Some of us remember the days of the Vietnam War: unending gloomy news, daily atrocities on our TV screens. It is heartening to realize that there is peace in Vietnam today and even a thriving swing dance community in Hanoi, Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City and even in once strife-torn Da Nang. Thank you to Thuy Uong from Saigon Swing Cats, Iraj De Silva from Swing Dancing Ha Noi and Chau Quynh Le from Da Nang Swing Cool Kidz for this history of swing dance in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Swing scene first started in Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City) in 2006 when Michel Tosto a Swing dancer from Montreal relocated to Saigon and decided to teach swing classes to locals to be able to continue his hobby. In 2007, Michel invited Sinclair Ang from Singapore to come give a weekend workshop and this intrigued and attracted more people to swing dance. In 2008, swing dancers from Saigon started traveling to Beijing (Great Wall Swing Out) and Hong Kong (Hong Kong Lindy Exchange) marking our presence on the World Swing Map. In 2009, the first Vietnam Lindy Exchange (VLX) was born with the idea of dance exchange vacation on a beach. Since then, so many “cats” traveled to many other countries to make friends and to DANCE. Some cats also made it to present at Frankie 100. In 2018, Saigon Swing Fest No.1 was born with the concept of bringing live swing band, professional teachers and performers for a weekend of cultural exchange, party and workshops to improve our dance-ability. The event featured Hot Sugar Band, international teachers from Europe and Asia and composed of 25 nationalities in participants. March 2018 also marked 10-year anniversary of the VLX, Vietnam Lindy Exchange.
Several years after Sai Gon Swing Cats were born, Swing Dancing Hanoi (SDH) was started in 2010 by Lisa Fitzgerald (AUS) during her job posting in Hanoi. Swing dancing being a vast genre of dance forms, the group focuses mostly on the original form of swing dance, the LINDY HOP! Whilst the details are a bit sketchy, the belief is that she recruited a few want-to-be lindy hoppers and started regular classes with about six dancers at the Cinemateque in Hanoi. With Lisa’s departure in 2012; SDH went in to hibernation until Andrew Finnigan (AUS), a short term resident in Hanoi, gathered the remaining few of the original SDH group and a few fresh faces and resumed weekly dance sessions in mid 2014. During this period semi-regular classes, along with the occasional workshops, were conducted. This resurgence also gave way to some of the dancers making it to regional exchanges and camps such as VLX and SEAJam letting the Swing Dance world know of Hanoi. Unfortunately, the group could not find sufficient traction to last beyond Andrew’s departure in early 2015; primarily due to the enthusiastic and dedicated local dancers moving out of Hanoi.
Two years later, three avid dancers who had never met each other before; Mich Erre (Italy) who was transiting in Hanoi for 24 hours, Iraj de Silva (Sri Lanka) and Haetnim Kim (Korea) banded together with five other enthusiastic individuals (Vu, Son, Hue – Vietnam; Vincent – France; Autumn – USA) who had no idea what Swing dancing was, at the Hanoi Botanical Gardens on the 14th of May, 2017 reviving SDH. Following this fateful meeting, Iraj and Haetnim commenced regular classes on lazy Sunday evenings. Starting with just a single beginner level class back then; SDH now conducts multiple beginner (Level-1) and Beginner-Intermediate (Level-2) classes along-side a weekly social dance.
Over the course of one year the community has grown from a small, closely knit family of eight dancers to more than forty! The building of the community thus far has truly been a “global” effort. During this period Saigon based dancers Cao Minh Phuong & David Yoo; professional dancers Dong-Yeob Lee (South Korea) and dancing duo Eva Haffemann & An Dun Dang (Germany) have been instrumental in solidifying the SDH community by volunteering their time and talents through multiple workshops.
Taking a bold step in introducing Hanoi to the rest of the world via Swing Dancing; SDH will be hosting its first regional dance festival in November, 2018 titled Hanoi Autumn Swing-Out featuring renowned international dance instructors Jenna Applegarth and Jon Tigert (USA).
The community constantly works with local musicians and lovers of everything that is jazz in building the swing jazz music scene and establishing more venues for dancing and spreading the joy of Swing Dancing throughout Hanoi.
While swing scene in Ha Noi and Sai Gon were up and running for a long time, this dance was introduced to people in central Vietnam very recently. In 2016, Anne and Chau, 2 kittens grown up from Sai Gon Swing Cats living in Da Nang decided to bring swing dance to town, calling it Da Nang Swing Cool Kidz. As they both started dancing as follows, they had to teach themselves how to lead to be able to conduct classes. The very first class was a success, so they decided to keep it going once every week to show people all the “rock steps” of Lindy Hop.
Not so long after Da Nang Swing Cool Kidz was founded, they discovered that there was a jazz/ swing band in town called The HAT Jazz Band and their music was what all dancers wished to dance to. The cool kidz then followed HAT Jazz Band everywhere they played to practice and to social dance. Just like Chick Webb or Count Basie to the Savoy Ballroom, HAT Jazz Band is the fire that keep the cool kidz alive and kicking.
Even though there was a time when the cool kidz stopped having class and social dance as Chau and Anne were busy with their work and not in town, the cool kidz now are having their class and social at least once a week, attracting both expats and locals. As Da Nang Swing is running as a non-profit group, all classes and socials are for free which helps more young people, especially students to get to know Lindy Hop.
2018 has been a thriving year for Da Nang Swing Cool Kidz with lots of events organized for local dancers, such as Lindy by the river, Lindy by the beach, Swing and Swim in the beautiful peninsula of Son Tra, in the aim of spreading the joy of dancing swing and Lindy Hop to everyone in Da Nang and more.
This article is contributed by Thuy Uong from Saigon Swing Cats, Iraj from Swing Dancing Ha Noi and Chau from Da Nang Swing Cool Kidz.