Business Briefing: For 25 years, AsiaSF choreographer has kept the beat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 12, 2023
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Ronnie Reddick is surrounded by the girls of AsiaSF at an Equality California event. Photo: Courtesy Ronnie Reddick
Ronnie Reddick is surrounded by the girls of AsiaSF at an Equality California event. Photo: Courtesy Ronnie Reddick

Growing up in San Francisco's Little Hollywood neighborhood Ronnie Reddick began modeling at the age of 17. He then enrolled at a Black-owned dance school in the city and soon found himself choreographing fashion shows.

"My model friends had dance skills," recalled Reddick.

He credits his late friend and dancer Gabriel Trupin, who died due to AIDS in 1995, for convincing him that he could also dance professionally. Trupin had performed for a number of megastar singers, most famously as a 19-year-old featured dancer in Madonna's 1990 Blonde Ambition tour, captured in the film "Truth or Dare."

"He pushed me to dance. I was very introverted and very shy," said Reddick.

Yet he was able to break out of his shell to work as a go-go dancer for various dance parties in the city during the 1990s. One of the first people to employ him was DJ Page Hodel for her party at The Box.

Reddick would also perform at the gay dance venues Club Universe, EndUp, and the Trocadero. But as he recalled years later on a podcast, he never received the same attention or tips as his fellow white dancers.

"In the gay community, I did feel very invisible. I wasn't a body," explained Reddick on the show. "I was this very lean dancer body, African American kid who dressed to the nines; I was always decked out. I wasn't naked and not in a G-string or booty shorts and chain link harness. I would wear collars and hats. I wouldn't get tipped like other guys."

Reddick, now 59, doesn't identify as gay or straight, he explained to the Bay Area Reporter over a chicken salad lunch at the Brazilian eatery and coffeehouse Cafe de Casa in the Castro LGBTQ district. Although he eschews defining his sexual orientation, Reddick has been with his partner, Lorenzo Henderson, for nearly 31 years.

The couple live in Vallejo and rarely spend time in the Castro or San Francisco in general. What does draw Reddick across the bay is his work as the choreographer for AsiaSF, the South of Market restaurant and club that features transgender cabaret performers who double as the venue's waitstaff.

Having opened at 201 Ninth Street the night of Friday, April 17, 1998, AsiaSF's founders Larry Hashbarger and Skip Young are marking their 25th anniversary this weekend. Reddick came on board as the show choreographer for AsiaSF in October that year and has been with it ever since.

He works with each of the performers on their outfits, song choices, and dance routines. His aim is to create a full show rather than a string of individual lip-synced performances.

"People who know this business will know the difference. But the average person coming in looking for a good time will have no idea this is a choreographed show," said Reddick. "It is staged. It is not a free-for-all."

Reddick emphasized that the entertainment put on at the venue is not a drag show. It is more along the lines of a cabaret show, he explained, and all of the performers are transgender individuals.

"We want to elevate lip synching with costumes and choreography. A lot of the girls have performed in the drag world because they didn't have a trans place to go," said Reddick.

Unlike at a drag brunch, where the cast will be collecting dollars and other bills from the audience during their performance, Reddick noted that AsiaSF performers don't stop mid-song to gather cash tips. Customers can tip when given their bill to pay at the end of the performance, he explained.

"We do dance choreography. I don't like people doing cartwheels, splits or she-bams — death drops," he said. "I don't think we are better than drag — I love drag — we are just different. We are a trans cabaret show."

He is also deliberate in how he stages each act so it isn't campy nor does it present the female performers as sex objects, he said.

"AsiaSF celebrates these trans girls for their talent, and I don't want them to be over sexualized. You don't need it. It's sexy already," said Reddick. "I want it to be polished and glamorous."

A struggle at times

Achieving those goals over the years has been a bit of a struggle at times, Reddick acknowledged, as sometimes he and the performers have not seen eye-to-eye. There have been arguments over everything from the costumes and songs to the choreography, he said.

A majority of the performers at AsiaSF have been Filipina, which over the years has resulted in some tension when performers of other races have been hired, said Reddick. Charges of favoritism have also been leveled against him, he said, due to a performer's misreading his intentions when working with them on improving their portion of the show.

"I don't have any favorites. I only care if you are on time and doing your job," said Reddick. "I am very protective of them all."

At the end of the day, said Reddick, his only concern is that the women of AsiaSF put on the best show they can present for their customers and freshen it up over time to give audiences a reason to come back.

"I want the best for the company. I want the best for these girls. For them to succeed, there has to be a little tough love," he said.

Comedian Mo'Nique, left, joined Ronnie Reddick at an event. Photo: Courtesy Ronnie Reddick  

For as long as he has worked with AsiaSF, Reddick has also been the show director for the Bill Hopkins Rock'n Orchestra. His dance career has also taken Reddick around the world and led him to spend nearly a year in the late 1990s living in South Korea.

The popular singer Lee Seung-chul had come to America to audition dancers and ended up meeting Reddick, who had created a dance division with the Stars Modeling Agency. He hired Reddick, along with a male and female friend of Reddick's who were also African American, to perform with him as a hip-hop dancer and be his choreographer.

"It was my only time being a celebrity. We were on commercials or TV shows almost every day," recalled Reddick, who called the performer "the Elvis of Korea." "We were treated very well."

For the last 21 years Reddick has been a senior lecturer at Stanford University teaching about hip-hop. He has also taught in the dance department at Santa Clara University for the past six years.

He has worked with various artists during his career, including drag queen RuPaul on several occasions. Once was when she was cast on the TV show "Nash Bridges" that filmed in San Francisco for an episode in which Reddick was also cast as a contestant in a transgender beauty pageant.

One of his biggest career disappointments came with the shuttering of AsiaSF's Palm Springs location, which Reddick had helped launch back in early 2020 just as the COVID pandemic began to spread. It closed its doors that March 14 and did reopen in 2022, but the venue closed again that July.

"It was so sad," Reddick recalled. "Those girls gave me everything."

The closing number, from the Broadway musical "Dream Girls," will be reprised during the silver anniversary shows for the San Francisco location that kick off Thursday night and run through an invite-only event on Sunday. Nearly all of the performers who have been featured at AsiaSF have been invited back for the occasion.

"I am bringing the Palm Springs girls in," said Reddick. "This is the first time we are collaborating with all the girls together."

For more information about AsiaSF, or to make a reservation online for an upcoming dinner and show, visit

Honor Roll
The women- and queer-owned bottle shop and wine bar DECANTsf in San Francisco's South of Market district has been named the LGBTQIA+ Venue of the Year by the Bar & Restaurant Expo. The industry group announced the winners of its 2023 excellence awards during a special ceremony March 29 in Las Vegas.

Sommeliers Cara Patricia and Simi Grewal opened their business, which also doubles as an educational events space, in May 2019 at 1168 Folsom Street near Eighth Street. For more information about the store and bar, including the hours for each, or to order online
click here.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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