I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of Dorothy Toy (1917-2019), one of the most famous Asian-American dancers during the 1930s and 1940s. Often billed as the “Asian Ginger Rogers,” Dorothy combined show stopping ballet, jazz, and tap.
Dorothy’s long time dance partner was Paul Wing, together billed as the duo Toy & Wing. Paul was a tap dancer, and their styles complemented each other well. They got their start as a vaudeville act performing in Chinese restaurants and nightclubs as part of all-Asian reviews for white audiences. At the time, it was known as the “Chop Suey Circuit.”
They were the first Asian-American dance duo to perform on Broadway and the first at the Palladium in London. You can see their complementary styles in this 1937 short “Deviled Ham.” Dorothy’s virtuosity on pointe is incredible. (Cue forward to 2:37 to see their section)
Here’s another of their early performances from the 1939 film With Best Dishes showcasing their versatility as dancers and incredible showmanship.
Then came World War II. As a Japanese-American, Dorothy fled to New York to avoid the internment camps. Her parents weren’t so lucky. They were sent to Topaz, Utah.
Toy & Wing were slated to appear in a Chico Marx film. But according to Dorothy, another jealous dancer outed Dorothy as Japanese-American, so they were cut from the movie. Soon afterward, Paul was drafted into the Army.
Dorothy continued to work during and after the war, putting on extravagant stage shows, for both white and Asian audiences.
Dorothy continued to teach dance well into her 90s.
To learn more about this remarkable dancer, check out this wonderful short documentary produced by Rick Quan.
I’m so inspired by Dorothy’s passion for dance, her commitment to her art, her drive to keep working despite whatever obstacles she faced. Basically, Dorothy was a bad ass. As Dorothy explained,
Rest in Power, Dorothy Toy.
UPDATE July 30: The Washington Post has published a lovely obituary for Ms. Toy.