How did you hear about Dancers of New York?
I actually found out about it through Facebook. A lot of my friends had been posting pictures, and a friend of a friend told me that I should look into doing it and that it would be a really cool thing. I clicked on the page, scrolled through, and ended up submitting!
Tell me a little bit about how you started dancing
I started dancing when I was really young. I have an older sister who danced. My mom was amazing, and she set me up in all these different areas of interest--rock-climbing, cave-diving--I grew up in Vermont, so we had all of that nature stuff available. Dance just took to me. I was really physical, and I was able to do it. It was cool because I was a guy doing it, and not many guys were. So I felt the special attention that you want as a child as well.
When you first sent me an email, I was really excited because I saw that your middle name was Korean. Could you tell me a little bit about your background?
I was adopted. So my roots to Korea are through that. I wish I had more to say [laughs].
How did you decide to become a professional dancer?
Growing up, I would always watch movies of dancing--like Cats. I never really knew what it was, but I just loved it. I remember I would watch these videos and press play and stop every second to try and copy the movements that they were doing. It wasn’t until 6th grade when my mom kinda made me do the school play, which was The Music Man. I auditioned and got Harold Hill, and from that moment I was hooked on being a performer.
As I grew up in Vermont, I tried to exercise most of my options as a performer there, but my sophomore year I ended up going to a performing arts high school. That’s what pushed me more into the professional side of it.
How was going to an arts high school?
It was crazy, and it was amazing, but it was also really hard. It was a boarding school called Walnut Hill twenty minutes outside of Boston, MA. It’s crazy to look back on it now. Everything felt so extreme. Especially being so young, away from home and around all these amazingly talented people. It was visual arts, music, creative writing, dance, and theatre. It was emotionally tough, but it helped prepare me to tackle the many different emotional complexities that come with this business.
What did you do after high school?
After high school, I briefly went to the University of Michigan for dance. While there, I realized I wanted to study musical theatre. Even though I studied theatre in high school, dance is so big in musical theatre, the Tonys this year showed that. So much dancing this year!
So I transferred from UofM to Boston Conservatory where I studied musical theatre. I actually ended up leaving that school as well, and I ended up at a school called Elon University in North Carolina. I really wanted to end up somewhere I was happy. I think happiness trumps everything. It is a small liberal arts school. The teachers there are amazing, and the students were so supportive. It was what I needed to round out my college experience.
Transferring is a hard process, the transcripts and all of the applications. Luckily my mother helped with those. I wanted to end up at a college I felt proud that I had graduated from--in a program I felt taught me what I needed to know. I think Elon really did that. Also, they let me graduate in two years. I didn’t get to do any going abroad or anything, but Elon was worth it for sure.
What happened after Elon?
I graduated, and I was in a three-month long mini-tour of Miss Saigon, of course [laughs]. I was a swing on it, which is a hard job. I have so much respect for swings. You cover all of the tracks in the show. Whenever someone is hurt or someone is on vacation, you go in for them. From that tour, I had a ticket home to Vermont, where I was going to stay and make some money and maybe finish out the summer. But the company was also dropping people off in New York City from the tour. And I was like, “I am going to stay.” It just made so much sense to just go to New York, find a sublet, and start auditioning. So that’s what I did.
How long have you been in the city?
Four years. This fall will be five. Crazy.
What was it like when you first moved here?
It was hard, adjusting to a different pace, different life, and having people not tell you what to do. In school, you know that if you do ‘this and this’ you can get ‘here’.
I first moved here, and I hit the ground hard. I was like, “I am going to go to every audition, and on some days, I’m going to two.” I tried really hard. I realize now that time was more about making connections and meeting a group of friends that I still have to this day from those auditions.
I auditioned and auditioned. I worked retail for a while. Finally I got a call to be in a regional production of The King and I, which was great--using your ethnicity in your favor [laughs]. I actually did three of those. I did one in Kansas, one in Boston, and then one in Philly. Then out of the blue, I got a call when I was in Philly to see if I wanted to be in Mamma Mia! on Broadway. I had gone in for that show my senior year of college. It had been maybe a year and a half since that audition and I never heard anything. So from Philly, when that contract ended, I started Mamma Mia! the next week. I stayed there for about two and a half years. I did the transition from the Winter Garden to the Broadhurst, which was really cool. From there I auditioned for The King and I, which is back on Broadway! I ended up getting a workshop of that, which eventually turned into a contract.
What was it like getting that call for Mamma Mia! in Philly?
