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 or IDA.
After class, Adrian started chatting up a storm with Viet and I thought I’d interview him for Queerious as I was fascinated by Viet’s extraordinary background and talent.
Q: I know you have a really interesting background and you speak 9 languages. Can you talk about where you were born and raised and then how you ended up in America?
LOL. Actually I only speak 7 languages not 9. 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. A yea later, Switzerland gave my whole family asylum so we moved to Switzerland. Switzerland is a multilingual country. I grew up with Vietnamese and German, and learned French and English in school. And thanks to my travels over the years as a hip hop teacher, choreographer and dancer I started learning other languages such as Italian and Spanish. I learned Japanese at the university.
Q: How did you get into dancing?
It was by coincidence. My older sister signed up for a dance class under contract for 6 months. But when she injured her knees, she had to either lose the money she had already paid or to give the contract to a relative. So she gave it to me. I was 16 at the time and I had to sneak out to classes as my very traditional Vietnamese parents didn’t want boys to dance.
After six months of training, I qualified myself for the Swiss championship.
My parents never supported me on that. They hated it. When they learned about the championship, they wanted to lock me in the bathroom and not let me go to the competition. But my older sister convinced them to let me give it a try. In order to convince them, I had to promise them that if I lost I would never dance again. Only if I won the first prize they would allow me to continue dancing as a hobby.
And I won the first prize! I didn’t know how I did it, but it happened somehow. And I started teaching as well.
Q: I know you teach a lyrical hip hop class at IDA. How would you describe your style as a dancer? What are your influences as a choreographer?
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 with an edge. People also tell me that I dance like a snake. My influences as a choreographer came from different travels to Los Angeles, New York, and London learning from teachers like Tovaris Wilson, Tabitha and Napoleon, Matt Cady, Jermaine Brown etc. But I also like European dance theater which has a different approach of choreography.
Q: I know you did a bunch of flashmob projects. Can you talk a little about the idea of “flashmob” and how did those projects come about?
I just saw some on Youtube and I was fascinated by how much joy and life flashmobs 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.
Q: Can you talk about the relationship between being a dancer and a choreographer? Let’s say if you’re on a job, do you approach these two roles differently?
As I dancer you try your best to do what the choreographer tells you to do. You shouldn’t question yourself too much but simply trust the choreographer’s work. You’re a tool to help the choreographer build his/her vision.
As a choreographer you should question yourself all the time in terms of how to make your vision a reality. You are responsible for both the dancers and the movements. It’s extremely challenging.
Q: In Los Angeles, what are your immediate goals and aspirations? Are you working on any upcoming cool projects?
I have both short-term goals and some long-term goals. My short-term goals are booking tours with artists like Lady Gaga, Madonna or Janet Jackson. I love unconventional people and I think they are attracted to me as well.
For the long-term, I would love to establish myself as a choreographer, travel the world with my work and choreograph artist tours and television shows. One day I’d like to get into the film industry with my dancing.
After arriving in Los Angeles for three months, having danced on the Grammys, shooting for Levis and teaching at IDA, I guess I can allow myself to dream big.
Q: By the way, I love your long hair. Can you talk about how you came up with that long hair styling?
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.
Even my agent told me, “Your look is unique even here in the US. It can be for your disadvantage when people are looking for the ‘all-american-look,’ but it can be for you advantage when casting directors, artists and choreographers are looking for something special or want to try something new. “