Shaken and stirred

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Hawaiian dance thrills and dismays audience at year-opening party

A dance show featuring Hawaii dance at a promotion event held by Diana Company in Nha Trang Town in the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa in 2009

The couples gyrated to rhythmic music, dressed in Hawaiian fashion, and did what Hula dancers do swayed their hips and bosoms sensuously.

The dancing foursome two women and two men had been asked to perform at a function that welcomed the Lunar New Year, but the performance invited a storm of controversy instead.

The performance did not take place at a dancing hall or a bar in the evening, but at 9 a.m. on January 30 at the office of the People's Committee of Binh Hung Hoa B Ward in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Tan District.

The audience comprised local officials, police officers, retired officials, and representatives of residential quarters, several of whom were discomfited by the skimpy outfits and the overtly sensual moves.

While there were many who enjoyed the performance and taped it with their cellphones and cameras, several guests, including elderly and female officials, chose to leave the hall instead.

The sexy dance lasted just three minutes or so, but the controversy it raised is likely to rage for some time.

Video clips of the dance have drawn widespread comments, both positive and negative, from all quarters.

Do Thanh Quyen, chairman of Binh Hung Hoa B Ward's People's Committee, told the VnExpress newswire that he was not in the office during the performance, and only heard of it later.

He said he had deputed the task of organizing the event to deputy chairwoman Nguyen Thi Bich Tuyen. However, he said he will take responsibility for what happened.

 "The so-called belly or Hawaiian dance in indiscreet costumes is unacceptable in such a government office," Quyen said.

Quyen, who apologized to the local residents, added that the district People's Committee has requested the ward authorities to submit a report on the incident.

It appears that under suggestions from the ward's trade union, the committee hired outsiders, including the hula dancers, instead of requesting its staff members to conduct the art and music show as in previous years. They expected professional artists would make the annual event more exciting than usual.

Tuyen said, "The three-minute performance was a Hawaii-style show which is quite unfamiliar [to the locals]. As a specific dance, the dancers must dress in such a way, they did not intend to seduce or embarrass the audience. Before the show I did inform and apologize to the elderly (in the audience) and there was no protest.

"The show is expected to bring the fresh atmosphere of spring to people on the first working day of the lunar year, therefore, if it is vulgar and offensive, the committee would not dare to organize it."

Tuyen's colleagues and other officials, however, thinks different.

Nguyen Gia Thai Binh, party chief of Binh Hung Hoa B Ward, said, "I asked the organizer to stop the show the minute I found it indelicate. I didn't expect such a performance to take place at the office when the trade union was the organizer."

Appropriate places

According to dance critic and researcher Thai Phien, Head of Argument and Criticism Department at the Vietnam Dancers Association, Hawaii dance or Hula dance itself is an art form developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians.

"An art should be presented only at artistic locations, a public place like a government office is inappropriate."

Other critics said it was necessary to review the performance and see if it is really an original Hula dance. They said not all Hula dances are performed in such skimpy dresses.

"Such performances in public places should be limited in the country," said Phien.

The audience should "decide if such foreign dances are offensive or not," he added.

Vuong Duy Bien, head of the ministry's Department of Performing Arts, said the issue is being studied by his office.

"Every art performance has to be previewed by the local government before being presented to the public since different people have different opinions in the field of art."

Netizen comments

Vietnamese-American Thuy Ba Te, commenting on the VnExpress article on February 4, said, "My Indian friend is really sad after reading the article that says Vietnamese people consider the dance a bad form of art." Te said that when the art becomes popular in Vietnam, there will no longer be such misunderstanding.

Nguyen Minh Hue of Binh Tan District and Ha Van Nam agreed with Te, saying there's no need for the ward's People's Committee to make an apology. They said the Hula dance, like Belly dance, Apsara, and other foreign dances is a form of art in which dancers wear particular costumes to show their beautiful bodies while performing.

Vu Thao Nguyen, Nguyen Dung, and Le Minh Hoa appreciated the chairman's apology and attitude. Nguyen also suggested the ward invite local artists to perform Vietnamese traditional dances at such events.

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