8 Hapa Women Who Made History: Dancer Sono Osato


Sono Osato (August 29, 1919 – December 26, 2018)

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Not every mixed-race performer needed to “pass” in the 1930s and 1940s. Sono Osato was a pioneering dancer with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre before winning over audiences on Broadway. She was the first dancer of Japanese descent, and the first American, to join Ballet Russe.

Born in Omaha at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states, Osato never hid her heritage. Not even after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Her family was affected during the war. Her father was confined as an “enemy alien” in Chicago and her brother joined the All-Japanese Regimental Combat Team, the 442nd.

Despite wartime tensions, Osato found success on the Broadway stages, dancing for legends like Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. Her turn as “Miss Turnstiles” in On The Town showcased her talents as a dancer. And giant plaque proclaims that she’s “exotic… and flower-like,” a sign of the times.

Osato went on to marry and live out her life in New York City. She died in December 2018 at age 99.

Read more about Sono Osato here.



Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and The Nerds of Color. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.