Discovering Dance and Identity: by Rassacin Ly

Rassacin Ly danceworkbalance

Rassacin Ly began dancing in South Korea in 2010 with The Other Zone (TOZ) Performing Arts Center. Their competition team, PX2, has performed and competed throughout South Korea, garnering multiple top 3 finishes. Rassacin brought his experience and passion back home to Minnesota in 2014. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Chiropractic and Master of Health Science Degrees while remaining connected to his passion as a dance crew director, teacher, and dancer. He is the Director of Cre.ture Crew, Co-Director of Elite Family and teaches at Larkin Dance Studio. Russ aims to combine his degrees and passion for dance to develop healing and artistic programs that will help people lead healthy and creative lives.

I grew up an active kid. When I was younger, I was the rambunctious, energetic brat that no one wanted to babysit. In my teen years, I transitioned that energy into soccer, swimming, track, and volleyball. In college, that energy transformed into spoken-word. I stepped back from sports fields and courts to follow Asian American artist such as Bao Phi, Magnetic North, Blue Scholars, and Delicious Venom. I traded bicycle kicks for cadences, starting block dives for staccato deliveries, and laps for allusions. I was trying to figure out my identity: as an individual, as a Hmong-American, as an artist.

Throughout all this, I was filled with self-doubt. I felt fractured between identities and expectations. I pursued computer science to become the engineer my mother wanted. After countless hours of debugging, my head wanted to explode and I switched to political science; which I assured my mom, would lead to a law degree. I coupled that with a minor in Asian American studies. The combination of advocacy through policy and identity through academics felt right. After graduating, I pursued a mix of jobs, hoping to find a career that would match my energy and allow me to advocate for the identity and community I was beginning to understand more. I conducted controlled burns as a wildland firefighter, balanced books for small companies, and did market research for a secondary mortgage nonprofit. Yet, the artist in me cried out.

The first time that I remember wanting to dance was after watching Kaba Modern on America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008. I had never seen a group of Asian Americans dominate on national TV like Kaba Modern. Their artistry, talent, and identity spoke to the child of refugees, spoken-word artist, PoliSci/AsianAm major in me. Still, it would be 2 years before I took my first dance class.

Russ Ly danceworkbalance

In 2010, I threw caution to the wind and, with a promise to my mother that I would only be gone a year, moved to South Korea to teach English. In addition to the great job experience, pay, and perks, I found The Other Zone (TOZ) Dance Center. I started taking a beginner’s hip hop dance class and soon, I found myself spending over 10 hours a week at TOZ learning hip hop, urban, jazz, funk jazz, and ballet. At the end of my first year in Korea, my mother asked me when I would be returning stateside and TOZ Dance asked me if I would like to join their training program. I chose dance.

That year of training made me realize how much I enjoyed dance and how much dance empowered me. Despite training alongside dancers in high school who progressed from stiff kicks to full splits in the span of a few months while I could barely get my legs straight, much less into full splits; I went back for more. Despite working 40 hours a week preparing lesson plans and teaching English then spending over 20 hours a week in the studio; I went back for more. At the end of my second year in Korea, my mother asked me when I would be returning stateside and TOZ Dance asked me if I would like to audition for their competition team: PX2. I chose dance.

I stayed in Korea for 2 more years competing, teaching, traveling. After my fourth year, I decided to move back to the states. In Minnesota, I wanted to continue dancing but found my resources lacking. To my surprise, my mother also found a passion for dancing through my aunt. My aunt had been competing in ballroom and teaching classes to a small group called the Hmong American Ballroom Society. She owned a studio and my mother connected us. I began renting the studio and started a team called Creative Culture Crew (aka Cre.ture Crew). As my dance network grew in Minnesota, I collaborated with 3 other dancers and formed Elite Family. Leading these teams challenged me as an artist to not only strive for individual growth and balance, but to also manage the team while respecting the complex lives of the artists on my teams. I began exploring ways to help my dancers practice and perform stronger while minimizing injuries.

Elite Family DanceWorkBalance

My research led me to the theories and practices of chiropractic. I envisioned a mutual integration of the care of chiropractic and the athleticism and artistry of dance. Chiropractic aims to heal and maintain the relationship between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. I could see how these systems translate to dance as body lines and form in techniques, power and texture in movements, cleanliness and timing in execution, not to mention the avoidance of injuries such as lateral ankle sprains or rotator cuff strains when practicing or performing. Conversely, I could see the benefit of dance movements and artistry in the rehabilitation of injuries and conditions that frequent chiropractic clinics such as low back pain and motor vehicle accidents. Ultimately, this led me to pursue my Doctor of Chiropractic degree.

I am currently halfway through the three year program and have faced some difficult life-balance decisions during that time. In the past year, I shifted the bulk of my hours from dancing towards studying. While I thought I was prepared for the physical changes, I was not prepared for the emotional and mental changes. For over seven years, dance had been my social life, my exercise, my challenge and my goal. Now, I have this new demanding endeavor. As I dialed down my dancing hours, I found myself feeling more lethargic, less focused and much less motivated in general. It was a double-edged sword. I had to either: reduce dance to study more and be overall more apathetic or continue dancing and feel invigorated, but sacrifice needed study hours. There is a balance to be found and I am still searching for it. There are days when I dance while reviewing notes and everything seems to mesh together. Then there are days where my thoughts seem to compete over which one gets to be in focus: dance or academics. Thoughts of team schedules and finances push against bacterial pathogen epidemiology. Remembering choreo sneaks in between factors of the clotting cascade; both vying for attention and neither getting the quality focus they need. It has not been easy and I still have no secret method for mastering time. What guides me through the tumult is my belief that through dance and chiropractic I can improve the lives of my dancers, patients, and the people around me.

Dance means more than movement, and represents more than art in my life. It is the fuel that powers me through my day, the light that illuminates my goals, and the release to the stresses that bind me. Dance has made me feel a more defined purpose and passion in life. It has changed the definition of who I am and as I continue to learn and grow, I am changing the definition of what dance means to me.