My friend Adrian dragged me to my first hip hop class almost five years ago. Without any background in dance, I was thrust into Jason Wright’s class where I could barely do the first eight counts. That was when I realized that dancing is really hard. But I would keep trying and learning. A week ago, Adrian called me again to try Viet Dang’s lyrical hip hop class out at the International Dance Academy.
“What is lyrical hip hop?” I asked. “Well to describe one’s style is kind of difficult. But I can tell you what people tell me when they see me dancing. It’s dancing to the lyrics of a song. Very sensual and edgy. People also tell me I dance like a snake,” explained Viet after class. Let me tell you, Adrian and I looked completely foolish in our first class. Our excuse was that we were not professional dancers and tried to laugh it off. Of course it didn’t help that Adrian is now twice the size that he was when we first started taking classes.
Although I wasn’t proud of my dancing, Viet made us feel warm and welcome in his class. Of course, we would always stand in the back to let the better dancers dance up front. After class, Adrian started chatting up a storm with Viet and I was totally fascinated by Viet’s background. Viet said, “I speak seven languages: German, Vietnamese, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. My parents are both Vietnamese. They flew from the war and ended up in a refugee camp in Malaysia where I was born. After one year in the Malaysian camp, Switzerland gave my whole family asylum and so we moved to Switzerland. As Switzerland is a multilingual country, I grew up with Vietnamese and German and learned French and English in school. And thanks to my travel over the years as a hip hop teacher, choreographer and dancer I started to learn other languages such as Italian and Spanish. And I learned Japanese at the university.”
I find it fascinating that European Asians often share a similar outlook and sensibility with Asian Americans. And of course, Viet is now in America. An immigrant like me.
After I got home, I started looking up Viet’s clips on Youtube. I realized that he did a bunch of flashmob hip hop videos in Switzerland. What is a flash mob, you’d ask? To quote Wikipedia, “A flash mob (or flashmob) is a term coined in 2003 to denote a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails. The term is generally not applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts, that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals.”
“I just saw some on Youtube and I was fascinated by how much joy and life a flashmob can express. So I did some in Switzerland as well. I mean seeing a flashmob on Youtube is one thing, but being there in person in the middle of hundreds of people dancing is something you can’t describe. You really have to be there in person. I think a flashmob would be an ideal demonstration. It’s a positive demonstration without the negative messages full of fear and anger. It also might attract people’s attention more easily,” said Viet.
I, of course, would love to be in a flashmob one of these days.
Another memorable thing about Viet is his long hair. When I asked him about it, he said, “People always want to see edgy dancers with special or unique looks. As a dancer, you have to stand out in the crowd beyond your dancing. But really my hair just happened by coincidence. I always had my hair very short. My best friend once suggested, ‘Why don’t you let you hair grow? I love you with longer hair especially when you dance and it moves around.’ So I let it grow. And the longer my hair got the more positive reactions I got and the more dance jobs I booked. Nowadays it’s a part of my look.”
Yesterday night, I went back to Viet’s class for the second time. It wasn’t easy for me but I sweated and had a blast anyway. A lot of choreographers would teach before they get famous and once they hit big time they would stop teaching. An example is Phi Nguyen who taught beginning hip hop for almost three years at the Edge until Jabbawockeez won the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew. I don’t think Phi has taught since. So it’s always a treat to be able to take classes with talented dancers and choreographers before they become famous. And I could only imagine professional dancers must be pulling their hair out silently while teaching amateurs like me. But I’m glad I have a chance to learn with the best… and I’m sure Viet is on his way.