• The Night Owl

Authentic Movement in Vietnam




In 2021, I took a huge challenge, designing and teaching the first course Authentic Movement (AM) with Bui Tuyet Minh, Founder of Vietnam Dance/ Movement Therapy. Teaching AM in Vietnamese is not easy, left alone the translation of the English materials to our language, modern Vietnamese.


My journey with AM went back to when I trained as a contemporary artist in the UK in 2006. I came to New Zealand in 2014 with a young child and an English born- New Zealand husband. We lived on Great Barrier Island (i.e.; Aotea Island) during that time. The island is 100 kilometers northeast away from Auckland, only accessible by ferries and planes. If anyone had been on Aotea, you would love the scenery of sandy beaches, green hills, bird sanctuaries with quiet and tranquil lifestyles. However, living there permanently is hard for an international artist who is used to big cities, travels, lavish clothes, luxurious hotel receptions. Such a contrasting environment made me wonder about my ability of making art as well as living an isolated married life, left alone to care for the child. It casts doubt upon both my personal and professional identity.


My Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) journey in New Zealand began with a recommendation to train and volunteer with Dance Therapy New Zealand. It also started with attending annual AM retreats with Connor Kelly, training White belt in Nia with Debbie Rosa and Somatic Education in Body-Mind Centering with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. My artistic background as a contemporary performance artist finally found a match and an enabler. Later, I became a Professional Member of the Dance Movement Therapy Association of Australasia (DTAA) and a DMT advocate.


When I found Bui Tuyet Minh and Vietnam Dance Movement Therapy (VDMT), I was overjoyed. I reached out to Minh and we started to put a plan together to train potential Vietnamese students. We ran short introduction courses about DMT and AM last year in 2020. We organize a long course for Authentic Movement in four months in 2021. In this course, the students range from 20 to 50 years of age. Some were born during the Vietnam War, others were born in the bloom of the industrial and economical development period. They are all committed and honest, bringing themselves fully into the practice. The pandemic had put our travel plans on hold but thanks to the technology, our online teaching model via Zoom allows Vietnamese students in Viet Nam and overseas to move and learn together. While we miss the physical contact, we thank for the virtual opportunity that technology offers.


Our Vietnamese students found the practice brought them right to the core, to reflect who they are and how they perceive themselves in this world. They share their embodied responses through the process.


“When I move with the question "Tell me the meaning of your full name?", I suddenly remember my Dad and how I used to be angry with him. He gave me the name, which makes my jaw awkwardly twist whenever I say it out loud. My schoolmates tease me. When I move, I unconsciously raise my hand to touch my jaw and feel the heat in my hand. As I get older, I come to like my name because of its uniqueness. People often give awe when they hear it and compliment it’s a beautiful name, and it suits me. Then I understand more about my Dad and his blessing for my personality when he granted me the name.” (Reflection from A)


When we work with Vietnamese students, we guide them through the process of collecting their own stories and narratives with AM practice. The Way of Witnessing helps them to process their collective memories. The Pool of Movements enables them to recall and trace their embodied experiences. The journey starts with the students' personal experience and extends to their choices of movement. At the end of the course, our students finally allow the practice leading them to a new path of life.


Only now do I truly understand, I do not have to see my body like the temple (Laban, 1958), reserved for the “grander” deeds only. It is also the home (Stromsted, 2019), where I can just be. When I am home, the concept of “I” becomes blurry, almost nonexistent (Adler, 1987), as there perceived no others, no differing parts, no perception of time. Boundless. Mindless.

Maybe for me, authentic movement is about self-acceptance. Acceptance of one’s truth. (Transformation and Acceptance, essay from Do Phuong Anh, 2021)


If the body is the poem, then the movements are the words. Thanks to the contextual and individual approach in AM, the mover and witness can have the space to explore the “words” and truly live their “poem”. Authenticity was embedded in the spontaneous movements. By bringing the awareness to the bodily stimulus and response, one can get closer to understand and treasure own original characteristics, as well as appreciate other people’s uniqueness. (Discussing Authenticity in Authentic Movements, essay from Pham Thi Thai Van, 2021)


AM gives me the courage to follow my will instead of unconsciously conforming to social expectation. On the other hand, surrendering releases the pressure of rigidly sticking to my plan and keep me open to new opportunities. I need both will and surrender to stay balanced in life. AM helps me to reach the wisdom of my body and find my inner strength. It is the practice of self-empowerment which I am truly grateful for in my life. (Authentic Movement in Personal Reflection, essay from Pham Minh Thu, 2021)


As dance/movement therapists, we acknowledge the enormous amount of financial, physical and mentally resources spent to understand who we are, why we are doing what we do, how we connect to the community and the world. It is a privilege position to be in. Our dream of putting Viet Nam on the DMT global map and planting seeds as many as possible becomes inevitable because of this position. It is happening, and we are proud to walk on this journey together.


Let raise our cups and toast for the success of the course, to our teachers the ones before us and to our students the ones continue our DMT paths in the future.


Blessing from the Night Owl.