“Whenever I dance, I tell a random story with my body”, says Nguyễn Vũ Minh Tuấn, who is better known these days as MT Pop, “And the plot of this story depends on the music.” This 25-year-old Saigon-born professional dancer has been dancing for 13 years, both in Vietnam and internationally. Just this year, he participated in performances and competitions in Korea, China, and Thailand. He dances solo and with his crew X-Clown. While battling, competitors typically do not get to choose their songs, so we asked MT Pop to offer ten tracks of his choice.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
MT Pop is a hip hop dancer. As his stage name suggests, MT Pop specialises in popping – the hip hop dance style where a dancer will tense his or her muscles to create the effect that their body is clicking robotically into different positions. “Under the umbrella of popping are strutting and tutting, techniques that involve alternating between fluid glides and clicking into angular shapes,” MT Pop elaborates.
Last November, his skills garnered him the title of Popping 1on1 Battleside Winner in Korea. Watch footage and you can see how seamlessly MT Pop pairs the visual with the audio in real time. “To me, music and life itself are one and the same,” MT explains, “So dance improvisation has always easily to me.”
MT Pop has come a long way. For him, music used to be merely entertainment. “Music producers and musicians feel emotion and they express it through their instruments and vocals,” MT Pop now says, “a lot like we do as dancers”. He mostly listens to funk, blues, and 90s hip hop nowadays while experimenting by adding new genres to his playlist, “because I think it might enrich my dancing,” he smiles as we sit down at Jump Arena in Saigon’s District 7 to ask for his curated guest mix.
What does music mean to you?
Music can serve one of two duties – it can complement my current mood or it can change my mood. For example, you wouldn’t play an introspective indie song at a funky party. It would wreck the vibe right away. And to change my mood, I sometimes play all my favourite songs at the end of a day I want to forget. It uplifts me in an instant.
But naturally, these days most of the music I listen to happens during practice.
What do you secretly listen to when no one’s around?
When I’m alone, I tend to listen to softer music. Anything slow and sweet is fine. It helps me unwind after a gruelling day of work.
Which track is most special to you?
“Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera is a very special song to me. I will never forget one of the dance workshops I had in Vietnam. I let emotion burst out through my movements as that song played. My dancing told a story that my words could never tell.
Describe this mix in a few sentences.
It contains a lot of funk. Funky music consists of a range of subgenres – which means it provides a big range of moods. I, too, have a big range of moods!
So whatever I’m feeling, funk is there for me. By the time you get through this mix, you should feel like a funky old man! I listen while driving or practicing but there is no particular time or place that’s perfect for a mix like this.
Tell us about the ten tracks you’ve chosen.
The mix opens with James Vickery’s “Until Morning”. The vocals at the start of the song feel like an amazing morning yawn that wakes you up. It’s super slow. Like mornings should be. And it gradually builds to a crescendo. I’m a dancer, and each moment has a feeling behind it. When I want to explore the more emotional side of dance I choose soft, lo-fi music like this.
We stay soft and slow with a track by the talented Billie Eilish. “idontwannabeyouanymore” is carried by a deep, lilting melody. The lyrics are about self-reflection and the urge to change. It’s so moving. Billie inspires me to overcome my own barriers and keep pushing forward. This track inspires me to summon my own strength.
The next song is not a song per se. More an ambiance. We enjoy the sounds of nature. Water flowing. Birds chirping. Thunder clapping. Bees buzzing. Wind rustling through the leaves. Whatever it is, I swear by nature sounds. When our souls first enter this world, music is not the first thing we hear. Nature is. And nature provides us with gorgeous musical textures, lyrics, and emotions we cannot find anywhere else.
The mix takes a sexy, soulful turn with “Body” by Sinéad Harnett. It’s a track I listen to a lot during dance practice. It moves us towards a mellow space where we feel grounded and connected to each other.
The following track is a sleepy one. Dennis Lloyd’s “Leftovers” is one of my go-tos when I’m feeling down and out. Hearing lyrics that let you settle into sadness is sometimes just what you need to ultimately pull you out of the darkness.
After than, we’re back in the light. “There I Go” by Numbe: ra and Frank Nitt is laid back groove and rap. Me and my homies never tire of “There I Go” says MT. We can dance to it on loop for ages.”
After that, “Must Be The Music” by Secret Weapon. It’s a track that takes us right into party mode. At this party we can throw away our identities. All that matters here is the music. It puts everyone on the same plane.
Next up is my introduction to funk. He first heard Dazz Band’s “Magnetized” at a battle. It triggered my curiosity for the whole genre. The song played, and automatically my body moved along. It’s like funk feeds my body with this overwhelming positive energy. The mix stays on its groovy, dance-oriented path with Rick James’ iconic “Super Freak”. If you are into funk, you can’t not know Ricky James and this trademark track. A few years ago, I chose this song for our crew’s live dance performance on a Vietnamese television show.
Performed by American group Kool & The Gang, the song “Fresh” gives new meaning to the word. I first heard it at a party in Canada. And I danced all night long.
Finally, we end this mix riding out on that party vibe with “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. This Chicago band’s tracks have exceptional texture. Saxophone, trumpet, trombone all add their voices to the vocals. I believes Earth, Wind & Fire is genreless. It encompasses so much. funk, RnB, jazz, disco and even soul. What better to leave a listener with?
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen