US dancers heal disabled children in Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge – Bringing her hands together to form a snake-head shape and gently moving forward, 16-year-old Nguyen Thi Thao imitates the slithering movements of a snake. Together with four friends she is taking part in a workshop run by a young trainer from the Stephen Petronio Company.


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Inspiration: Dancers teach students to use various movements to express themselves.


They all lose themselves in the simulation, undeterred by the language gap - the trainer only speaks English and the dancers are hearing impaired.

Dozens of other hearing-impaired teenagers from Ha Noi’s Caring Centre for Children with Disabilities are at the same time following the movements of their American teachers in a dance centre in downtown Ha Noi.

The students are then divided into four groups, each representing an animal, and are asked to move their bodies like that animal.

Quiet Thao, for example, turns into a dangerous snake zigzagging toward some bait, naughty Lam appears to be an arrogant rooster while witty Phuong transforms into a clever monkey.

All 16 students are stretching, folding, rolling, jumping to express the movements they want. Their faces shine, their eyes sparkle.

They are taking part in a healing workshop offered by the Dance Motion USA programme of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which aims to facilitate cultural exchange while showcasing the best in contemporary American dance.

“This is the first time I have had a chance to join such a movement show,” Thao said. “I’m extremely excited and relaxed. It’s quite different from my lessons in class, where I acquire knowledge. Here everything is like a game. I’ll remember this better.”

“I’ll tell my friends, who are joining this session, to organise the same dancing opportunities for ourselves and other friends at my school for those who did not have an opportunity to come here today."

"The children here are absolutely fantastic," dancer Jaqlin Medlock from New York told Viet Nam News. "They pick things up very quickly. They communicate well... happy, positive excited to be moving and learning new things, which is wonderful. I expected a longer workshop, but time was up."

“This kind of extra curricular activity is alluring,” said Nguyen Thi Quyen, one of the teachers at the centre. “The students are encouraged to move as much as they can. They are not just sitting and listening to teachers passively. Here  they tend to be more active, freer to make up their minds. Anyone can be the leader and can change the games’ rules in the group.”

Quyen said she had taught at the centre for five years but this was the first time she had seen her students so comfortable, free and excited to join non-verbal activities, like dancing and moving.

“I hope there will be more activities like this for more students in my centre,” she said.

According to Le Hong Ha, a co-ordinator from the Viet Nam Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT), which co-operated with the US Embassy to organise the workshop, free movement is used as a therapy.

“Children with disabilities like these hearing-impaired teenagers cannot talk, so they can express themselves better through movement. They will find the way to ‘speak out’ and communicate better,” she said.

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Healing: An American dancer from the Stephen Petronio Company (middle) guides Vietnamese hearing-impaired students at a workshop in Ha Noi yesterday. -- Photos: Le Huong/VNS


The Brooklyn Academy of Music has worked with the DMT, the first of its kind initiative in Viet Nam, since last September to plan two workshops for children with autism and deaf-mute students in Ha Noi, in addition to holding two performances in Ha Noi and Hai Phong.

Ha said this was the first project, which will be followed by another DMT project supported by the American Embassy using dance and movement to heal disabled children.

“Afterward, we will carry out other projects for other vulnerable groups, like women suffering from domestic violence,” she said.

DMT organises regular workshops for ordinary children and parents to make them interact and understand one another through movement and dance in activities like creative games, painting and role playing.

“Dance and movement therapy has been applied in other countries like the UK and the US for 50 years,” Ha said. “Yet there are not many people who understand the therapy. Our purpose is spreading the therapy in Viet Nam to bring a fresh way for more people to develop themselves.”

 
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