An Eclectic Mover: Sabrina Wong on Moving to the US + Empowering Women

Sabrina Wong is an Exhibit A of movement eclecticism. Born and raised in Hong Kong, her first formal movement training was in ballet, and eventually other forms such as hip-hop and musical theater dance, before she turned her focus to acrobatics. She eventually re-focused on dance, came to the USA and received her BFA in Dance at SUNY Purchase. Since graduating, she has performed in commercial dance work and choreographed her own concert dance pieces. For instance, she performed with Madonna (yes, that Madonna) for New York City’s World Pride March (the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot) and recently presented her own company as part of Martha Graham Dance Company’s Next@Graham. She’s also working towards extending her H1-B1 artist’s visa.  

On gymnastics to dance in Hong Kong — her early movement journey

I started dancing at the age of three. I did very little contemporary dance, mostly ballet and commercial dance. When I was a bit older I began to focus on acrobatics. In both dance and acrobatics, the training is different here in the USA. It’s less intense on a physical level. There’s also a different student/teacher relationship, more of a fear between the student and teacher in Hong Kong. 

When I was about sixteen, I decided that I wanted to be a dancer. One of my mentors/ teachers called my dad into a meeting at her office to discuss my future and express how dancing in college was the right path for me. I am very thankful for that, as in Hong Kong it was uncommon to pursue the arts at a collegiate level.

After college, it was certainly challenging to have the resources to create work. On top of balancing my living costs, I had to set aside a budget for rehearsal space, costumes, et cetera. Yet somehow I’ve made it work. I’ve been teaching a good deal, to make an income while working in dance — at Central Park Dance, Armonk Dance, and other locations. I mainly teach jazz, acrobatics, and musical theater.

On being eclectic

In the US, at SUNY Purchase, I did feel a bit unprepared going in. It was a big shift to go from doing commercial dance as a teenager to doing concert dance in college. But I did learn a lot about dance in its context, and was exposed to many different styles. I think that this has helped me gain the opportunities in various styles that I’ve danced. Now, I just danced with Madonna in NYC’s World Pride March. It feels a bit surreal! 

On making work that empowers women

Much of my concert work has focused on the female experience, misogyny, and the ways in which women are marginalized and struggle with identity. Some of that has even tied into my cultural roots and the experience of being a woman in Hong Kong. 

For instance, in one work I used recording of the voices of Chinese women. The aim was to  demonstrate how culture places shame upon women. This tangible product of the voice recording really helped in the process of creating movement. Exploring movement guided by the recordings also helped discover further layers of meaning within the recordings themselves. In this day and age, we become desensitized to a lot out there in the world. To have to sit and watch a human experience illustrated in dance, a tangible product, can really make people feel things in ways that they might not have.

On relative artistic freedom 

I was really shaped as an artist here in the US, I think, because of the level of social consciousness (“PC culture”) and freedom of expression that artists have — both at much much higher levels than in Hong Kong. Artists here in the US can, and do, speak on various issues with their work. Especially considering what’s been going on politically with Hong Kong and China, with the protests and Hong Kong citizens’ level of autonomy in question, I am hoping to be able to stay in the US. I’m hoping to stay here and continue making work, to continue being able to fully express myself.

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