Schooled in hip hop culture

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Mỹ Anh, dancer and teacher. Photo courtesy of Mỹ Anh

Inner sanctum: When did you first start dancing?

In middle school, I started doing K-pop dance covers by myself for fun. When I got to high school and was blown away by its dance club’s performance, I auditioned and won a place. I began taking lessons seriously at that time, and am still dancing.

Inner sanctum: And when did your teaching career get underway?

I joined Last Fire Crew as a freshman at university. It was a small, unknown crew back then. I started teaching and performing with the crew as we gained more recognition. I taught for no pay initially and only started earning a year or two into it. During my last two years at university, I realised I had become much more devoted to dancing than to my translation major. But I decided to finish my degree, and then applied to studios for teaching jobs as my main career, as well as dancing and choreographing.

Inner sanctum: What does a typical working week look like?

I’m pretty much free during the daytime. I teach three classes in the evening, which amounts to six times a week. I also teach private classes during the day. In my free time, I do research and study into the art of dance and practise with the crew three times a week. I try to keep my schedule empty on the weekend for performances and competitions, and I’m often invited to be a judge.

Inner sanctum: What do you like about what you do?

Besides getting to do what I love and am passionate about, I get positive energy from my students. Seeing how hard the beginners try, I feel even more motivated to do it well. I also get to meet people from many different walks of life and age groups, who are all happy and excited to learn how to dance. My advanced class choreographed their final performance recently. It really was wonderful.

Inner sanctum: Did you struggle with teaching at first?

Of course. I didn’t have enough knowledge to be teaching back then. At some point, I didn’t know what to teach next, and had a major growth slump. I believe that every teacher needs to constantly update their knowledge. For dance teachers, it’s important to stay abreast of trends, like teaching TikTok moves, which are well received by the younger audience.

Teaching kids was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I was really stressed out and couldn’t help but scream at them. Then I went to training and workshops and picked up the skills I lacked. It turned out that, with kids, you shouldn’t talk too much -- you should just do it and show them.

Inner sanctum: Was it easy to approach hip hop culture despite not living abroad? Why is it important to learn about the culture when learning hip hop?

I only seriously looked into it when I started to teach, so I could give the students some basic knowledge. But self-research is not enough. I attended workshops and sought advice from professional international dancers I met at contests, to deepen my knowledge. Hip hop is an imported culture. It’s not our own. To know it well is to respect other people’s culture.

Inner sanctum: I see that you’re really detailed at giving cues. Is there a reason behind that?

As a student, I liked teachers who taught meticulously. Students sign up for classes so they can dance as well as the teacher. So it’s important to show them how to go about it.

Some teachers aren’t certain of what they are teaching, and come across as lost. But when they know what they’re doing, so will the students.

Inner sanctum: How does it feel to win teacher awards?

I’m actually a very competitive person in everything I do. As it was done by voting, I lobbied all of my students to vote for me. The award is also physical proof of a year of hard work as a teacher.

Inner sanctum: What’s the best thing about the hip hop community in Việt Nam?

I’ve heard that hip hop abroad is divided into many different styles and crews who tend to compete against each other, since it revolves around the “battle” culture.

In Việt Nam, all of the crews are pretty much united and so free to create. Hip hop is also taught in studios, which gives more people the opportunity to learn and practise. VNS

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