It was thrilling. I remember I was at the gym like, “I need to work. I am not just going to hit up every audition and hope. I am really going to specifically apply myself.” And then when I went to my locker and got my phone, I had a message from my agent, “Call me back. How would you like to make your Broadway debut in Mamma Mia?” It was crazy. There were definitely tears shed and jumps of joy--as much as I could publicly in the gym.
This is something I was really curious about--What is it like being an Asian performer in the theatre community?
It’s amazing now, especially being in The King and I, because I am in a group of a lot of minorities, and we’ve all kind of gone through the same thing. When you find a show that brings a lot of minorities together, there are so many stories that you can share with each other. Being an Asian performer is great as well because you are automatically different. So when you are standing in a room of ten guys who are all six feet tall and brunette it sets you apart right away. If they’re looking for that special, different thing, then you’re that.
On the other hand it can be very difficult. You can be just as talented as someone else, but maybe the track in the show doesn’t fit your specific look, or maybe as soon as you are brought into a room you are not looked at completely unbiased. Sometimes the track or show has to be a specific type of person or the show has to cater to a certain audience. It’s very tough in that regard.
I was reading an interview from Ruthie Ann Miles, who just won the Tony for Supporting Actress for The King and I, and she mentioned that there are so many talented Asian performers who are out there and trying, but there still really isn’t the platform for them (in a non-Asian setting). So that’s something going forward that maybe we’d like to change or expand. We’re still the stereotype, but slowly transitioning into being a real person too. Yes, I can play a businessman who works 9-5 on Wall Street as well.
Could you tell me a little bit about The King and I?
It’s amazing. We just won the Tony for Best Revival! I was one of two guys who got to be at the Tonys because we got to move a map in our number.
I was watching the performance from the Tony Awards and was wondering if you were one the guys moving the prop.
Totally. I was the guard standing there. The Tony Awards are so amazing. It starts out like a competition, but by the end, it’s just a big celebration of theatre. Everybody was in one big holding room and as people win awards, different casts are screaming. You see your friends from years gone by, and it’s amazing, just having the whole community like feel excited about it.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
Oh man, I am not sure. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I just turned 27 in March, which is relatively young, but I have been through some major injuries. So it’s a struggle. I love dancing, but I also love being healthy. I recently went to this seminar called Career Transition for Dancers, and it really opened my eyes. There are so many options for dancers, where you can still be performing or choreographing or creating, but not necessarily eight times a week, full-out all of the time. But of course, if another show were to come along, I'd jump on that opportunity as well, so it's hard to say. I also recently have been auditioning for TV and commercials, so that’s another side of performing I had never thought about, but it would be cool to see what is there. You never know.
I could totally see you on a TV show.
Thanks. As a Rite Aid pharmacist? [laughs].
What you say is really interesting, because, for a lot of performers who are trying to make it here, it seems like Broadway is their dream, and that’s the ultimate destination. But even if you are on Broadway, you have to think about what’s next.
Yeah. I currently cover a part in The King and I, so to transition from being an ensemble dancer to someone who comes in and sings two songs--and that’s your whole track--that’s another side of performing completely. As I said, new opportunities are out there. We shall see [laughs].
What’s your favorite part of living in the city?
The city is amazing. I think in the summer more than in the winter. My favorite thing about it is how it is constantly changing. You can walk down the same street over and over and see different people and different stores everyday. It’s never the same routine. I think that’s amazing. I also love how close it is to the beach and to the mountains. You can go upstate or you can go down. You can get out of the city.
What’s your least favorite part?
It’s probably the same thing as what I liked about it. How it’s always changing. It’s hard to build that community of a neighborhood feel, just because so many people are here, and people are always coming and going. Good friends are always on tour or leaving and coming. It’s hard to get a stable sense of “this is me” in the city. One of my best friends has been on tour now for two years, and I haven’t seen her in a while. I see her like every three months, but it’s hard, because that’s how it is.
Is there anything that you’d like to share with the world?
Don’t take any day for granted, because especially in New York, it’s very easy to waste three or four days feeling sad or bad about something--which it is okay to do, but I think it’s important to make sure that everyday you’re doing something special for yourself and for other people as well. That’s something I am really working on this year.
Also, people are on your side more than you think. It’s less, “He can’t do this, he can’t do that.” It’s more like, “He fits into this track, and it opened up. That’s wonderful.” It’s something that I, at 27 years old, am just finally realizing. Everyone has their own journey and process. Some kids, right out of school, get shows, and some kids get huge leads on Broadway. Everyone has their own journey and timeline. It’s just good to remember.