She’s worked with some of the world’s best choreographers, appeared on Ellen—and she’s just 10 years old.
Amy Zhu is a bona fide hip-hop prodigy, moving with the grace, confidence, and attitude of a pro three times her age. Whenever she dances, her videos get hundreds of thousands of views in China and the United States.
But if her age helped her videos go viral, it’s her sheer skill that has endeared her to the dance world and won her an army of followers across the globe.
As Zhu’s fame has grown, however, she has also caught the eye of critics and detractors who decry what they see as the sexualization of a little girl who has no place in the world of hip-hop dancing.
Zhu started dancing when she was 4. Her mother signed her up for jazz dance classes at Sinostage Studio in their native Chengdu, where she began taking dance seriously.
“From then on, I wanted to dance all the time,” Zhu says.
The following year, she started studying urban dance, the style she is most associated with now, though Zhu jokingly refers to her personal style of dance as “Amy style.”
Zhu’s interest in hip-hop reflects a growing trend of kids in China taking up street dance at an early age. More parents are signing their children up for classes, seeing street dance as a fun exercise that can help kids break out of their shell and stand out at school.
“I am very happy when I dance,” Zhu says. “Dancing makes my life happier.”
Fame has had little effect on Zhu’s day-to-day life.
“I don’t know that I am famous,” she says, laughing. “Every day, my life is still the same as before. I go to school and go dance after school.”
“I was very nervous and excited to go to the United States for the first time [to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show],” she concedes, but what she remembers most was that “American ice cream was especially delicious.”
If Zhu is even aware of some of the critical comments her dance videos have received on social media, she doesn’t seem to understand them, let alone be bothered by them.
“It’s okay to dance,” is all she’ll say about her critics. “As long as we like to dance, we will be fine!”
Two of her videos in particular have raised the ire of more conservative internet commenters, both routines choreographed by French dancer and choreographer Yanis Marshall.
Marshall is something of a hero to Zhu, and their dances have been among the most popular videos she has shared on social media.
The two videos have raked in more than half a million views and nearly 2,000 comments combined.
Most are supportive, but some take the choreographer to task for what they see as risqué and inappropriate for such a young girl.
One commenter called the routine “sickening” and asked, “What has the world come to?”
Zhu herself has stayed quiet about the controversy, but the choreographers who have worked with her have been more outspoken.
On his Instagram account, Marshall does not mince his words.
“Don’t get me started with the ‘She’s too young for that’ comments … that’s her mother’s problem not mine. My class is 16 years old and up. But I make an exception for her because she’s special … I also tone it way down for her.”
Los Angeles-based dancer and choreographer Julian DeGuzman also worked with Zhu when he traveled to China to teach classes at Sinostage.
“When I first saw her dance, I just saw maturity,” he says. “What she could do was beyond her years. She was so focused.”
“When I first saw her dance, I just saw maturity.”
“She’s far beyond her years,” he adds. “She knows what to do and what not to do. And she was raised right, too. Her mother is so supportive and always points her in the right direction.”
Regardless of the comments from outside, Zhu’s goals in Chengdu couldn’t be more simple.
“I just want to study hard and practice dance,” she says.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.