HomeBad Ass AsiansSo You Think You Can Dance alum making the right moves

So You Think You Can Dance alum making the right moves

By Yunkyo Kim, AsAmNews Intern

When Dassy Lee moved to the United States from South Korea at age 21 on her own to pursue dancing, she promised her mother there would be no need to worry. At the time, she had saved up a moderate sum of money and did not know a lot of English. Yet, she said she made enough to cover the rent by winning dance battles. 

A renowned dancer and the first Korean to be featured in the dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance, Lee has appeared everywhere, from national commercials for FitBit to Cirque Du Soleil shows. 

However it wasn’t until Lee’s face was featured in a Nike print advertisement targeting South Korea, that her family members were able to see the commercial.   

“So, for the first time, I was able to show my family [my success],” Lee said to AsAmNews. “I was feeling so crazy happy about all the promises that I made with my mom.”   

Lee is also currently competing as a “wildcard dancer” in Red Bull Dance Your Style Challenge, an international street dance competition taking place in social media platform Tik Tok during the pandemic. The event will culminate in its global competition, which takes place from Nov. 25 to Dec. 13, and Tik Tok users can directly vote for the best dancer through the poll function on the app. 

Looking back at her many achievements, Lee says she’s come a long way. 

“I want to give like a big prize to myself,” Lee said with a laugh to AsAmNews. “I’m really, really proud.”

When she was nine years old, Lee started gathering her friends to copy the styles of dance she saw on television. Later, she started taking dance lessons with a renowned Korean dance teacher. Through this teacher’s concentration in street dancing, Lee became exposed to “popping,” a technique where one tenses and releases muscles to the beat of the music to create a snapping effect. 

Acquiring approval for practicing this style was difficult. Not only was popping the “hardest” style she encountered, but her teacher did not approve. Lee said this increased her obsession, making her more determined to pursue popping.

Lee’s boyfriend and dancer Jordan McLoughlin said on her signature dance style that it is an “unfiltered reflection of herself,” a combination of “huge chip on her shoulder and a fiery energy” derived from her training. 

McLoughlin said he met Lee at a dance battle in 2014, after knowing of her through the dance community. 

“She would never identify herself this way, but when she’s at her most vulnerable, she’s also one of the most creative dancers I’ve ever seen,” McLoughlin said. 

In high school, Lee said she would take a two-hour train from her home to her dance studio, where she would practice until 5 a.m., then return home to take a shower again, only to return to school for classes. 

The arduous schedule led Lee to sleep during class, but she knew that dancing was her calling, she said. 

“I already knew that I’m going to be doing this because I love this so much, and I already knew that I will be moving to America and show myself to the world,” she said. 

Now, Lee practices mostly in the daytime except when she prepares for competitions. And as an immigrant street dancer, she said she sees differences between the street dance communities in the United States and those of South Korea. 

Korea is more of a “battling scene,” she said. In the United States, people like to enjoy dance through partying. After living in Korea, New York and Los Angeles and having competed internationally, she said she incorporates global experiences into her dancing style. 

On top of competing in Red Bull Dance Your Style Challenge, Lee said she and her crew mates in her dance group Femme Fatale are holding classes for female-identifying individuals who are unable to afford a class during the pandemic. Her group is also trying “something bigger” — planning to produce a documentary about street dancers who immigrate to the U.S. to pursue their dreams.

Lee added that her past struggles, happy moments and “hungry moments” helped form her current dance style.

“As I am getting more mature, I want to bring out the inside of myself,” she said. “I want to bring more emotion to it (dancing). I want to bring more vulnerability, I want to bring more passion. I want to bring the sad side of me. So I’m trying to reflect that more these days in my dance.”

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