Dancers as Diplomats

Using dance to cross boundaries as well as to promote social change

Holding common ground pathways to cultural exchange in Vietnam, a seminar that’s sponsored by The American Embassy, will see a number of movement and dance experts from the US coming to Vietnam for an exciting cultural exchange experience for a variety of planned events focused on the art of dance. Just a few examples of what’s on offer include lectures that examine the role of traditional cultural dance forms, how dance creates cross-cultural exchange, an understanding of dance movement therapy, and dance as a voice for social action. In addition, there will be workshops to put some of the theories spoken about in those lectures into corporeal action.

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Emily Navarra

The impetus for this event came when professor of dance Jeanne Travers, an instructor at the University of South Florida whose choreography has been presented internationally, approached Emily Navarra, the director of The Movement Kitchen in Chicago, who previously lived in Saigon for 8 years. As Emily described it, “When she came to me initially about doing this, I thought, this is not only an opportunity for me to come back, but it’s a chance to collaborate with Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy (SMPAA) and its students for the first time, and to reconnect with my professor and university classmates.”

Adding: “Every American participating in this seminar is a product of the University of South Florida Theatre and Performing Arts program and it is an opportunity for them to share their knowledge, have this new cultural exchange and to get to see why I stayed in Vietnam for so long, so I just couldn’t pass this up. I applied for a grant and once I was awarded—I began the process of working with Jeanne Travers closely and later—reaching out to Dr. Alexander Tu (of SMPAA) with our proposal.”

Lisa Roll
Lisa Roll

Jeanne’s participation includes co-creating an original work of choreography with her colleague Lisa Roll. The choreography will be created on dancers from Vietnam who currently perform with Dr. Alex. She will also be teaching a master class in Contemporary Dance and Improvisation and co-teaching two additional workshops with Lisa, who is a Dance Movement Therapist. They combine principles of DMT with improvisation and choreography.

The 10-day event (April 3-13) will also include 20 workshops, as well as several lectures and panel discussions, all capped off with a performance program of 15 works with choreographers from Vietnam and the US. While the events will be conducted mostly in English, there will be a focus on reaching out to a Vietnamese audience. “This seminar is a cultural exchange so it is important that the Vietnamese have a presence, therefore 70 percent of the dancers and choreographers participating are Vietnamese. With that said, we also hope that dance forms perhaps less known or little accessed intrigues students and the public to come and participate or observe the events taking place throughout the seminar. With free admission to the seminar we expect a good local turnout,” says Emily.

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Of the various types of dance that will be examined and performed over the course of events it includes modern, contemporary, ballet, performance art, waacking, contact improvisation, hip hop, African dance and more. Waacking is a type of dance formed in the LGBT clubs of the 1970s during the disco craze where dancers swing their arms in the air to the beat of the music. Contact improvisation is much like it sounds; an improvisational dance where performers become interpretive depending on the movements of their dance partner. While most of the events are designed for an audience that is 16 or older, the African dance workshop entitled African Dance Form and led by Spencer Powell is for kids ages 5-16. In this workshop Spencer will give information about the poly-rhythmic nature and movement of traditional African dance, and during this process help the children create their own tribal dance.

Spencer Powell
Spencer Powell

Beyond the African dance workshop, Spencer Powell, the artistic director of the Visionary Dance Theatre in San Diego, will be presenting some of his choreography as well as leading other workshops throughout the course of events. This will be his first visit to Vietnam, “I am very excited to experience Vietnam and share my work with the Vietnamese audience and participants. Events such as these provide the ability for me to share the American modern and contemporary dance culture with Vietnamese performers. Not only do they get to watch dance works from other countries, they get to experience workshops by some of the choreographers. Additionally, my own life is enriched by this hands-on experience with the people of Vietnam. This will be a truly two-way cultural exchange event.”

For more info and the complete schedule of events and locations, visit www.themovementkitchen.com

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