Cheryl Song is one of the most famous and recognizable dancers from Soul Train. Her long hair, exotic outfits, and the fact that she was the only Asian dancer on the program in the ‘70s and ‘80s made her a standout. In this exclusive interview, she discusses her recent appearance at the 2015 Soul Train Awards, a personal situation she never spoken about publicly, and future plans which are indicative of her motto: “The Song is just as clear…if not louder.”
Cheryl Song: It is always wonderful going to the Soul Train Awards, meeting the press and the fans. It is such a great honor and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it after having danced on the Soul Train for 14 years. Soul Train was such a big part of my life. Erykah Badu, the hostess of the awards ceremony, found out that I was going to be there so she expressed to the producers that she wanted me on stage. They got in touch with my manager and we came to the rehearsal on Thursday, and the producers got together to find a way to make me a part of the show. They included me in the performance of R. Kelly’s “Backyard Party,” which was the finale. I was so surprised to not only be dancing on stage, but when Erykah Badu pulled me up and announced my name it was a dream come true. It couldn’t have gone any better.
SoulTrain.com: Absolutely! I was in the audience and I was thinking that you must have been extremely gratified for Erykah to give you a special shout out because there are a lot of people who didn’t know your name but only identified you as “the Asian girl with the long hair.”
Cheryl Song: Right! I remember I was at the BET Awards getting publicity for the Soul Train cruise, and one of the fans came up to me with an old picture with a caption that read,“Whatever happened to the Asian girl with the long hair?”She then asked me, “Is that you?”I said, “Yes, that’s me!”
SoulTrain.com: You were also a part of some other festivities of the 2015 Soul Train Awards weekend, including the Celebrity Golf Tournament. What was that like?
Cheryl Song: It was a charity event. John Sally, Coolio, Omarosa and so many other celebrities were there. It was a very well put together event. It was held at the Valley High Golf Resort to raise money for the Don Cornelius Foundation, for which I have been working with Don’s son, Tony, doing fundraisers.
I owe Don Cornelius so much. He gave me my big break. He let me dance on an all-black show, which took a lot of guts. He could have easily said no, this is a black show, but he let me dance on his show. I also worked for Don in his production office. We need to keep Don Cornelius’ legacy alive because he did so much. So whatever I can do, I will do. Tony and I do a lot of events for the Don Cornelius Foundation.
SoulTrain.com: If it wasn’t for Don Cornelius and Soul Train, if Soul Train was never a part of your life, what do you think you would be doing in your career right now?
Cheryl Song: I’ve always wanted to do something with entertainment. Dance is my love. I was a dance major in school. I always wanted to be in that arena. When I got on Soul Train and the music started playing and I started dancing, it was like something clicked and I felt like this was what I was meant to do.
SoulTrain.com: There is something you wanted to share that you have never publicly revealed, not even when I first interviewed you.
Cheryl Song: Yes. A lot of people don’t know that when I was on Soul Train, I broke my back. My dance partner and I did a lot of shows outside of Soul Train. We were in rehearsal and we were doing a lift, and my partner dropped me. Luckily, it was a quick recovery, but it was really scary. It happened on a weekend and I was rushed to a hospital. They really didn’t know what was going on but they wouldn’t let me move. When it was discovered I had fractured a vertebrae, I was so scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Luckily, it wasn’t debilitating so I had a really good recovery and I was able to continue dancing.
Fast forward to today, my back started getting really bad from dancing and being so active. So two years ago I had major back surgery and I have two steel rods going down my spine from the top of my shoulder blade. I kind of had the same back injury that Gloria Estefan had. I didn’t know what was going to happen after surgery, because a lot of people who have this surgery have not had good results. I know people who are still in pain, but Gloria Estefan and I have been so lucky. I can still walk, I can still dance, and I still taught classes during the Soul Train cruise. But I have a different focus now. My manager and I are taking the reins and we are focusing on health and fitness.
SoulTrain.com: That’s wonderful. Tell me more about this.
Cheryl Song: We are working on some television projects that emphasize health and fitness. Now that I’ve had this surgery, it is imperative that I stay healthy and fit—otherwise, I can’t move. I want to let people who have back injuries know that it is possible to move and be pain- free, but at the same time it is important to be healthy and fit.
SoulTrain.com: It’s interesting you mention fitness, because back in 1986 you were a part of Jayne Kennedy’s Love Your Body exercise video.
Cheryl Song: Yes! This was when the exercise craze had just come about. Aerobics was really hot, so I did videos with Jayne Kennedy and with Jane Fonda, who at the time was the big leader in aerobics and fitness. I also did another exercise video with the late Jack LaLanne. He was into fitness before anyone else was into it. I was his assistant on the project. I also taught aerobics for different health clubs, and I think that’s what helped me stay fit being an aerobics teacher and dance teacher.
SoulTrain.com: I understand you are no longer a part of the Soul Train Cruises.
Cheryl Song: The cruises were so much fun, especially being on the inaugural cruise. It was so exciting! The people were great, it was fun teaching the classes and meeting all of the people who were aboard, but now it’s time for me to concentrate more on the health and fitness aspect and getting these television projects underway.
SoulTrain.com: Do you have a target date for these projects to commence?
Cheryl Song: They’re still in development but as soon as we have some news, we will let you know.
SoulTrain.com: Getting back to the Soul Train Cruise, are there any special memories that stand out?
Cheryl Song: It kind of brought back how it was to teach aerobic and dance classes. I used to teach dance classes when Don Cornelius had his Soul Train Dance Studio. He had created another venture to open up the dance studio in West Hollywood, and he would get the best teachers to come and teach class. He got some of us from the show to teach street dance so I was employed as one of the dance teachers. The studio didn’t last very long, but I really loved it. Teaching dance on the cruises brought back the joy of dance; just seeing the people learn the steps and have so much fun doing the steps brought back a lot of great memories.
SoulTrain.com: Although Soul Train will forever be a part of you, you are now forging ahead building your own brand. What is the Cheryl Song brand?
Cheryl Song: One component of my brand is that I like to carry myself in a dignified and classy way. I’m really touched that people have been so nice to me since I just started being on social media, and people have been saying they always remembered me from Soul Train and they loved the way that I dressed and the way I presented myself. So that is what I want to continue to do, to present myself in a dignified, classy way and be very respectful, positive, and grateful. I am so grateful, especially after having been through the surgery. I am also grateful to all the fans because I didn’t know that they would still remember me. It is so nice to be remembered.
SoulTrain.com: What word of wisdom do you want to share?
Cheryl Song: I like to leave people feeling good because I’m so appreciative of all the things that people have done for me. I want to pay it forward. Also, be grateful, humble, and appreciative of all the things you are blessed with.
Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.