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Quyen brings the unicorn back ­ to life

Update: January, 22/2012 - 17:31

 

Unicorn dancers from the Tu Anh Duong dance troupe perform the MaiHoa Thung.
Le Yen Quyen is a master of the notoriously difficult and physically demanding unicorn dance. Young women look up to her, with good reason. Viet Nhan reports

Le Yen Quyen, a 19-year-old student, is the only female in the country to have mastered the hazardous and awe-inspiring unicorn dance.

So-called because the dancers perform incredible balancing acts on top of poles ranging in height from 1.5m to 7m, Quyen first performed in public in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta city of Can Tho at the O Mon Culture and Sports Centre in October 2008 with the Tu Anh Duong Dance Troupe. She was just 15 years old.

Among the most difficult dances she performed in Can Tho was the Mai Hoa Thung, which involves hopping from pole to pole to the sound of a drum. There are 16 poles in all.

 

On top of the world:Le Yen Quyen dances atop a seven-metre pole. Quyen was the first girl in Viet Nam to be allowed to practise the demanding unicorn dance. — VNS Photos Viet Nhan
 
On that day, Quyen set two national records – one for unicorn dancing on the highest pole and the second for her Mai Hoa Thung performance.

Following her amazing feat, she went on to perform on stages around Can Tho City and in the northern provinces of Hau Giang, Kien Giang and An Giang. She also finished first at the Unicorn-Lion-Dragon Dance Festival in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Tran Thi Thuy Tien, deputy director of the troupe, said: "Although she had been performing for just four years, Quyen has won a lot of national and provincial contests and set two records. Since she first joined the troupe, 15 other young women have now members, all inspired by her success."

Quyen joined the unicorn dance troupe, founded by grandmaster Luong An Duong, in 2008. Then, the male members, who were also experts in Taekwondo, were the only ones to perform, the women simply waved flags or danced on the ground. Quyen changed all that.

Shortly after joining the troupe, Quyen entreated Duong to teach her to climb the poles. He turned her down flat. Finally he relented. She practised religiously every day. For the first month, Quyen studied drawings of the dance but was forbidden from trying to mount the poles. When eventually she was allowed to climb the poles, she fell down repeatedly. Once, she nearly crippled herself when she tumbled from a four-metre pole. Luckily, her colleagues were there to catch her.

Practising outdoors soon turned Quyen's skin a dark brown, which helped to hide the bruises from her many falls.

But her efforts were not in vain and she learnt quickly. After four years, she has even mastered the seven-metre pole.

Duong says the unicorn dance requires great patience, love, and bravery.

Among the more difficult steps to learn are balancing on one leg, doing the cross-legged jump and the 180-degree rotation. It was once thought that women did not have the strength to perform these difficult manoeuvres, until Quyen joined the troop.

Quyen is now in her final year at the Luu Huu Phuoc High School. Despite her love of the unicorn dance, she longs to study pharmacy at university. No doubt she will fulfil her dream, even if it means standing on one leg. — VNS

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