When Soul Train fans think back to the program in the 80s, the memory of one certain dancer comes to mind: the female Asian dancer with the long hair, Cheryl Song. Song broke down racial barriers on Soul Train, becoming the program’s first Asian dancer. During her 14 years on the show (1976-1990), Song was always a visual treat, whether it was her numerous times going down the Soul Train line swaying her hair, the elaborate outfits she wore or her dance styles, Cheryl Song indeed earned the status of Soul Train icon.
Soul Train: Welcome to Soultrain.com, Cheryl and thank you for granting us this interview. First of all, growing up, did you desire or dream of a career in show business?
Cheryl Song: I had a very difficult childhood. I wasn’t even thinking of a career in show business as a child. I did, however, love to dance since it was a way I could express myself. I took dance classes while I was in school.
Soul Train: What did your family think of your aspirations of becoming a dancer?
Cheryl Song: It caused a lot of conflict with my parents.They wanted me to study math or science or some related field. But I wanted to study dance and I did.
Soul Train: How did you become a Soul Train dancer?
Cheryl Song: I went to a predominantly black high school, Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. A lot of my friends in school were on Soul Train, such as Jeffrey Daniels and Jody Watley, so I was brought onto the show as a dare. It was like, “let’s see what the reaction will be when she comes onto the show.”
Soul Train: Being that you were the only Chinese dancer, how were you received by the other dancers when you first came on the show?
Cheryl Song: The first time was scary. A lot of the black dancers did not like the idea that a non-black person was dancing on the show. I remember I was placed on the risers and some of the dancers were jealous and I thought they were going to jump me. I was called a high yellow bitch and others.
Soul Train: DId that initial reaction make you [leery] of going back to the show?
Cheryl Song: Well, I was still afraid, but I kept coming back. The production crew and staff really liked me.
Soul Train: DId you have any close friends on the show?
Cheryl Song: Nieci Payne and I were very close. And I just love Derek Fleming to death.
Soul Train: Did you ever do the Soul Train Scramble Board?
Cheryl Song: Yes, I did! I won Afro Sheen products but I couldn’t use them. (Laughs)
Soul Train: During one of your numerous times going down the Soul Train line, you had your partner at the time, Randy Thomas, attached to a leash or a chain as you strutted down the line. (laughs)
Cheryl Song: (Laughs) What? I don’t remember that!
Soul Train: How did you get along with Don Cornelius?
Cheryl Song: I worked for Don for a while after I danced on the show. He had opened up a dance studio in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard and I was one of the dance instructors. Later on I worked in the production office for Soul Train. Although I had a close relationship with Don, it was strictly business.
Soul Train: Where did you and your dance partners get all of those elaborate outfits from?
Cheryl Song: We would go on Hollywood Boulevard and find a lot of outfits to wear.
Soul Train: What do you remember most about dancing on the show?
Cheryl Song: The very long days on the set! (Laughs) We stayed there many times until one in the morning.
Soul Train: Being that you were one of the most popular regulars on the show, did you ever have any problems with stalkers?
Cheryl Song: There was one stalker. Someone used to call me all the time and would hang up or would make breathing sounds. It got to a point I couldn’t take it any longer and I confronted him on the phone. He then told told me he knew where I lived and actually said my address. I was very scared, but not long after that, he no longer bothered me. It all stopped.
Soul Train: Having danced on the show for 14 consecutive years, do you have any special memory that stands out?
Cheryl Song: When the Jacksons came on the show. Michael actually spoke to me. I was so excited.
Soul Train: Speaking of Michael, how did you become involved with his legendary music video “Beat It?”
Cheryl Song: I became involved with “Beat It” through Soul Train. Originally, I was only supposed to be on the set of the video to help Michael find some dancers. But since I was already on the set, he and the director wanted me to be in the diner scene. I was also in the background in the closing scene of the video where Michael and the dancers were doing their choreographed routines. I was honored to be a part of it.
Soul Train: Before “Beat It,” you were also in Rick James’ music video “Superfreak.” How did that come about?
Cheryl Song: I knew one of the dancers that was going to be in the video and she told me that the production staff wanted a mixture of women of different races. So that’s how I became a part of that and it was so much fun to do.
Soul Train: You have a funny story about an experience with Stevie Wonder, right?
Cheryl Song: Yes. This was around the time when videos first became popular. I was hanging with Stevie’s crew at his house and someone wanted to watch music videos. The crew tried getting the equipment to work, but it wouldn’t. So we had to wait on Stevie to come and hook up the video equipment. (Laughs).
Soul Train: Why did you leave Soul Train?
Cheryl Song: My partner at the time, Myron Montgomery, wanted to leave. I really didn’t want to, but I soon realized I couldn’t stay on the show forever, so I left.
Soul Train: What are you currently doing these days? Are you still involved in the entertainment industry?
Cheryl Song: I work for the Federal Air Marshall Service at Los Angeles International Airport.
Soul Train: Do you consider yourself to be a Soul Train icon?
Cheryl Song: I don’t think of myself as an icon. Dancing on Soul Train was the happiest time of my life. I am very proud of what I did.
Soul Train: Any advice or words of encouragement you want to leave with the readers of Soultrain.com?
Cheryl Song: To achieve success, it takes a lot of determination, perseverance and talent. But along with all of those things, you still have to be a good person because I believe in karma.
– Stephen McMillian
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In addition to being a dancer/performer, Stephen McMillian is also an up and coming actor and filmmaker.