And all that jazz

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  Choreographer and dancer Huyen Ho says she feels as if jazz dancing was "˜destined' for her

The arrival of foreign reality shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" has sparked off a frenzy of interest in dancing.

In Hanoi, dance studios cannot introduce new genres fast enough, with jazz being the most popular among young people.

In the past jazz dance was merely one subject taught in arts colleges and institutes, but the arrival of a jazz-inspired dance genre hip-hop jazz in 2009 took it to the city's dance floors.
Hip-hop and breakdancing had become popular in Vietnam by then.

But the definition of jazz dance is still fuzzy though some dancers have incorporated its smooth moves in their choreography.

Ho Minh Huyen, stage name Huyen Ho, is a young choreographer, dance instructor, and dancer who has been a pioneer in jazz dancing. She began to dance hip-hop at 13 and joined two dancing groups.

"I was impressed by jazz movements from the very first time I watched it," she says.

"It was as if it was destined for me."

A year later she and four of her classmates formed "Passio," a hip hop/jazz dance troupe, which she says stands for "passion without an en'."

"It is not easy to do jazz dancing," Huyen says.

"You do not just do the movements, you have to express your feelings, your emotions, through them."

It also needs ballet skills, which is a challenge for people above 20, she says.

I have had the opportunity to learn different forms of jazz dancing: lyrical jazz which is mostly based on the emotion and content of the song, funky jazz which requires hip-hop's technique but is somewhat funky and eccentric. Each evokes different emotions in me."

In 2011 Huyen was admitted to Singapore's Lasalle College of Arts. Unfortunately, she picked up a nasty injury and had to postpone her studies for a year.

She moved back to Vietnam and formed another troupe in Vietnam called 808 Dance Crew.

Another well-known young jazz choreographer, instructor, and dancer in Hanoi is Nguyen Vu Khanh, aka Khanh Hipz.

He learnt jazz at the same class as Huyen, but his story is slightly different; he did not know anything about dancing until he turned 19.

"I did not choose it, it was jazz that chose me," he says. The once shy, reserved boy is now the dance instructor at two large studios in Hanoi that attract 2325 students per class on average, and occasionally as many as 40.

Last year he took part in the maiden season of "So You Think You Can Dance" Vietnam and made it to the top 100. His performance in the audition round saw the judges burst into tears.

"Dancing has made me.

"I did not know what exactly I was until I was able to freely express myself through the dance."

He practices various dances, including hip-hop, but feels there is nothing like jazz dancing, which overwhelms him emotionally. 

Khanh is now in his final year of university. After completion he plans to go to the south, where recreational activities, especially dancing, are more popular than in Hanoi.

"I will pursue [this] career," he says determinedly though he expects it to be hard to persuade his family.

A major difficulty for untrained jazz dancers like Huyen and Khanh is the lack of recognition of their skills. Unlike hip-hop, jazz dancing has few competitions.

Due to the lack of professional references, Huyen had a hard time completing her portfolio to apply for a scholarship at Lasalle. She was a freelance dancer with no academic training or instructor's reference or recommendation letter. There were no jazz dance competitions to prove her skills.

It took hip-hop more than 10 years to become popular. Jazz dancing is just four years old in Vietnam. ­­­­

But with passionate exponents like Huyen and Khanh around, it is not unreasonable to expect that its popularity will explode sooner rather than later.

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