Evolve Dance partnered with Pacific Links Foundation (PALS) to conduct a preliminary dance residency program at The Compassion House, Lao Cai, a residence operated by PALS that provides safe housing and reintegration services to survivors of human trafficking.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, my colleague, Julie B. Johnson, and I began our dance journey by meeting and dancing with local dance artists, opportunities generously arranged and facilitated by the American Embassy Hanoi. We spent a wonderful morning with Mr. Dao An Khan and Ms. Doan Minh Hoan at Dao AnhKhanh’s uniquely beautiful studio in the heart of Hanoi. Creativity and improvisation reigned while it rained….torrential monsoon downpours and flash flooding provided a dramatic backdrop! We then traveled to the campus of the Vietnam Dance College, where we took turns teaching and dancing with enthusiastic and energetic students and faculty. I introduced a small sampling of Mettler-based creative dance movement studies while Julie taught a modified jazz class, creative-movement-based composition exercises and a fun selection from her jazzy repertoire!
The following day, we conducted a full-day creative movement workshop with local social workers, shelter managers, teachers, psychologists and affiliated staff. Sponsored and hosted by Hagar International Hanoi, the workshop consisted of a 3-hour dance session where we explored various creative movement studies followed by a 2-hour open discussion session. Recognizing that most of the attending professionals work with clients who are abuse survivors, we tailored the studies to focus upon body expressions and on celebrating the individual while relating to each other within a group context. Discussions included suggestions on how to adapt the movement studies to specific clients’ needs.
Upon completion of the staff workshop, Julie and I boarded the 8-hour overnight train to Lao Cai to begin the heart of our residency: dancing with the girls at the Compassion House Lao Cai. Located at the border of Vietnam and China and first opened in May 2010, the Compassion House Lao Cai has assisted more than 50 trafficking survivors, 95% of whom are young women from various ethnic minorities between the ages of 13 to 22. On a daily basis, the residents either attend traditional academic schooling or vocational training as part of the reintegration effort. We were anxious to begin dancing with them.
Each 2-hour class was structured with basic movement explorations during first hour and composition/choreography in the second hour. Dancers were encouraged to think and move creatively as individuals, but with increasing awareness of the group. Each succeeding day built upon the skills learned the previous day, with each movement exploration becoming more challenging as the week progressed. We explored a variety of themes, including body expression, individual creativity, leadership, creative thinking, decision-making, group dynamics, just to name a few.
In the composition/choreography section of the class, we took inspiration from the vibrantly colored mural that the girls painted themselves which now hangs on the wall at the shelter. Dancers chose specific elements from the painting which they wished to express; and utilizing movements that they’ve been exploring through the week, they composed and presented 2 originally choreographed pieces. To have accomplished this in 6 short days was amazing!
It was a truly inspirational trip. Being enveloped within the creative energies of Mr. Khanh and Ms. Hoan is an artist’s dream. Meeting the talented students and faculty of the Vietnam Dance College enabled us to share in their passion for dance. And of course, dancing with the girls and the staff at Compassion House Lao Cai was an experience without words. These were a group of extraordinary women: the staff for their commitment to helping and improving the lives of trafficking survivors; the survivors for their inner strength that shows the resilience of the human spirit. We spent a precious week learning from each other, laughing, acting silly, creating a safe space together where the girls can just be girls…and dancers.
This project would not have been possible without the support of many, many people: all the individual donors who have generously sponsored the project; PALS volunteers in Vietnam who traveled, interpreted and danced with us; the incredible staff at the Compassion House Lao Cai, who welcomed us with warmth and love; Hagar International Hanoi who organized and sponsored the staff workshop; the Director and representative from the Council of Anti-Social Evils, who taught us so much about the work that we could continue to do together; the American Embassy Hanoi, who believed in our project and gave us the chance to turn our ideas from concept to reality….and of course, the dancers, who continue to inspire us today.
It is my belief that the ARTS in general and DANCE in particular have evolved with human beings as a way of creating shared experiences and avenues for the affirmation of individual and collective identity and existence.