Jessica Hu aspired to be the next Suchin Pak before pouring her passion into dance. The Oregon-bred hip-hop junkie began working the dance floor when she joined a dance team in middle school called True Colors, a nod to its ethnically diverse membership, and wanted to shed her nerdy girl image.
Though she quit several times over the course of her dance career (she’s experienced pushback from her traditional Chinese family, who favored a more stable job), Hu’s highlight reel is still stacked: P.R. and Event Officer Chair-turned-President of the UW Hip Hop Student Association, a club that focused on hip-hop’s core elements (Dance, Emcee, Graffiti, DJing, and Knowledge) while pulling grants from her alma mater, University of Washington; co-directing the first Reign Supreme dance competition at UW, sponsored by Red Bull and Arts and Entertainment; receiving a scholarship from Paula Abdul’s Co. Dance company; and spots in an ESPN commercial as well as music videos for Wyclef Jean, Dev Hynes and Macklemore.
Despite having a bad ankle since fracturing it while dancing at 13, she continued to dedicate her waking moments to propelling her career as a dancer and artist, one step at a time. her sweat. caught up with Jess on how she’s using dance to put Asian women on the map.
WHEN I BEGAN DANCING: I was on a hip-hop middle school dance team called True Colors because it was supposed to represent a multi-diversity group. We danced to Bubba Sparxxx “Ms. New Booty” and actually got in trouble from the school because we were twerking back in the day and didn’t know.
MY FIRST BIG BREAK: It came pretty early when I was like 13 or 14. My dance coach, who was also my English teacher in middle school, kept encouraging me to dance. She brought me to Seattle for Monsters of Hip-Hop, a dance convention where a lot of known choreographers who have taught Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Britney Spears would tour around the city and teach class. It was a four-day dance-intensive class. I actually got scouted by MSA dance agency in L.A. and Debbie Reynolds, and I got recognition from her dance company, too. Unfortunately, with dance, I had to fight family traditions and couldn’t take the scholarship.
At that point, I actually quit dance for a year because my parents didn’t want me to dance. I became really square––president of my senior class, played tennis and golf, ran track and that was all I did. There was another convention in Seattle and my dance coach drove me up again a year later. This was for Co. Dance, founded by Paula Abdul, and the audition was for jazz, not hip-hop. I didn’t do jazz but I still got the scholarship, which was a crazy thing. My coach was like, “I don’t know what else to tell you. You just won the scholarship and you haven’t danced in a year. I think dance is meant for you.”
HOW HATERS FUELED MY PASSION: I dealt with lots of bullying around 12 years old. I was skinnier back then, like 90 pounds. I had glasses, really had no style, but I just loved to dance. It was way before America’s Best Dance Crew and race really had something to do with it. People would say shit like, “Oh, you’re Asian. Asians don’t dance. You don’t look right doing it. It looks weird on you. You look anorexic. You don’t look right for it.” I had a lot of image issues but now the haters are trying to add me on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Jordan Nicholson