Dat Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, started dancing at age 20. He got his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at Sam Houston State University where he was first exposed to dance and technology that later became the driving force in his art making.
He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dance at the University of Utah with an emphasis on Screendance. At the U, under the direction of professor Brent Schneider, he had chances to make installation performances that allow him to incorporate technology into site-specific works. This type of works allows Dat to challenge his audiences’ experience by engaging them in multiple-perspective and close-proximity viewing, thus demanding audiences to be active in the process of enjoying his works. Dat loves experimenting with space so that different viewing points yield unique viewing experience, while that can also be challenging in a good way.
While focusing on creating experience through movement, Dat is also a visual artist whose current research focuses on visual complexity associated with multiple visual focal points. This is reflected through his choreography process as he describes it as ‘editing movement.’ By challenging the old notion of dance making as movement generating, Dat’s 'movement editing' gives him a platform to protrude and extrude the architecture of dancing bodies, whose visual result is similar to the Cubist Movement in painting - one of Dat's inspiration. This visual complexity is also reflected in his screendance practice as he explores the montage method of editing, making dissected dancing bodies through dynamic and rhythmic cutting.
Dat's visual interest ventures further into dance photography. Dat believes in capturing fleeting moment as it is, therefore, he loves the challenge of taking dance concert photos where a piece is only performed once rather than shooting the same piece in the studio where it can be performed multiple times. The same can be said for his passion of taking dance class and rehearsal photos because for him, those real life moments are tangible, and when the tangible is combined with the ephemeral movement of dance, dance photos can become a unique relic of time.
"As this moment, dance for me is a creative endeavor that satisfies my need for emotional expression. Since I started dancing and choreographing at age 20, I have always been struggling with this idea and thus, I only made abstract dance pieces where literal meaning is avoided and design of bodies' architecture is emphasized. However, as I keep creating and allow myself to become more vulnerable, I have started to find tiny bits of gestural information from my dancers' body that serves to transcend my choreographic layout into a story telling device. My recent choreography process keeps surprising me because it keeps bringing me to a place where I thought I would always stay away from. I think it is my core belief, which is always bring an open mind to rehearsal, that allows this transformation to happen. Generating movement has never been difficult to me. It is finding the structure and the gist behind it that is still a challenge worths embracing. As I move forward with my art, I allow myself to open my pandora box of past memory and allow it to unfold onto the façade of movement. I hope that by embracing my vulnerability, my arts will be able to connect with my audiences."
"I believe through dance, we understand who we are and how we come to be. Everything happens in our mind manifests what happens in our body. I believe in somatic approach, and that what we feel and think is what we embody in our movement. Therefore, the way I dance tell me a lot about myself. When my inner feeling is physicalized through dancing, I am allowed a chance to reflect upon how I move, and that reflection give me critical insight about who I am. As a result, in my teaching approach, I encourage my students to constantly reflect verbally and on paper, developing their own personal approach in order to understand who they are as an artist, whether their focus is in performing, choreographing, or teaching.
I think it is importance that my students critically engage in history, theory, and current practice. I believe that my students need to learn how to stay up to date with social and political issues, as well as new development of technology. This will allow my students to stay relevant to the dance field as well as to the community they are engaged with, while also allow them a chance to reflect their own practice through new lenses, contributing to a rich body of knowledge that only moving body can discover. While staying up to date, I believe that my students’ practice should also be grounded and take deep root through the understanding of history. Without a strong ground in the past, their practice can only traverse loosely on the surface that disengage them from society. Therefore, when teaching my technique classes or practice-based classes, I always take time to introduce my students the historical context of what we are going to learn, and vice versa, while engaging them deeply in a theoretical class, I designate one or two class that allows my two student to translate what they learn into physical movement so they can embody the theory.
Growing up in a country where teaching and learning are stagnant, I feel compelled to rethink teaching as helping students learn. I would like to acknowledge my students’ identity as individuals as well as a big community, then facilitate a learning environment where my students can take on curiosity and investment to their own learning. Instead of forcing the materials on students, I would like to bring materials to class and unpack them together with students. I encourage my students to think about the process of how we are going to get to our goals because through process, my students will learn about their identity much more than the end result. Getting to results without much investigation inside the process detaches learning from an individual’ identity, and if a student cannot locate him/herself within a body of knowledge, then learning will slip away as soon as the class is over. On the other hand, I believe that most learning happens outside of comfort zone. Therefore, while facilitating an environment where they can find joy and pride in learning, I also want to provide my students challenges so that they can go beyond what they are capable of. I will mediate these expectations considering specific contexts so that the expectations are reasonable for them. Uncomfortable learning shouldn’t result in a traumatic episode. This paradox between letting students find joy and pushing them out of their comfort zone puts me in a vulnerable position where I constantly have to juggle back and forth so that I don’t lean toward one polarity or another. However, by being vulnerable, I hope that students’ learning experience is enriched.
Teaching is a rich experience for teachers as well. What makes a good teacher is embracing the complexity and paradoxes of teaching while knowing that by doing so, tough challenges will be presented. A good teacher thinks on his/her feet to provide solutions for these problems. The fact that I consolidate my teaching identity into a paper means I do have a strong beliefs system about teaching, but I also try not to define a teaching practice because I don’t want to lose nuances in my teaching and my students’ learning. For instance, I define myself as a subject-centered teacher, but if difficult situations arrive and call for a different model for better learning, I will embrace that as well. Fruitful learning cannot happen if teachers avoid the unpleasantness of teaching by narrowing down their practice to a singular definition.
For me, teaching and learning takes a deep root in community. In order to build a community, it is crucial that I take time to know the students personally while keeping a reasonable distance to them. By knowing and understanding their identity on a personal level, I can engage in a deeper conversation regarding their learning goal and how they want to approach it while also negotiating my goal for them. I believe that by opening up myself to them, I can foster an environment where trust can happen between me and everyone in the community. I will also be able to pay more attention to their personal strengths and weaknesses, so I can push them further individually. I don’t believe in teaching a student body from whom I am remote because teaching for me is about human connection. If there isn’t a connection in classroom at some level, then teaching and learning will be less fruitful and nurturing. On the contrary, it is crucial to keep my distance, so that the learning space isn’t violated. An effective classroom is a place where students can look to their teacher as leader, facilitator, guider, but not friend. My teaching/learning space will be dynamic by embracing this paradox between distance and closeness.
As a self-learned and self-taught artist, I also believe in teaching students to learn how to learn. In the fast emerging world of multimedia and technology, learning how to learn is important because I would like my students to be able to foster their own growth outside of academic environment. Therefore, it is important for me to have a faction of my class dedicated to self-exploration, followed by self-reflection. I also encourage my students to share their experience with each other in order to broaden their perspective on learning on their own. My goal is to help my students become adaptive in an ever-evolving field. As a result, I also believe in being well rounded. Besides being academically engaged in practice, theory, and history, I think dacne artist should contribute their time learning how to design and make dance costume, construct theatre set, tech a show, or perform administrative tasks. I highly encourage my students to be actively engage with their community because that is how they can bridge their art with reality."
Stage Choreography/Installation Performance