Men’s Dance Athletes Overcome Stereotypes to Win SEA Games Gold

Kien Trung Nguyen (R) of Vietnam and An Hong Pham compete in a dance sport event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 15, 2022.

Kien Trung Nguyen (R) of Vietnam and An Hong Pham are competing in a dance sport event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 15, 2022. (Photo by Tang Chhin Sothi / AFP)

Male dance athletes at SEA Games say they had to go through stereotypes to date to reach the top of competitive ballroom dancing.

Isarapong Duangkao and her female dance partner Thanawan Yananun both won two titles for Thailand at the Regional Games in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

But Thanwan later spoke on behalf of Isarapong about the challenges that other socially conservative Southeast Asian male dancers have to overcome for their sport.

“Someone always asks, ‘If you play dance, are you a ladyboy?'” He told AFP, watching Isarapong.

“No, it’s not. It’s like a man’s ballet dance or a man’s K-pop dance, it’s like that,” he said, adding that men’s attitudes to ballroom dancing are slowly changing.

DanceSport is a physically demanding pursuit where fluently dressed male and female couples must applaud the judges with wide, sensitive, head-turning moves.

In a packed gym just outside of Central Hanoi, hundreds of spectators cheered loudly and waved flags as the two poured their belongings into a large hall.

Vietnamese dancer Trung Doan Min Nguyen says a similar view – that only gay men will dance ballroom – was once widespread in his country.

“In the early years (playing dance in Vietnam) people had the same idea,” he told AFP.

“But after I developed my performances into a more sporty and powerful style, limiting the soft moves, people changed their perceptions of the dance game among men like me.”

During the Latin section of the event’s Sunday schedule, Nguyen and his partner Huang Thu Dang won three gold medals for Vietnam at the Games.

Nguyen said interest in the sport of dance has grown over the years in Vietnam, adding that about 500 clubs across the country could be dedicated to it.

Shawn Misha Arner (top) of the Philippines and Nualla Anna Leonila Manalo compete in the dance sport event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 16, 2022.  (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

Shawn Misha Arner (top) of the Philippines and Nualla Anna Leonila Manalo compete in the dance sport event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 16, 2022. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

Shawn Misha Arner Fazardo, a dancer at the Philippine Games, says men’s ballroom dancing has improved significantly over the years.

Previously, they could have been viewed negatively because of poor tactics.

“The movement wasn’t right before, it doesn’t show competition,” he said.

“But now … the male dancers look more accurate.”

Her dance partner Anna Leonilla Manalo Nualla says it’s a bad technique that makes dancers look “awkward” and their movements are similar to “bar dancing”.

The couple won two golds in Hanoi.

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