11 AAPI Dancers Based in Queens

By A4 Staff
June 13, 2023

Queens isn’t called the world’s borough for nothing; its approximately 2 million residents represent over 120 countries and speak nearly 130 different languages. Taking the 7 train which crosses above the county, one can hear fellow passengers speaking to one another in Urdu, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Russian to name a small few, voicing an international chorus.

Within this multitude of cultures is a rich community of dancers. With artists practicing in everything from Bharatanatyam and Tinikling to Hip Hop and Contemporary, the dance styles that can be found in Queens are as rich and diverse as the borough they represent. In 2014, Queensboro Dance Festival was launched to celebrate and showcase these performers. Taking place across outdoor public venues throughout Queens, this summer’s 10th anniversary festival tour includes 30 free outdoor performances, classes, and dance parties running through September 17th. New events are being announced regularly so be sure to keep checking their schedule at www.queensborodancefestival.org or follow them on Instagram @queensborodancefestival.

Here, we share 11 AAPI Queens-based dance companies and performers that will be participating in this year’s festivities.

Chieh & Yoyo
Hailing from Elmhurst, Chieh & Yoyo is a Contemporary dance collaboration between Taiwanese choreographer Chieh Hsiung (@chieh.1990) and violinist and dancer Yu-Wei Hsiao (@hsiaoyoyoyo). In a dynamic call-and-response, Hsiung dances along to the melodies played on Hsiao’s violin as he, in turn, dances with her. The winner of the Emerging Choreographer award at Alvin Ailey Theater, Chieh’s work demonstrates a variety of robust skills and training. The duo will be performing on Friday, June 23rd at Evergreen Park in Ridgewood and on Sunday, June 25th at ‘Jazzy Jams’ Dance Party at Murray Playground in Long Island City.
Da Hyun Kim
Through her Contemporary fusion practice, Korean choreographer Da Hyun Kim expresses her philosophy of art as a way to offer people a new lens to see one another through. Constantly working to merge paths, Kim received an MFA in dance and dance education at NYU and describes herself as a creative mind dedicated to movement and cultural research.
Marc Nuñez (Gotham Dance Theater)
Born in Switzerland and raised in California, Filipinx American choreographer Marc Nuñez (@marcnunez) now lives and works in Queens where he is the director and founder of the award-winning company, Gotham Dance Theater (GDT). The company produces dance with social purpose, representing the diverse cultures of New York City. Through these works, Nuñez expresses his perspective as a queer Filipinx American immigrant, touching on themes including barriers for immigrants, racism within the LGBTQ+ community, and the socio-economic inequities of death. As a professional dancer, Nuñez has performed for an esteemed cast of artists and companies, including Rihanna, Todrick Hall, and Donald McKayle’s Etude Ensemble.
Sonali Skandan (Jiva Dance)
Sonali Skandan’s (@sonaliskandan) award-winning company, Jiva Dance (@jivaarts), interprets traditional Bharatanatyam dance through a modern lens. According to the company’s website, “Jiva Dance is not tied to Bharatanatyam’s cultural specificity, but creates work that reflects our lives in a diverse urban environment.” Through this contemporary approach, Skandan carries the classical dance form into the future with a unique, fresh, and global voice. A NYC resident for almost 30 years, Skandan and her work reflect the urban, dynamic, and diverse atmosphere inherent in the city. She is a student of the legendary C.V. Chandrasekhar and Bragha Bessell of India and is currently receiving creative mentorship with senior dance artist Maya Kulkarni. Skandan herself has taught Bharatanatyam at institutions including Juilliard, Sarah Lawrence, and Queens College.
Potri Ranka Manis (Kinding Sindaw Heritage Foundation, Inc)
“If you remember the resilience of our ancestors, you can never be conquered,” says Potri Ranka Manis (@potri_ranka_manis). As the founder of Kinding Sindaw (@kindingsindaw), Manis is known as a Meranao Bai Labi, or tradition and culture bearer of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, Southern Philippines. Since 1992, the company has asserted, preserved, reclaimed, and performed dance, music, martial arts, storytelling, and orature, keeping these sacred indigenous traditions alive and protected.
Mala Desai
In 2001, Odissi dancer Mala Desai opened Mala’s School of Odissi Dance, the first school teaching the classical Indian dance form in New York. Based in Forest Hills, Mala teaches out of her studio in Great Neck, New York. Blessed by Padmashri Guru Mayadhar Raut, Mala has practiced Odissi dance since the age of four and has been the recipient of NYFA’s immigrant artist fellowship and has performed as a part of NYU World Dances since 2006, and Queensboro Dance Festival since 2018.
Neela Zareen
Trained in Indian classical dance styles of both Kuchipudi under Guru Sadhana Paranji, and Kathak with Guru Prerana Deshpande, Neela Zareen (@neela_dance_academy) has performed both in New York City for over two decades. Her dance studio is located in Jackson Heights and Manhattan where she also teaches. Zareen also judges and advises for classical dance competitions with Nataraj Dance Showcase in New Jersey. In addition to her career in dance, Zareen is also a postdoctoral neuroscientist at CUNY City College.
Aika Takeshima - sarAika movement collective
In 2021, Ridgewood-based choreographers and dancers Aika Takeshima (@aikatakeshima) and Sara Pizzi (@sarapizzi) decided to form a Contemporary dance company that united their shared and distinct experiences as activists, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The resulting sarAika movement collective’s (@saraikamovementcollective) mission is to “help people find possibility and freedom within themselves.” Combining a variety of disciplines from dance to voice to poetry to augmented reality, sarAika movement collective roots itself in exploring human authenticity.
Theo Yang Qu
Born and raised in Hunan Province, China, Theo (Qu Yang) began his dance training in New York at the age of 16. Influenced by a background in musical theater and love of literature, Qu’s Contemporary dance practice blends his experiences in China and the United States. He is a recent graduate of SUNY Buffalo where he earned a BA in dance and studied with LDTX Dance Company and Ying Dance Theater in Beijing. These days, he dances with Valerie Green’s company, Dance Entropy.
Umami Playground
Founded by Guangmin (Gua) Shen (@guangminshen) in 2021, Long Island City’s Umami Playground (@umamiplayground) is a dynamic collective of AAPI dancers and choreographers working in a diversity of dance styles, including House, Breaking, Popping, Waacking, Contemporary, and Modern. Joining Shen is artistic director Yurie Ono, Béa, Choung Woo Hyun, Brian Seam, Minh Nguyen, Jane Sun, and Luyan (Lili) Li. Through their exploration of different styles, Umami Playground brings an attitude of play, openness, and a willingness to make mistakes and grow.
Established in Bayside in 2005, the dance group 10tecomai (@10tecomai_yosakoi) has been traveling the country (and recently, the world) to share the traditions of Japanese Yosakoi dance. Through their powerful and energetic performances, 10tecomai hopes to inspire others to start their own Yosakoi groups to further grow the dance community.

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