Stepping across cultures: Chinese-American women create a line-dancing craze
By Lisa Fernandez
Article Launched: 10/24/2007 02:13:36 AM PDT
Talk to a growing number of Chinese women and you're likely to hear the names "Sue and Kathy," uttered breathlessly, feverishly and with deep respect.
That's because Sue Hsu, 47, and Kathy Chang, 48, are becoming a must-stop on Silicon Valley's line-dancing circuit. They also are the first teachers to tailor their upbeat dance classes to a predominantly Chinese crowd.
What started as a class of six women in Chang's Cupertino living room 14 months ago has cha-cha-cha-ed into eight weekly classes plus a "Saturday Night Social" at two strip-mall studios that attract nearly 400 students. Not to mention the 106 videos of their dance classes on YouTube, which they say have netted 200,000 hits from as far away as Australia and Singapore.
Their secret to success? Tapping into a niche market, they say. Their students are mostly people like themselves: first-generation Chinese women, many with advanced degrees, who need a hobby to blow off some steam.
Plus, they grin, line dancing has an added benefit.
"You don't need partners," Chang said. "So that's why all the Chinese women take this. They don't need their husbands to come with them."
Line dancing is done in rows (think "Electric Slide") and is no longer just for the cowboy crowd. The format began to move beyond country-western in the 1970s with the Hustle. And today, the dances include everything from swing to pop, rock to big band.
The Bay Area has several mainstream line-dancing hot spots: Boots 'n' Buckles Dance Club sponsors public gatherings every Friday in Newark; the Country Quicksteppers rent out church and synagogue space in San Carlos and Redwood City; and various classes are taught at community colleges, high schools and senior centers in Belmont, Campbell and Saratoga.
But what makes classes with "Sue and Kathy" special is that most of their students hail directly from Taiwan and China, and appreciate that while the classes are taught in English, healthy doses of Mandarin expressions make them feel right at home.
"The main reason we're here is because we have tremendous stress in our lives," said Hui-Min Xia, a 56-year-old San Jose writing coach, among the 57 women - all but one Chinese - who showed up for a recent Wednesday morning class at a Cupertino martial arts studio. "We come here to block out our responsibilities and unpleasant things."
Students pay $7 (or $60 for 10 classes) to sweat and pivot to funky hip-hop beats, fast-paced steps that demand intense intellectual and physical concentration. Between songs, the dancers gulped down water. One flapped a Chinese fan. And most, like Xia, admit their husbands don't really like to dance but are happy if their wives boogie with the girls.
"If I come here," said Ming Lee, 49, of Cupertino, "I will look younger and happy."
Teachers Hsu and Chang also have worked to "raise the bar" of the line-dancing community because of their Web site, www.suenkathy.com, said Dorothy Bender of Palo Alto, the only non-Asian student on this particular day. She's an admitted line-dance junkie, taking classes wherever they're offered. Though she thought she'd be intimidated by taking class with mostly Chinese students, Bender is glad line-dancing steps are universal. And she's proud to have made a few new friends while learning a phrase or two in Mandarin.
Hsu and Chang are among the few, if not only, dance instructors to post their lessons online before class so that students can practice beforehand. And they post all their classes on YouTube so anyone in the world can learn the moves.
It's been quite a twirl for Hsu and Chang, who met three years ago as line-dancing students at the Sunnyvale Senior Center. Both were from Taiwan. Both Hsu, who studied library sciences, and Chang, who has an accounting background, had children in Cupertino schools and found themselves at home during the day.
The pair were the best students in the class, always in the front row. One day, one of their teachers suffered an injury. Students in the class begged Hsu and Chang to take over.
And what started as a tiny endeavor has become a thriving Asian dance community. Having started last August with no advertising or business plan, the pair say they're turning a small profit. Now, they're interested in doing fundraisers to give back to the Chinese community that's embracing them - and their dance moves.
"We never thought it would grow so big," Hsu said. "We started this just for fun."