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Young Alumni

Dancing with Purpose

For Leadership Award Scholar Robert Yu ’18, dedication to dance and Wushu endeavors at Cal opened the doors for new opportunities and set him up for success.

May 3, 2023
by Josephine Thornton
Robert Yu performs a dance move in front of the Bancroft Library wearing his graduation stole. Robert Yu ’18 / Courtesy of Robert Yu

Robert Yu ’18 was no stranger to “Bear Territory” even before being accepted to UC Berkeley. Yu’s parents, brother, and sister all attended Cal, as did seven of his aunts and uncles, and two of his cousins. The Bay Area local spent much of his childhood participating in events on campus, including the annual Chinese Martial Arts Tournament (CMAT), one of the biggest martial arts competitions in the area. 

Siblings Chrystina, Michael, and Robert Yu doing Wushu poses.
(L-r) Siblings Michael, Chrystina, and Robert Yu share a passion for Wushu and were all on the Cal Wushu team. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

“That was my first exposure to Cal,” says Yu, recalling how he competed in the tournament by doing Wushu. Wushu is a Chinese martial art noted for its dynamic and fluid motions and use of weapons. It is also known for its distinct rhythm and beauty. Yu started doing Wushu when he was six years old. “If you’ve ever seen any kung fu movies, any martial arts movies, Wushu is a more contemporary version of that. It’s a very popular sport in China, specifically in Beijing,” Yu explains. 

In a large family of Golden Bears, when it came time to apply for college, Yu understandably felt pressure to go to UC Berkeley. Both of his older siblings, Chrystina Yu ’15, O.D. ’20, and Michael Yu ’17, J.D. ’21, were currently attending the university when Yu was deciding between colleges. “I did consider other schools,” says Yu, “but Berkeley called my name somehow.”

Robert Yu poses with members of the Cal Wushu team.
During his time on the Cal Wushu team, Robert Yu played a role in carrying the team to victory in several competitions. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

Once at UC Berkeley, Yu followed in his siblings’ footsteps by joining the Cal Wushu A-Team, the official collegiate Wushu team at UC Berkeley. Each year, Cal Wushu competes at Collegiates, a national competition of skilled martial arts competitors. Cal Wushu has an impressive legacy of winning Collegiates over the past decade. Within that ten-year timeframe, Yu and his siblings assisted in six years of those victories. All three Yu siblings served as captains of the Cal Wushu A-Team at some point during their UC Berkeley career. Each sibling is a fifth-degree black belt in Wushu and has competed on the USA National Wushu and Kung Fu team.

“Berkeley taught me a lot about hard work and humility.”

Robert Yu ’18

The Yu siblings’ involvement and demonstrated leadership in the Wushu community allowed each of them to receive The Leadership Award, presented by the Cal Alumni Association, during their time at UC Berkeley. The Leadership Award is a one-year scholarship that recognizes undergraduate students at UC Berkeley who demonstrate innovative, initiative-driven leadership impacting their academic, work, or community environments. 

Their leadership didn’t stop at martial arts—Yu and his siblings were also heavily involved in the Cal Dance Community. The Yu siblings were leaders, artistic directors, captains, and UC Berkeley Dance Community teammates. While at UC Berkeley, Yu led a few hundred dancers and many dance teams in open-style choreography. 

“While in college, I was doing a lot and serving in many leadership roles,” says Yu. “I was working two to three jobs, leading three to four dance teams, captain of the Wushu team, in addition to doing all my studies. Berkeley taught me a lot about hard work and humility.”

Robert Yu and collaborators of the That One Feelsy Album project pose with matching t-shirts.
A shot from the “That One Feelsy Album” project, which brought Robert Yu and his friends together to reflect on their perspectives. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

During Yu’s junior year at Cal, he began the passion project of creating a visual dance album. The album, titled That One Feelsy Album, featured 10 filmed concept videos that consisted of choreography to 10 songs showcasing various aspects of Yu’s life through diverse dance styles. “It was definitely one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on. I was in the process of transitioning between figuring out what I want to do with my life, like most college students. And at the time I was leading three or four different dance teams, choreographing them, directing them.” It debuted his senior year.

“It was a very pivotal moment in my life where I was trying to decide what I wanted to do,” recalls Yu. “That One Feelsy Album allowed me to reflect with my friends and ask for their perspectives. Why are we here? What is our purpose? In my last video on the album, we were dancing to our responses. We were dancing to our own words, which was a really cool concept.”

Yu didn’t expect a big response to the album, but a couple of dance studio owners in Chengdu, China saw his work. He was invited to teach dance classes internationally. It was a dream come true. 

Robert Yu poses with the international dance group  he taught.
Robert Yu poses with his international dance group. The “That One Feelsy Album” project opened doors for him to teach abroad at Kinjaz Dojo China. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

Yu taught at Kinjaz Dojo China, owned by the world-renowned dance group The Kinjaz, who have been featured on NBC’s World of Dance. “What was really cool was that [Kinjaz was] a global studio,” says Yu. “People from all over the world came to train there, people from Korea, Japan, the Philippines, America, Europe. I met so many different people there.” While there, he taught 15 classes, preparing 15 pieces of unique choreography.

In 2019 and 2021, Yu was hired as an opening act for the Annual Southwest Airlines San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. Yu had grown up attending the Chinese New Year parade with his father, who passed away when Yu was a child. Performing in the parade was an especially emotional and full-circle moment for him. “I really couldn’t have done it without my family and my friends,” says Yu. “I know that’s very cliche, but it takes a village.”

Robert Yu poses with his performance dance team at the 2021 San Francisco Chinese New Year parade.
Robert Yu’s performance dance team, Raw Art Within, opened the 2019 and 2021 San Francisco Chinese New Year parade, performing to Yu’s original choreography. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

For the opening act, Yu founded a performance team called Raw Art Within and created original choreography. One of Yu’s favorite musical artists and creative colleagues, Gill Chang, even made a custom track for the parade. 

Robert Yu poses in front of the logo of Samuel Merritt University.
Robert Yu’s latest goal is to become a physical therapist for dancers. He is currently working towards this at Samuel Merritt University. / Courtesy of Robert Yu

Today, Yu is a second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland. Inspired by his experience in Chengdu, Yu plans to pursue a career in physical therapy, to support others through movement. “One of my dreams is to be able to work with dancers as a physical therapist. It would be really cool to tie my passion in the arts because I understand dancers. I am a dancer, I am a choreographer, but I also know injuries and how to prevent them, how to treat them.” He considers himself an ongoing work in progress.

Yu continues to dance everyday. 

Alumni: Learn how you can support The Leadership Award

Students: If you are a prospective first year or junior transfer interested in applying to receive The Leadership Award, visit the Cal Alumni Association Application Portal.

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