Katie Ko is a Korean-American high schooler and dancer. She talked to us about Asian representation and the experience of dancing in a predominantly white studio.
Alefiya: When did you start dancing and what type of dance do you do?
Katie: I started dancing when I was three (3), and I do a mix of everything- ballet, contemporary, lyrical jazz, tap.
Alefiya: How did you get into it?
Katie: I tried doing a lot of different sports, like soccer and softball, but I always liked dance better than them. I wasn’t really into competing at first, but one of the teachers told my mom that competitive dance would be really good for me and it would help me grow, and that’s what I do today, so yeah.
Alefiya: We’ve talked before about your dance community being predominantly white. What has that been like?
Katie: As far as I know, there’s only one or two other Asian dancers in the studio. There’s not really any people of color. The people that I dance with on a daily basis, including the teachers, are all white. It never really bothered me that much, but it was really surprising that when ‘Stop Asian Hate’ was a big thing and there was a really huge increase in hate crimes, nobody said anything to me. I wasn’t expecting anything, but maybe like a text that said “Hey, how are you?” would’ve been nice.
Alefiya: Do you feel like you’ve ever been treated differently in the dance community because of your race?
Katie: There was one dance teacher who ‘knew’ Korean, and he would always single me out and try to talk to me in Korean- and he was saying it wrong too. It was super weird and embarrassing. People used to do that eye thing with me too, you know, stretching out their eyelids to mock Asian features. Ugh.
Alefiya: Is there anything you wish you could change in your studio? Or in general about the way that your non-Asian peers interact with you?
Katie: If there’s one thing, I would say this whole ‘raising awareness on social media’ thing. People just post ‘Stop Asian Hate’ or like, these graphic videos of people getting hurt and killed on social media, and it doesn’t do anything. They’re trying to show they “care”, but it’s not helping. People need to be more active, you know. I’m also so tired of hearing “it’s just a joke”. It’s really not.
Alefiya: When speaking about this change, do you have any Asian role models that inspire you?
Katie: I’ve been really into film, and I’m thinking about it for college as well. So lately, I’ve been inspired by Bong Joon-Ho, who won the Oscar for Parasite. And also Chloe Zhao, who was the first Asian-American woman (and first woman of color in general) to win an Oscar for Best Director. I love them, but I also think, why did this take so long? Just seeing them win these awards and be a role model is so inspiring, but I also wish we could start seeing more representation already.
Alefiya: If there’s one thing you could tell your younger Asian self, what would you tell her?
Katie: Be proud of yourself and your heritage. Don’t try to adhere to this white standard of what you have to be. Love your culture. I love you.