By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Over a long and distinguished career at Microsoft, Scott Oki served as vice president of sales and marketing, promoted the company throughout the world, and oversaw as many as 3,000 employees at once.
One thing not on his resume, though: Breakdancing, an unlikely gap which he’s now attempting to fill.
Oki, now 72, will take the stage as one of nine celebrity dancers, at the livestreamed “Seattle Dances” fundraiser for Plymouth Housing, a local organization working to eliminate homelessness. The fundraiser, happening at 7 p.m. on March 13, runs online through seattledances.org, and its sister link for online donations at bit.ly/Donate2SD.
In addition, folks tuning in can reserve a Seattle Dances experience package. Each package comes with a program, raffle ticket, refreshments, and party favors. Packages, costing $75, $125, or $250, can be reserved up to March 2 for pick-up from Kaspars Catering and Special Events at 3656 34th Avenue West.
The dancers, overseen by a panel of judges, compete for three trophies: People’s Choice, Judge’s Choice, and Cyber Choice. Styles of dance include Oki’s breakdancing, plus tap dance, Bollywood, jazz, and modern pop.
A Seattle native, Oki’s stretch at Microsoft dates back to 1982, when the company had only 200 employees. But he’s old enough to remember some crucial Asian American history.
“I was born in inner Seattle, on the corner of 14th and Yesler (St. George Apartments),” Oki said. “My family (mom, dad, grandma, me, brother, sister) shared a three-room tenement. Small kitchen, family room, and one bedroom. There was a community bathroom down the hall. My parents scrimped and saved enough to put a down payment on a three-bedroom rambler in Rainier Valley.
“Many other Japanese Americans were doing the same. This was post-WWII internment (EO9066). For the broader Asian community, I think they were adapting. Getting educated. Getting better jobs.”
His charity work dates to 1984, when he started a nonprofit called the Oki Foundation. After retirement from Microsoft in 1992, his involvement in charity and nonprofits escalated dramatically—although he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t recommend serving concurrently on 37 nonprofit boards, something he managed to accomplish over the years.
“Seattle Dances” became a family affair when the former magnate’s son, Alexander Oki, also active in charity work, competed in the event two years ago. For 2021, the younger Oki became co-chair, and it seemed only natural that the older one would become involved.
“A longtime Plymouth Housing supporter initially approached me to dance in 2018, but the timing didn’t work out,” Alexander Oki explained. “But in 2019, I competed as one of nine Seattle Dances celebrity dancers. My professional dance partner (Alison Cockrill) and I performed a waltz routine.”
Masterminding such an involved event does of course require sweat, fortitude, and logistics. But Alexander Oki and his co-chair, Michelle Mathieu, seem happy with the results so far.
“Seattle Dances” aims to offer matching funds for any donations above $250, although, as the younger Oki admits, they’ve temporarily exhausted their matching funding pool. That’s because the dancers went to work prior to the event, giving momentum to the fundraising. But he’s hopeful more donors will step in to refill that pool.
In addition to Scott Oki, celebrity dancers include Alex Nordstrom and Seattle Seahawks tight end Cooper Helfet. Kevin Joyce will host, alongside Hallie Kuperman and Patti Payne.
As for the elder Oki, he confesses to studying breakdancing over the last 15 years.
“Even though I am not very good at it, it never ceases to bring a big smile to my face,” he said. “My main trainer is Jerome Aparis (Jeromeskee) of [the breakdance group] Massive Monkees. They are two-time world champions and periodically front for Macklemore.”
Asked about the most challenging aspects of putting it all together, Alexander Oki was quick to mention the inevitable virus conditions.
“Conducting all of our committee meetings and pre-show events via Zoom has been a blessing and a curse. Being all-virtual saves everyone time they might have spent stuck in traffic or looking for parking, but we’ve missed some of the magic of in-real-life collaboration. I will say [one] highlight has been learning a Bollywood-style dance during our virtual kickoff party!”
Scott Oki hopes that folks will come away from the event with a few laughs, and the notion of celebrities stretching themselves. He’s not planning to participate again, however—except maybe as a supporter. One turn onstage should be enough for him.
Alexander Oki, more involved with the nuts and bolts, has a slightly more sophisticated vision.
“I hope everyone in the audience comes away full of joy at the power of dance, and deeply inspired by the compassionate, effective services Plymouth Housing provides to members of our community in need.
“I’d be delighted to participate in future dance events—I’m especially dreaming of the day when it’s once again safe for social dancing.”
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.