By: Grace Dong
Yoko Young, an internationally acclaimed dancer and teacher, passed away on October 29, 2013. Yoko will forever be remembered for her dedication to the City of Fremont and her contribution to the global dance community.
Yoko was born in Tokyo, Japan, where she studied classical ballet. Yoko went on to dance as Prima Ballerina for the Hirose Ballet Company and Tokyo Ballet Theatre. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a model, Yoko appeared in many movies, television series, and commercials, such as M.A.S.H (the movie) and the magazine, Women’s Day.
As Chairwoman of the Fremont Sister City Commission, Yoko made a lasting cultural impact on the city. Since 1993, she represented 92 cities and more than 6.5 million people as the Cultural Ambassador to the World, appointed by the Governor of Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Yoko organized multiple exchanges between Fukaya, a Sister City, and Fremont, securing a lasting friendship between the two. Yoko also annually choreographed the complete ballet of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, which was performed with the Fremont Symphony Orchestra 2005-2011 as the first ever full scale ballet performance in Fremont.
Yoko established Yoko’s Dance and Performing Arts Academy in 1995. Her studio is now internationally acclaimed for the superb instruction and even earned the title “Best Studio in the West” one year after opening. In 2002, her studio was the only one in Northern California to be selected as one of the prestigious “Top 50 Studios in the Nation” by Dance Spirit magazine. Yoko trained her students to a professional standard, instilling discipline, work ethic, confidence, and class into each and every “Yoko’s Girl.” Her students have been featured with the Moscow Ballet, on America’s Got Talent, at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and in the 2005 Dallas Cowboys halftime-show with Sheryl Crow. Yoko’s students have garnered countless awards under her name, many of them going on to forge successful careers of their own, dancing with names like Madonna.
Yoko’s influence on the City of Fremont and thousands of dancers will always be remembered. A memorial dedicated to Yoko Young’s memory was held at Ohlone College’s Smith Center on November 14. Hundreds of people whose lives were touched by Yoko came to celebrate her life and to honor her strength and passion. Alumnae Jessica Lee said, “You [Yoko] have and always will be my biggest role model and inspiration. I am the person I am today because of you. You have taught me not only how to dance but also values I will carry on for the rest of my life.” Jessica was one of the numerous Yoko’s Dance alumni who returned from all over the world to attend the memorial.
Yoko was a great role model for many, acting as an outstanding teacher, supportive friend, and caring mother to countless young dancers. Yoko’s greatest wish was for her legacy to continue on and remain an inspirational influence. Fremont Mayer Bill Harrison declared December 15, 2013 as Yoko Young Day for the City of Fremont, which is also the date of a special performance of Yoko’s Annual Nutcracker Ballet, to be performed with the Golden Gate Live Orchestra at Ohlone’s Smith Center. Her spirit lives on in her students, the City of Fremont, and her family.
Yoko follows her husband of 45 years, Dr. William J. Young, who passed away in April this year. She is survived by her son, Dr. Rei Young, daughter-in-law, Lisa Young, and grandchildren, Tyler and Zachary. Yoko’s presence as a dedicated mentor and loving woman will be missed by all, but she will never be forgotten.
“You [Yoko] were a strong and innovative leader in the dance world and a good friend. Your passion for the teaching of dance influenced the lives of a generation and was the heartbeat of inspiration to thousands of dancers throughout the years. Your spirit will be with those of us who knew you forever.” –Showstopper American Dance Championships
“In loving memory of Yoko Young. You will be missed by all, and your impact in the dance world and beyond will never be forgotten. A true legend…” –Kids Artistic Revue, National Dance Competition and Convention
“You [Yoko] have and always will be my biggest role model and inspiration. I am the person I am today because of you. You have taught me not only how to dance but also values that I will carry on for the rest of my life. You will never be forgotten and I hope you see just how much we all love you. Once a Yoko’s girl, always a Yoko’s girl. I will miss you so much Miss Yoko, rest in peace.” –Jessica Lee, MSJ Class of 2013
“Miss Yoko was the single greatest teacher and role model to touch my life and I would not be where I am or who I am today without her love, support, and inspiration. I will miss her always.” –Erin LaMoyne, MSJ Class of 1999
“My experience at Yoko’s dance studio was a doorway into the love I found in the dance world. It was through the opportunities Yoko gave me that I was able to find my passion in dance. The biggest lesson Yoko taught me was to never settle for anything less than your best, no matter what challenges there will be.Yoko will be missed, but her legacy will live on in the hearts that she touched.” –Dana Roy, MSJ Class of 2007
“Rest in peace, Ms, Yoko. To say that you were my dance teacher is merely an understatement. You were a friend I can talk to, a mentor who can give me advice, and a second mom who supported me with everything I was striving for.” –Hannie Dong, MSJ Class of 2010
Photos: Courtesy of Yoko’s Dance and Performing Arts Academy