“Life. It’s all about balance,” dance enthusiast Linh Rateau winks as she rifles through her spacious navy-colored bag. Linh is the French-Vietnamese director and founder of Dancenter, a Thao Dien dance studio with over a thousand students of all ages. We wanted to put Linh in another space focused on physical activity, the Trigger Boxing Gym in Tan Phu, to get some more details on her journey and to find out what’s in her bag. And to get Linh to show us her moves in the ring.
At the age of 24, Linh arrived in Vietnam. It was her dad’s homeland, and she’d always been curious about life here. All she had was her backpack and a hunger for knowledge. It didn’t take her long to decide it was the perfect backdrop. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Linh nods. Here, she could realize her dream of sharing her passion for dance. In 2001, Linh began volunteering at 15 May School, a school for Saigonese “street kids”. Of course, she taught dance.
Linh Rateau founded Dancenter 13 years ago. And managing the flourishing center has become a full-time occupation. You’ll find her there solving problems that crop up, and keeping operations running smoothly. “You could say I iron out the wrinkles,” she smiles. All that helps the dancers and the team to thrive. “This way, nothing gets in the way of the freedom to innovate and create,” Linh continues.
Linh is also a mother. You can sense it upon meeting her. She is warm, nurturing, and empathetic. In fact, she has two beautiful young children. This is no less of a job than her role at Dancenter. She schedules in plenty of blocks of time for them, which includes lots of dancing around the living room together, exploring the city like tourists, and tucking them in with bedtime stories. She says that her kids keep her young. “Everyone wants to stay young.” Linh shrugs, “People nowadays don’t realize that playing is the key to youth.”
“This is a crazy one. It’s my biggest dream,” Linh smiles shyly as she begins talking about her future plans. In the next couple years, this bright entrepreneur wants to build a theater from the ground up. She intends to direct a live art performance program there. Linh Rateau believes artists require the right environment to be able to express themselves. And her theater will provide just that.
Success is never a straight line. And Linh’s story is no exception. “Up and down and back and forth,” Linh gestures, “I was a jumble of naivety, faith, goodwill, and a keen sense of observation.” Let’s see how the contents of Linh’s bag reflects that.
“I’m old-fashioned. I plan and organize my appointments by hand. I check my booklet when I wake up every morning. Each day can look very different from the last. But that’s one of the reasons I love my job so much,” Linh says. “In the world of dance, I meet choreographers, dancers, and dance teachers. But I also work with music composers, visual artists, event organisers, and the list goes on.”
Linh is also one of ten judges on the panel for the French Institute. The organization offers worldwide support for arts. As part of her role for this organization, Linh chooses the artists that will receive funding in Vietnam. Dancenter also propose residence for choreographers from Vietnam and overseas. “Witnessing artists in the process of creating is pure magic to me.”
Linh also helps the center’s young students to explore the world. “This year we sent 37 kids and teens to Bangkok. We participated in a talent show run by Australian Teacher Organization of Dance (ATOD),” she remembers.
As you might expect, the project required lots of time and attention to detail. “I planned many meetings to be thorough about scheduling and to ensure the safety and comfort of the younger dancers,” she adds. “Also, the Krossing Over Arts Festival in April took up a lot of my agenda this year. KOAF is a yearly festival started by French-Vietnamese choreographer Sebastien Ly. It advocates contemporary dance but mixes it with other art forms. Aside from performances, we also did talks and workshops. This event brings together local and international artists and inspires audiences.”
Dancenter also gives scholarships. “My agenda is dotted with meetings with scholarship candidates. I meet them all personally for an interview,” Linh adds. Doing this connects her to the newer generations and gives her a feel for what they need and want as dancers. “We have two categories. Our kids and teens scholarships help youths explore their potential. We choose how much to fund them based on how much potential I think they have,” Linh explains about the scholarships. “If you’re a professional dancer, our second scholarship will allow you to dance three months at Dancenter for only a million VND. If dancers are picked for the scholarship, I get the chance to follow their journey and to see them growing right under Dancenter’s roof!”
Linh’s agenda is also packed with other little notes reminding her about day-to-day things like booking tickets for holidays, her kids’ dentist appointments, and dinner parties with her friends. “The normal life!” she laughs. “Lastly, I schedule in ‘me time’. Me time is a good laugh with my precious friends. Me time is travelling to a new country and being lavished with new experiences. Me time is having my breath taken away by an art exhibition.”
2. Quote Card
During a vacation in Nha Trang six years ago, a man came up to Linh and asked her to pick a card from a little deck in his hands. “The one I chose read, ‘I am in control of my attention.'”
