Fit for a princess: Vietnamese dance troupe dons royal clothing for Japanese street dance

By Nhung Nguyen   April 3, 2018 | 11:39 pm PT
Must see: Awesome clothes, awesome performance.

Hanoians flocked to the pedestrian streets around Hoan Kiem Lake at the end of March to enjoy the annual Japanese festival, with highlights including a cherry blossom display and a traditional Yosakoi dance contest.

Seventeen teams from all over the country showed off their skills on March 25, with one standout performance, partly because of the flamboyant choreography, but mainly because of their unique costume choice: the nhat binh, a 19th-century dress designed for a Vietnamese princess.

Prominent dance team Hanoi Sennen Yosakoi took first place with a routine titled "Diem Tinh Hoa Nhan," in which the team members performed in dresses designed after the antique royal attires from the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam’s last ruling family.

While the male members wore ao tac, a variant of the ao dai with baggy sleeves and used as formal attire for all social castes in the 19th and 20th centuries, the females showed off their moves in a modern recreation of the nhat binh, a casual garment for queens and princesses from the Nguyen Dynasty.

Footage of the team’s performance has gone viral on Facebook, the country’s most popular social network. One of the videos attracted 300,000 views within two days, flooded with comments praising their choices of costume and music.

“We were caught by surprise by how people have been reacting to the dance,” said Nhung Vu, Hanoi Sennen Yosakoi's co-founder, in a phone interview with VnExpress International. “This year’s competition marked our 10th anniversary and we just wanted to make something special and memorable for everyone.”

Diem Tinh Hoa Nhan performed by Hanoi Sennen Yosakoi on March 25, featured the Vietnamese song Sac Mau as a backing track. Video provided by Happy Media, Courtesy of Hanoi Sennen Yosakoi

For anyone who is not acquainted with Japanese culture, Yosakoi is a popular style of dancing that combines traditional Japanese dance movements with modern music. People hold small wooden clappers and dance to the up-tempo beat and chants.

It took Nhung and her fellows one month to prepare 100 nhat binh dresses for the contest, which they also plan to bring to the international 2018 Yosakoi Festival in Japan in August.

“I made some adjustment to the original designs,” said Nhung, who is also the team’s designer, “to make them comfortable enough for my team to dance in.

"And we had to race against time to complete them all so we couldn’t finish every delicate detail."

Vietnamese royal attire has become a recent sensation among local young fashion and history lovers thanks to its vibrant colors and exquisite detail. With the help of vast archive the internet offers, many young people have started to recreate the elegant wardrobe from old photos of the royal families.

The most famous nhat binh were worn by Empress Nam Phuong and Princess My Luong, particularly after color photos of them emerged online lately, prompting several recreations and cosplays.

Princess My Luong worn the traditional royal clothing of nhat binh in the city of Hue in a 1931 photo of National Geographic Society. Photo by manhhai via Flickr.

Princess My Luong in the traditional royal clothing in the city of Hue in a 1931 for a photo taken by the National Geographic Society. Photo by manhhai via Flickr.

The recreated Nhat Binh dress of Princess My Luong by Nguyen Phong Doan Linh, a Facebook community for history lovers in Vietnam.

Yet the royal clothes remain largely unknown to the broader public, who tend to mistake them for either Japanese or Chinese attire.

“Many people in the audience said something like what a nice Japanese dress you are wearing,” Nhung recalled with surprise

The team’s initial intention was to introduce Vietnamese characters by making a cultural blend with their Japanese performance. “So I guess it was equally great to make the beautiful nhat binh better known among our own Vietnamese youth,” Nhung said.

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