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Dancing for all they were worth
By Bradley Winterton
Thursday,  Jun 21, 2018,12:45 (GMT+7)

Dancing for all they were worth

By Bradley Winterton

Young dancers pose after their emotional performance - PHOTO: COURTESY OF DANCE SCHOOL OF HCMC

HCMC - This is the time of year for graduations, and the displays of talent that so often go with them. So it was at the Dance School of HCMC, the city’s premier dance school, one morning recently.

A large number of students were already assembled when I arrived at the spacious studio on the fifth floor at 155 bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 3. In addition, there were some 70 spectators, almost all with phones or cameras at the ready - families of the dancers, no doubt, eagerly attending to the proceedings.

As if this wasn’t enough, there was also to the left a band of some 10 musicians, conducted by a lady in traditional costume standing in the middle of the instrumentalists. These consisted of a pianist, wind and string instrumentalists, and, most notably, percussionists. These last were crucial, because Tuesday, the second day of the four-day event, was to be a day dedicated to Vietnamese dance.

Lastly, a panel of judges, or perhaps graders, sat across the front of the spectators.

As I arrived a group of 13 girls dressed in pink were dancing at various speeds, soon to be joined by four men in black and white, with yellow girdles. They all wore dancing slippers, I noticed, so small that initially I’d thought they were dancing barefoot.

The girls re-appeared carrying circular trays of seeds, showing the dances to be, at least in part, agricultural rituals. Smiles were ubiquitous throughout.

Then emerged the men again, this time carrying long, round drums, and at one point spectacularly jumping over them. Later these same men engaged in a sort of hip-dance.

It was an airy, well-equipped studio with theater lights everywhere, and long, grey curtains covering all the windows.

This was the six-year class, we were informed by a large poster at the far end of the studio. The later ones would be four-year and two-year classes. And indeed the next class followed after a pause of some 15 minutes. A change in the attending spectators suggested they were indeed friends and family of the dancers, leaving when their relative or friend’s turn had come to an end.

In the new class, man and women were dressed in yellow with black trousers, with the men having in addition red belts. Five men and five women began it, but others were to join soon afterwards. Eventually there were nine men and five girls.

One surprise was that at two points the band stopped playing and was replaced by a recorded song, obviously something this class’s teachers had decided couldn’t be omitted from a traditional Vietnamese performance.

Later on, royal-looking headdresses were donned by men and girls alike, with the boys’ red belts now being replaced by grey ones. These headdresses, with their prominent ear-flaps, had the effect of making it harder to distinguish the individual performers. A break for lunch then ensued.

All in all, this was an amazingly impressive morning. The enthusiasm of all the performers was palpable, and I came away feeling that those smiles were not being adopted to order. I had the strong feeling that everyone involved had enjoyed the show enormously.

This is the Vietnam I love I thought as I went down the stairs, not District 2’s Thao Dien, cluttered with foreigners like me, which I couldn’t leave fast enough when I happened to visit it the previous day.

My mind was flooded with images of the happy young Vietnamese and their ageless traditional dance. “I never want to leave this country,” I said to myself as I left the building for the busy lunchtime street.

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