Dance Fusion

At the intersection of age and youth, tradition and rebellion, memory and hope, there is break-dancing.

The kids are soft-spoken. Meek, even. They quietly and politely explain why dance is important to them. It’s about the rhythm. The freedom. The togetherness.  But, mainly, it’s about the expression. For Team Kaya, a group of young people from Cambodia, Vietnam and other Southeast Asia points, the dance stage offers them a hardwood canvas to transmit the passions and values that drive them–and can be so hard to articulate through speaking or writing.

“I’m quiet and shy and don’t really have a lot of friends,” says Kenny Huynh. “But dance brings about good vibes, good feelings. I feel like I can express myself.”

Kenny is part of Team Kaya, Lynn YMCA-based after-school dance troupe made up primarily of teens with Southeast Asian heritage. Team Kaya uses dance to blend orthodoxy and unorthodoxy. Taking elements of traditional Southeast Asian dance and adding their own “beat-boy” and hip-hop riffs, produces a unique result: an exhibition that honors their ancestry and ignites it with the energy of their youth. How many times have you seen the traditional Cambodian monkey dance fused with old-school ‘80s breakdancing?

As one of United Way’s Youth Venture teams, Kaya leveraged their passion for dance into a social entrepreneurship project that will have a positive effect on their community. Their goal: to promote healthy living through dance where the “healthy” means emotional as well as physical wellbeing. For Kenny and his friends, their expressions on the dance floor offer a salve to the daily stressors of teen life.

“The first time you get up to dance, you feel nervous,” said Dillan Nguyen, one of the Kaya dancers. “But you eventually feel comfortable and you can let it go. It becomes a confidence booster.”

Kaya wants to share this feeling with everyone in Lynn. Using their Youth Venture capital, seed money and mentor expertise from community volunteers, they sponsored the Dance Jam on July 19, an open-to-the-public dance contest. Kaya has recruited retired breakdancers to judge the performances.

“This youth-led event is the first of its kind in Lynn,” said Wanntha Sim, Director of Kaya and Outreach and Volunteer Director for the Lynn YMCA. “It’s bigger than Lynn. Dance is a safe space, no matter where you come from.”

It really doesn’t matter where you come from. Be it Lynn or Boston, Cambodia or Vietnam, Team Kaya believes that dance is a common language that unites peoples, cultures and generations. And the message is simple:

“Dance is a way to let loose,” Dillan says. “It’s a way to be free.”