Asians Can Dance ~ Check out: JabbaWockeeZ, Kaba Modern, and Planet B-Boy
by L.S. Kim — University of California, Santa Cruz
April 29, 2008 – 03:03
One of my interests as a media scholar who is concerned about racial equality, supports activism, and loves dance is the relationship between race and genre. While the Western is thought of as a white American genre or the soap opera as a form of female narrative, what do you think when you put together Asian Americans and comedy?… Naw. Asians and dance? “What the h***?” as the director of the new documentary PLANET B-BOY (planetbboy.com) astonished when he learned that some of the best b-boy dancers in the world are Korean. And he is Korean American. Just what is so fascinating or unusual about seeing Asian bodies gettin’ down? Music moves us. It can inspire us to move, to dance. We feel the primal rhythm of a beat and begin to bounce our head almost by instinct; the deep vibrations of sound (waves) that move through the air or the floor are both soothing and exciting. Music is felt or heard nearly universally. Without words, or a specific language, a song can transcend national boundaries and identity. One of the most well-loved films around the world is The Sound of Music (1965) – even children in a dictatorship like North Korea sing “Doe-a-deeyah” in classrooms with zero knowledge where the song came from but with full joy. If music can travel and be transposed from one place, voice, body, nationality to another, how about dance? More specifically, what are the ways that dance is racialized? This clip shows one of the performances by JabbaWockeeZ on the MTV series America’s Best Dance Crew (2008-). Last month, they won the competition. The members consist of Asian American men and an African American man although you don’t know who is who because they wear masks when they dance; their signature look is mime-like such that the bodies communicate meaning and furthermore, the individual ego is subordinated to a philosophy of collaboration. Of course, the masks also conceal the fact (initially) of their race. They are performing in whiteface, literally. So from the start, their dance engages a viewer conceptually as well as musically. What I appreciate about this clip, in addition to the superb and thoughtful choreography is that they are re-appropriating a famous Broadway song (“All That Jazz” from the musical Chicago) that appropriates Black culture, bringing it back to Black, if you will, and re-delivering ~ re-dancing ~ it with a style that belongs to men of color. These Asian male bodies are not in college or in the science lab, they are not doing martial arts. Rather, they are artists who through dance, challenge the performance of race, and even defy it in startling, innovative, and thrilling ways. If the dancing Asian male body performing freestyle or hip hop –a form associated with Black male bodies, voices, politics – is empowering, is it at the same time threatening? MTV has blocked the videos of JabbaWockeeZ; only a handful can be seen through MTV’s website (the YouTube videos previously available and seen hundreds of thousands of times have been disturbingly cut, and even the videos taped for the program at JabbaWockeeZ own website are unable to be seen). Why is MTV acting proprietary over this Asian American (dance) crew, if not financially, then somehow culturally?