Stepping out

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  Dinh Phuoc, the creator and manager of the BlueSky catwalk club in Hue, demonstrates soccer moves for models before they pose for an advertisement of an online game. Photos courtesy of Bluesky

In the former imperial capital of Hue, known as one of Vietnam's most traditional cities, the shy girls in modest yet sexy ao dai are no longer so shy.

Skin is in, so long as it's not too sunny, and more young women can be seen out on their motorbikes in short skirts, high-cut shorts and low-cut tops.

Another sign of the times is BlueSky, a modeling club that opened in 2007 and has inspired several copycats in Hue.

BlueSky is nothing more than a concrete outdoor yard of less than 50 square meters. It is equipped with a cheap secondhand DVD player.

With no material resources, the club is kept alive by the dreams and enthusiasm of its members.

The 22 women, mostly university and college students, are training as hard as they can without any proper instructors. They meet for five hours three times a week and more when they are scheduled to perform at an event.

They can earn some VND500,000-700,000 (US$24-34) each for a two-hour event, but these are still small-time performances and they are rare.

That kind of money is good compared to the average income in town, but it is not stable. Members say they will keep practicing until they can make a living doing what they love.

"Having a dream is halfway to the target," said Dinh Phuoc, the club's founder and manager.

Phuoc said he hoped BlueSky would one day meet all of the local market's demand for models so that Hue would no longer have to hire models from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for large events.

Phuoc, a Hue native who graduated from the Hanoi Academy of Theater and Cinema, worked in several bigger cities for years, thinking that Hue was not the place for entertainment and fashion industry types.

But he knew that one thing his home was known for was its beautiful women. He came back in 2007 and went straight to colleges and universities looking for candidates who looked good and had performance skills. But most importantly, he said, they had to have the love for modeling and a passion for hard work.

The club found no sponsors and Phuoc had his members practice in his front yard. The young women have accepted the fact that they'll get no professional training at BlueSky.

"We mostly share our own ideas and experiences," said a member named Kim Anh.

Phuoc said his is a club where the members "teach themselves" and he only gives minor advice about very basic movements.

"The members practice from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every meeting. They divide themselves into small groups and each performs for others to comment. Then, everyone can learn and better themselves," he said.

Minh Uyen, a senior at Hue Academy of Music and one of BlueSky's first members, said they have to learn a lot from the Internet.

"Our homework is to watch modeling videos online and practice along," she said.

"I have joined several shows with performers from around the country. They talked about teachers, and that's all I want."

The club has been invited to perform at several beauty events, including a wedding gown collection show in Nha Trang in 2010, a recent beauty pageant for Vietnamese ethnic minority groups in Da Lat and HMCM, a beauty pageant for successful married women in Vung Tau, and fashion programs at the biannual Hue Festival, which was their biggest gig.

But a little pride comes with a lot of prejudice as many people in the town, including club members' parents and friends, do not approve of the business of showing off one's body, according to a Lao Dong article.

Uyen said her classmates called her "spoiled girl."

Some people have discouraged her by saying that modeling is just one step from prostitution.

"Sometimes, I just want to hide the fact that I am modeling. Without a real love for this job, I might have quit long ago," she told Lao Dong.

Pham Tran Hong Phuc, a BlueSky member who just graduated from Hue College of Economics, said her parents had strongly objected to her joining the club.

Phuc said that being a model was her childhood dream. But when she asked to join the club, her parents said that they had not provided her with a good education just so she could "show off legs."

It took her nearly two weeks of arguing to persuade them to let her go to BlueSky.

She said some members had quit the club when their parents found out.

Dang Thi Nga, an administrator at a primary school, is one of few members supported by her family.

Her mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet, said she wants to let her children choose the walk of life they like.

"Modeling is also a job. I've heard about some models prostituting, but those models being bad people doesn't mean the job is bad."

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