Born to Swing

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A wallflower Brit has transformed himself into a super cool cat in swingin' Saigon


English Swing teacher Daniel Burnand (L) dances with another Vietnamese Swing teacher Thuy Uong (R) at Molinari café in HCMC. The same as in many other countries, Swing is an art to connect with other people in Ho Chi Minh City.

Daniel Burnand's friends from home don't understand how a history bookworm who never danced in England is now a king of Swing in Saigon.

Burnand, 26, looks more like a Southern European than a Londoner. He is tall, dark, well dressed with very curly hair, and on the dance floor he moves as soft and cheerfully as a modern-day Hermes.

Though he only learned to dance recently, he's already a helpful teacher as he guides new students in their first steps of Swing. His big smile and playful spirit are reminiscent of Gene Kelly in An American in Paris.

Two-and-a-half years have passed since Burnand first arrived in Vietnam and he's now gone from shy to a Swing teacher at Saigon Swing Club, where he began dancing last year.

A Training Manager at Atlas, a company that provides architectural and engineer services outsourcing, Burnand said he tried Salsa, climbing, bar-hopping and clubbing before Swing gave him a sense of belonging in a group of dancers with different languages, backgrounds, and ages.

Saigon Swing Club offers mainly Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing lessons twice weekly: Sundays at La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat Street and Wednesdays (for free) at Molinari Café, 5 Le Duan Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City.

For the past four years, Swing has been gaining a large following in Asia from Hong Kong and Korea to Singapore and Cambodia, and now Vietnam.

From wallflower to dancing machine

After eight months in Vietnam, it was on a quiet afternoon while he was reading a book at Le Fenetre Soleil Café on Le Thanh Ton Street (the café has just closed) that he first discovered swing.

As he read, a group of people gathered and began dancing around him. They soon asked him to join their free Swing club. He did not like the idea at first, but after watching the dancers for a while, he changed his mind and has been dancing every week since, making new friends and learning new moves.

Burnand said it was Sinclair Ang, a Singaporean Swing teacher, who really brought him into the fold.

"He is a musician, a cool cat, highly respected who makes you laugh and feel very comfortable."

Ang showed Burnand how "cool" Swing could be.

"I kept on dancing and very quickly began to pick up the moves. If you really love something, it's easy to learn."

Burnand says Swing is like a language: "first you need to learn the grammar, which can be boring. For Swing you need to learn the step and technique, then you can do it your way. Swing is the communication between two people."

Like many other big cities in the world, HCMC is a difficult place to connect with people sometimes.

But Burnand says Swing makes him feel like he is a part of something. All of his friends in Vietnam he made through Swing.

"In Swing everybody is equal and just shares the moment. Some old people love coming to Swing because they are accepted," said Burnand.

He said many people are lonely when they first come to a foreign country, but that dancing can be a great way to break the ice.

"When I was in London I was not fond of dancing. But now I like to see how people change from being shy at first to be confident with dancing later."

He says he loves to see whole families come down to the Swing club together.

"There are not many activities in Vietnam where everyone, expats and locals of all ages, come together. Saigon Swing is not a company where people go to work and earn money but they come here with passion and love. No one leads at the club now and everybody does it together."

Many people come to the club every week not even to dance, but just to sit and watch, and revel in the great atmosphere.

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