Tzi Yin Yong

Updated: Feb 19

Tzi is doing her Masters in Engineering at the University of Exeter. She has been classically trained in dance for many years and is currently doing more commercial styles. She is the Vice President & Welfare officer as well as Heels coach for Legion Dance Exeter this year. Besides dance, she also has a flair for digital art and crafting, where she's honed her talent into a brand called @kawan2designs. In this post, read about her experience as a BIPOC creative in Exeter, her journey with crafts and design, as well as the cultural nuances and barriers set up against younger BIPOC when chasing their passions.

'As a BIPOC creative within the Exeter community, I have definitely felt a positive shift in the right direction. There is so much talent in Exeter, we just need to open our eyes and look a little harder. I feel like I was a late bloomer in terms of being a BIPOC creative within the Exeter community. When I left school, I really thought that it was the end of my dance journey but turns out I had a whole new chapter ahead of myself. I spent the first year and a half at uni trying to fit the ‘Exeter’ mold and embracing that culture as well, only to realise that it wasn’t for me. That's when I found @legiondanceexeter , formerly URBN. I found myself embraced by a community who supported me and wanted to grow with me. They really encouraged individuality and finding your own style within dance, and that's where I came out of my shell and found my place within Exeter as well. With Legion, I was formerly the Jazz Funk coach and now I'm the Heels coach, Vice President, and Welfare Secretary. Being in these positions has allowed me to push my own limits of dance and experiment with ideas I've always kept to myself. When it comes to classes, I like to keep that Legion ethos and encourage those who come to embrace themselves and enhance what they already have. I like to remind them that they are within a safe space to just go all out and share their love for and passion for dance with us. When it comes to performances, I always put my dancers first, making sure everybody has a chance to shine and that they're all comfortable on stage, showcasing their talent to the audience.'

'In the summer of 2017, I started a small creative brand for myself, Kawan-kawan Designs ( @kawan2designs ). This started off with me embroidering little hoops for my loved ones, and it grew into a small business where people would ask for commissions for jackets, sweatshirts, and other little things.

The next summer, I designed a collection of enamel pins highlighting the micro-aggression against the Asian community. In hindsight, these designs could have conveyed that message better, and I'm working towards potentially releasing new ones soon.

In the Christmas of 2018, I also set up a small stall at the University of Exeter Christmas Market in the Forum, where I was selling Christmas-themed embroidery hoops. But more recently, in light of the Yemen crisis, I opened up commissions for my digital art where I received 35 commissions over 10 days and was able to donate a total of £300 to the cause. I am still super grateful and humbled by the support and those who wanted to contribute and get a nice little piece of art from me as well. I definitely focus on using this brand as a way to express my support for communities in a way that I know how. In terms of my more personal creative style, I have started experimenting with more dysfunctional art.

As an engineer, I focus a lot of my day on making things perfect and functional, so when it comes to expressing myself, I like to go in the direction of chaos and imperfection.'

'I like using my platform to remind people that you don't have to fit in a box, you don't have to be just one thing. Growing up people would remind me that I was a 'jack of all trades, master of none', and to that, I agree. But look up the full proverb. I feel like society has pushed us to believe that we need to be the best at one thing in order to proceed in life and become ‘useful’. But I don't think that's necessarily true, we should be allowed to enjoy things and flourish in talents, even if it doesn't make big bank. You don't always have to be productive to enjoy life. I think this especially hits hard if you are a BIPOC, as our individual cultures may have different priorities on different aspects of life. With that said, I feel like more change and acceptance is coming from our communities and we are now able to embrace our creative talents, instead of dismissing them as 'just hobbies'. So to all my BIPOC creatives, keep pushing! Keep going, because the world will see you, and they are going to love what you bring <3.'

- Digital Art work by Tzi.

- Jazz Funk @ Legion Dance Exeter 2019/2020

Photography by Hanife H Photos. @hanifehphotos

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