“We didn’t exchange many words. And I never saw him again. But I grew to love this weird gift more and more as time past,” Linh Rateau confesses.
It’s six years later “and I still have it in my agenda. It’s worn and a little ragged. But it reminds to live in the present.”
“I want to master the ability to steady focus. I want to be able to stay connected. I want to never stop acknowledging how rich and full life is. I believe that sticking with these practices will lead me straight to my destiny! So I will keep this quote card here in my purse.”
At the time, Linh didn’t have a lot of work or worries in her life. “But I also didn’t have much drive and passion. I was wasting away my energy to a bunch of different things, from accounting to designing our flyers and posters. I wanted to be responsible for everything. Only then would know that things would be up to my standards,” she recalls.
“I was scatterbrained. My brain would be scheduling, planning projects, and crunching logistics as while people spoke to me. Dancenter was seven years old and doing well. Its director was doing…not so well,” she laughs.
“I needed an intervention. Fate gave me just that. This card screamed, ‘Wake up, Linh!’ It forced me to re-evaluate my priorities. I had to organize my life in a way that I could hone my attention to the important things. One can only have complete control of decision-making when he or she is not distracted.”
3. Favourite Lipstick
A smile is more powerful than we know. It energizes not only its receiver, but also its giver. “My lipstick highlights my smile. This one is by Kevyn Aucoin in the shade Samilke Natural Rose,” Linh says showing us her favourite lipstick.
“I bought this lipstick in my favorite city, New York. It’s a reminder of my favourite city,” Linh says. “Why is New York ranked so high in my book? You might have guessed. I adore the amazing dance scene, the musicals, the theaters, the museums. And the people are some of the most original characters in the world. I love mixing and mingling.”
Dance is an ever-present in Linh’s life, even when she’s traveling and exploring other cultures. “This draws me to meeting people who share the same passion. When I travel somewhere, I meet dance people, I watch dance shows, I visit local dance studies, sometimes I even take class. Talking about this reminds me of a time in the Balinese countryside. I danced the traditional dance among hens in the courtyard of a house!”
4. Lucky Charm
“This lucky charm reminds me of my best friend. She’s a French-Lebanese ceramist who used to come to my dance classes way back when,” Linh says. “The lucky charm is a keychain that she gave me. A tiny evil eye connected to a dangling horseshoe. It think she brought it back from Iran. I’m not religious. or anything like that. I believe that the Universe is my god. I believe in the power of positive energy,”
However, Linh does believe in the power of the lucky charm. “When my friend gave this to me, I believe she was filled with such energy. I carry it around to carry around to have that good energy supporting me throughout the day.”
5. Mobile Phone
Yes, Linh’s including her phone is this list. “But, anyone will tell you that I’m the worst at answering calls,” she smiles. That’s because the phone is usually languishing in the bottom of her bag…on silent mode.
“I make it a rule to never pick up when I’m in a meeting and even when I’m with a friend,” Linh asserts. “The two exceptions I make are for people involved with my kids like their nanny or their father.”
She also doesn’t believe in passing the time idly browsing social media on her mobile. “I don’t get people who are message and playing on their phones when they have company right in front of them. Focus on what and who is in front of you! If not, life will pass you by,” she explains. “My favorite part of my phone is actually its camera. Memories frozen in time. I watch videos and swipe through albums for fun. I relive the moments. And that’s when I feel the love and happiness all over again.”
“Say no to plastic!” Linh says.
She always carries a bunch of reusable bags and straws with her. “My kids are my first priority. So doing this is for them too. Let’s leave the planet in decent condition for the next generations.”
“I also teach my children that reusable products are just a part of life.” By setting an example, Linh feels her kids can see how easy it is to live a eco-centric life. “I don’t want my kids’ lives to be inhibited. I want them to lead fulfilling, rich lives on an Earth that is clean and beautiful. I believe in respect and care for Mother Nature. She flourishes, we flourish.”
7. Business Cards
“It’s such an Asian habit!” Linh says showing us her business cards. These cards represent connections that she’s made. “I used to always forget mine. Now I have them in three places. My wallet, in my agenda, and in my cardholder,” she says. “I’m in charge of Dancenter’s bigger connection to the dance world. I build relationships with the other players in the art field. Sometimes Dancenter collaborates. Sometimes we don’t. Either way, I love talking with artists,” Linh says contentedly. “Feeling the vibes of enthusiasm when we discuss their projects is such a beautifully human experience. I also give my card to partners from private and public art institutions. I regularly meet these folks to co-organize events. We dance to share our expression with an audience. These events create a space for this expression!”
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and edited by David Kaye