This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

Young performers from the Diamond Dance Project, a dance studio near Kenai, are traveling to Kenai’s sister city, Akita, Japan.

The all-female dance group will visit Tokyo, before meeting with delegates and performing hip-hop dance for the city.

While in Japan, the seven dancers will do interviews with local media, perform in a concert alongside a local high school dance troupe and represent Kenai on a float in the city’s annual Kanto Festival, a summer festival where participants balance long poles that are holding lanterns on their palms, foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs.

Owner and director of Diamond Dance Project Crystal Soyangco said the journey began a year and a half ago when they received an invitation to visit Akita.

“They were seen by somebody out here, and they invited them because they thought they were so amazing,” Soyangco said.

Soyangco said the dance group was asked to be ready to perform on the streets of Tokyo, where she said hip-hop dance is becoming more popular.

“In Tokyo, there’s definitely a growing interest,” Soyangco said. “In Akita city, it’s very country, very reserved, so all of us had to go through a grueling kind-of mashup of all the behaviors we have to present out there and the things that we have to say … I think hip-hop is going to keep people on the edge of their seats a little bit. I think because they were requesting to see it it will be a good experience for both the dancers and the community as well.”

Akita delegates have shown interest in hip-hop for many years now. In 2012, delegates from Akita visited Kenai to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the two communities becoming sister cities. While traveling around the peninsula, the Clarion reported that the delegates “liked American hip hop very much,” and wanted to do a youth dance exchange in the future.

“We’re excited to be taking hip-hop with us to Japan,” dancer Shelby Anglebrandt said.

Soyangco and her husband Jessie Soyangco opened Diamond Dance Project in 2016 after teaching dance locally and nationally for more than 25 years. The couple offers classes in ballet, tap, ballroom, jazz, break dancing, Polynesian, hip-hop and more.

“I think starting this venture two years ago was one of the best things I’ve done,” Jessie Soyangco said. “They are some of the best dancers, not only in the state but in the country, and that’s why they were picked to go do this.”

Though the studio has more dancers, seven were chosen to attend the trip.

“It’s definitely an honor to be picked out of this whole studio,” dancer Caroline Cho said. “We cherish it and we are going to go there and really share what we can do. I think we’re all excited to show them that this small town in Alaska can actually do big things.”

The dancers have a broad age range, with the youngest dancer turning 15 the day before the group leaves for Japan, and the oldest being 24. Dancer Rylee Downs and many of the other dancers have never left the country before.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing somebody else’s culture,” Downs said. “We’ve done our research and [Japan] seems a lot different.”

The dancers leave July 30 and return Aug. 8.

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