During the month of May, GLIDE celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage. In this story, we highlight the Glidettes, a delightful group of Asian-identifying seniors and performers who embody GLIDE’s mission to create a loving and inclusive community.
“For me, dancing is beautiful,” said Li Sucui, “It opens my heart like a flower, and it makes me happy.” At a spry 73, Li is a founding member of the Tenderloin Glidettes that come together each week to share in the delights of dance and song. Comprised mostly of GLIDE’s elder clients, the ensemble has garnered a reputation in the neighborhood for their spirited performances of both traditional Chinese dances and Western jigs. After an extended hiatus during the pandemic, the group is eagerly returning to in-person community events.
The Glidettes formed four years ago out of a series of monthly “senior socials” held at Freedom Hall and led by Client Advocate, Tina Huang. “When I started working for GLIDE, I always fantasized about organizing a group that would represent Chinese culture,” said Tina. “I wanted to feature dancing – Not only traditional, like Chinese Lion, but also feature types from Western culture.” Hailing from Guangdong, just outside of Hong Kong, Tina came with her family to the United States in 1993. Six years ago, Tina came to learn about GLIDE and started as a volunteer.
GLIDE serves a diverse community, with those who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander making up 16% of our clientele. Tina’s knowledge of Taishanese, the principal language of the Yue Chinese, comes in handy in connecting with clients. “When I came to GLIDE, and saw the homeless outside, it was difficult for me. But I really wanted to do something and be of service. I am always thinking about how much more our city can do to help those who are less fortunate and faced with tough times in their life,” said Tina.
Li, also from Guangdong, has been a resident of the Tenderloin for the past eight years, having arrived in the United States more than two decades ago. GLIDE first came to Li’s attention in 2016 when she visited 330 Ellis Street for breakfast as part of GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program. She later ventured inside GLIDE and observed a group of seniors playing Bingo; she felt drawn to the welcoming environment and inspired to cultivate deeper connections with the community. She met up with both Tina Huang and Meals Navigator Diane Truong and the idea of having a senior group for dancing and singing was born.
Li took part in traditional Chinese dance back in Taishan and, like Tina, she wanted the group to expand its repertoire by learning movements from other cultures. “We worked together to create this group dynamic that was not only respectful of safety but used slow movements so everyone could take part. YouTube was a great teacher,” Li chuckled. One of the oldest Glidettes, Menyi Wong (87) has her son ship over dance outfits so that the group can dress up for performances.
The Glidettes have performed at various city functions over the years and while the pandemic may have slowed down their schedule of appearances, the group recently returned to the stage in full GLIDE orange regalia for the Tenderloin Sunday Streets event in April. For the Glidettes, a resounding theme of happiness permeates among the group and it is the reason they keep coming together. “It improves our quality of life. It feels good, both mentally and physically,” said Tina. “And when we dance and sing, we are in our moment of joy.”