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Thang Dao: The Len Duong Experience

Camp Len Duong is a program that cultivates leadership, diversity and tolerance for young Vietnamese who are curious and passionate about bettering our community, our world. That was the impression I left the retreat with in 2010, the first time I attended Len Duong as a panelist. I wish I had known or been exposed to Len Duong, or other similar programs with leadership missions when I was younger, when I was searching for an identity and support network to help nurture my inner curiosity as an artist. Camp Len Duong is a program I highly recommend for young Vietnamese who are interested in making a difference in the world. What makes Len Duong exceptional are the passionate people behind the operation. Each individual bring to this sailable ship a unique talent, intelligence, perspective, and voice that has seemingly propelled Len Duong to reach beyond its locality.

After my first attendance at Camp Len Duong, I returned to Austin to continue my work with Ballet Austin making Quiet Imprint, a ballet with Khanh Ly depicting the dim and calamitous time experienced by most of our parents. While working with the company, I recalled my mind was partially occupied by the three-day retreat at Len Duong. Something sparked in me, a little flame of pride and inspiration. I was moved by the positive and vibrant energy from all the young campers and staff.

I have been criticized by my peers for my reservation and quiet enthusiasm for things I am proud and passionate about. Many times I am unable to voice or express my feelings with whistles and bells, but that is not to say that my quiet enthusiasm is any less passionate. Len Duong is one of those quiet enthusiasms I wanted to share.

Originally I was going to attend the camp for one day. The reason I decided to stay longer at the retreat was because of the refreshing energy I saw from both staff and campers working together to build a brighter Vietnamese future the Diaspora community. I was genuinely impressed and touched by the bright eyes and eager youth who were whole-heartedly passionate about preserving our culture and heritage. VCSA is doing an incredible job establishing effective programs such as Len Duong to groom our future leaders. Everyday I walked the camp ground, I envisioned a greater and critical presence for our community in America that would foster a positive Vietnamese identity for our youth to identify with, which in turn will help bridge the cultural gap that has torn many families apart. The issues and concerns that were addressed at the Len Duong workshops revealed many of the problems our community face due to the culture clashes that has been ripping parents and their children in the struggle between rooting our children with Eastern traditions and values within a Western playground.

Though we have only been in this country for 35 years, we are only beginning to find ourselves from the residue of the Vietnam quagmire. For the past 3 decades, Vietnamese parents have buried themselves in their work for survival. Many even forgot themselves and the meaning of life. What I saw at Len Duong was a shift in that the efforts of our parents are beginning to bloom brightly; our youth are growing up and stepping forward to carry the torch that will relit the Vietnamese identity that has long laid dormant. Words could not express how proud I felt listening to the issues discussed by the campers and their concerns to find resolutions to remedy the problems our community face.

The most rewarding thing about my experience at Len Duong, besides the leadership training and amazing people, was the awakening of our Vietnamese identity, which has long been asleep, is in the near horizon. Thank you for being an agent for our cultural preservation. I am proud and honor to know VCSA and appreciate the work VCSA is doing in the community.

About the Author: Thang Dao

Thang Dao was born in Danang, Vietnam. He currently resides in New York City as a dancer, choreographer, and director of the Thang Dao Dance Company. Dao holds a MA degree from New York University’s Gallatin School. He received his formal dance education from the Juilliard School and The Boston Conservatory, where he received his BFA in dance in 2001. Dao danced for the Stephen Petronio Company and the Metropolitan Opera until 2006, leaving to pursue his choreographic career. He has presented works in Boston, New York City, North Carolina, California, Michigan and Austin with acclaimed reviews by the Boston Globe and The New York Times.

In 2006, his ballet Stepping Ground, choreographed on Ballet Austin for the 1st Biannual New American Dance Talent, received the Audience Choice Award all four nights. He recently choreographed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto for Ballet Austin II. Dao is honored to be the recipient of the 2008 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship and the 2009 Special Project Grant. His balletEchoes, commissioned by the Boston Conservatory, is being toured nationally with Ailey II. Dao is also set for a new commission for Ballet X. His most recent project was the “Quiet Imprint” production performed by Ballet Austin featuring the music of Trinh Cong Son with Khanh Ly voice.

In 2010, Thang Dao was invited as a guest speaker for a panel discussion of Career Aspirations and he fell in love with the camp. He came back at camp Len Duong 2012 to discuss his career aspiration with campers in Minnesota during Memorial Holiday weekend.


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