and counting in my lifetime.  

Hours and hours of drilling, hearing “last time” for choreography (while knowing it’s definitely not the last time), taking academic classes in Dance Theory, Anthropology, Anatomy & Physiology (to name a few), running for exercise (but also running because I was always late), push-ups, lots of push-ups, essays and logging, and the infamous meditative exercise, “Arms-Out” (an unforgettable memory for anyone who has come through our doors; just try and you’ll see. Haha). What has been gratifyingly central for me, what has motivated me to engage in this year after year, is the fact that the education continues to circle back to you. It is never outside of you, as with most colonized education. And it builds you, not just as a dancer, but as a leader.

Yvonne H. Chow circa 2007; photo courtesy of @qlikphotography

The Formation of House of Chow 


The Inaugural #UnapologeticallyAsian Campaign circa 2016; video courtesy of @ak47division

"You can't erase race from a dance that was created by a specific culture. 
You have a responsibility to address the issues that the culture faces…
Hip-hop is the language of the oppressed and you cannot engage in our art without engaging with our community's concerns. You want to be involved with the art, 
you have to be involved with our struggle. 
You can't "just dance." 

— Safi A. Thomas, H+ | Founder & Artistic Director 

Proceeding from the Civil Rights Movement, and marked by the Bronx Burnings on the East Coast and the Watts Riots on the West Coast, the foundations of Hip-Hop must never be extracted from its cultural and social anthropology. The people, the culture, and the music are the bedrock of the dance. And the dominant culture’s (White people) enactment of systemic racism via governmental benign neglect and “urban architecture” have forever affected the youth of this cultural invention and its art forms, including MCing, DJing, Breaking, and Graffiti. 

To be a Chinese American in a Black and Latino American-created culture and dance requires empathetic nuance, historical understanding, and a thick skin. I owe it to my mentor, Safi, and the countless teachers he has introduced to me; they have entrusted me with their body of knowledge. From Ringo with Mastermind Rockers to Mis Little to Ernie Paniccioli (a legendary photographer who has documented every decade of Hip-Hop) to Pop Tart (Lonnie Green) over at The Strutters Room in San Francisco, I have been blessed with a diasporic language — one that commands ultimate respect and protection. 

The Strutters Room at BRS Dance Celebration 2014; video courtesy of Tart Productions

Mastermind✪Rockers Anniversary 2013; video courtesy of @ak47division

I will always identify as a guest in Hip-Hop Dance, no matter the number of years I’ve danced the dance or taught it or performed it. And that humbling fact sustains my personal commitment to cultivating at the intersection of Asians and Hip-Hop Dance. It is imperative that we, as Asians, learn about our own histories in the United States, rise above the microaggressions we have endured, often silently, and release the internalized racism to build our own identities. Simultaneously there is much we must unlearn regarding our biases and misperceptions of Black and Latino folks that have been passed down in the fearful whispers of our own languages. I believe we must nurture spaces of radical understanding and compassion to move through our current volatile state in the US. 

I wrote H+ | House of Chow into existence on April 25, 2015 as a site to curate all the aforementioned with care and love. As the Asian Division of H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, House of Chow’s mission is to educate, empower, and unify Asians in the US through Hip-Hop Dance.

“I am here to create a new world that honors the past and our ancestors, by acknowledging their feats, while also recognizing the areas needing improvement which must be tended to by the next generation (me).”
— Yvonne H. Chow, House of Chow Founder & Artistic Director 
April 25, 2015: Public Announcement of the Opening of H+ | House of Chow

The Evolution of #UnapologeticallyAsian 

The 2019 #UnapologeticallyAsian Campaign with Yvonne H. Chow and Candy Tong; photos courtesy of @ak47division 

During the pandemic, I had a lot of sleepless nights. I felt pretty haunted by the idea of my elders being senselessly killed during their everyday routine. A 339% rise in Asian hate crimes... Something was stirring very deeply in my mind. I would listen to certain songs repeatedly, as though there were some kind of answer embedded in the lyrics. I would see movements, impressions of choreography. I sensed a creative process stirring and heating within me. Piece by piece, I intuitively developed a sequence of songs that would revolve around the story of a main character named Ruby. 

This manifested as #UnapologeticallyAsian, a dance homage in four acts dedicated to our ancestors’ dreams, to our parents’ dreams, and to our dreams. I can now proudly say that both the annual advocacy campaign and full-fledged Hip-Hop Dance repertory piece fall under the umbrella of #UnapologeticallyAsian!

In the dance, each act shows stages of Ruby embracing her cultural heritage by navigating trauma and sourcing power from her ancestors. In the climactic moment of her empowerment, Ruby sings in the mirror to her younger self to focus on herself, to wash away what didn’t serve her in the past, and to live unapologetically (scene pictured below).

(L-R) Brenda Lin (Young Ruby) and Aliyah Ali (Adult Ruby) in the #UnapologeticallyAsian performance at 2023 Estrogenius Festival in NYC; photo courtesy of @ak47division

H+ | House of Chow’s #UnapologeticallyAsian premiered at the AAPI Dance Festival at APAP at New York City Center last January, and also showed at the Estrogenius Festival at The Kraine Theater in April. I’m forever grateful to Brenda Lin and Aliyah Ali for playing the main character, Ruby, and to Shayna Malhotra, Neha Sharma, and Sun Kim for playing the leitmotif of The Three Wise Monkeys.

I knew this piece required people with great sensitivity, a willingness to accept a challenge, and a communal spirit. Each member brought their own form of care to the development of this piece, whether it was offering tissues during a heavy topic, acknowledging our ancestral homelands, or providing support while memorizing the choreography, each act strengthened our bonds, and lifted this piece into existence. “Doh Jeh.” (“Thank you” in Cantonese.)

(L-R) Neha Sharma, Aliyah Ali, Shayna Malhotra, Brenda Lin, and Yvonne H. Chow in the #UnapologeticallyAsian performance at the 2023 Estrogenius Festival in NYC; photo courtesy of @ak47division

More Information: Founded by Choreographer Yvonne Huatin Chow in 2015, House of Chow is the Asian Division of The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory (H+) with the mission of educating, empowering, and unifying Asians in the US through Hip-Hop Dance. With Yvonne’s extensive education and training at H+, she guides fellow Asians to understand their role and define their contribution as a guest in the culture of Hip-Hop Dance, an art form created by Black and Latinos in the US. House of Chow accomplishes its mission through education and advocacy programming as well as a repertory and production company that presents work and dialogue about the Asian identity and experience. More specifically, House of Chow engages its community in the following four ways: 

  • #UnapologeticallyAsian {Hip-Hop Dance Performance & Dialogue} 

  • House of Chow Family Dinner {Curated Dialogue}

  • GET SERVED! {Hip-Hop Dance Workshop}

  • CRANE® {Cultivating Respect for Asian Nationalities Ensemble}

Learn more at or follow @house.of.chow on Instagram.

The Dance Enthusiast’s DAY IN THE LIFE covers the stories behind dance/performance and creates conversation. For more behind-the-scenes stories from NYC and beyond, click here.

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Created in 2020 as a way to lift up and include new voices in the conversation about dance,  The Dance Enthusiast's  Moving Visions Initiative welcomes artists and  other enthusiasts to be guest editors and guide our coverage. Moving Visions Editors share their passion, expertise, and curiosity with us as we celebrate their accomplishments and viewpoints. 


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