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37th Lễ Bổn Mạng – Nghĩa Sĩ Dance


It has been almost two years since I have last choreographed a cultural dance, so I was slightly nervous when I volunteered to lead the Nghĩa Sĩ dance for the 37th Lễ Bổn Mạng during our Nganh Meeting on Wednesday, 10/3. Our 37th Lễ Bổn Mạng was set to be on Saturday, 11/3. Yes, exactly one month to draft up some Nghĩa Sĩ, choreograph, teach the dance, and refine the dance. Not only was I worried that I was out of practice for choreographing, but I was also worried about the time limit.

Part of the reason why we decided on this late was because our Doan did not pick on a theme until the Saturday before our Nganh Meeting. In less than a day after our Doan meeting, the theme was decided to be “The Footsteps of Vietnamese Martyrs”.

Once I knew the theme and volunteered to lead the dance, I had only one song in mind to use: Bài Ca Ngàn Trùng, a song about the Vietnamese Martyrs.

How did I find this song? I found it while browsing YouTube for another Vietnamese song a few years ago. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded super serious and dramatic so I favorited it. It sounded so meaningful despite my understanding of the Vietnamese words. I just knew it had something to do with Vietnamese Martyrs since the YouTube videos showed pictures of Vietnamese Martyrs with the song. (Using context clues!) Little did I know I was actually going to choreograph a dance for this song a couple years later…


When I choreograph a dance, I try to understand the meaning behind the words and research the background of the song. However, since this is an old Vietnamese church song, my only hope was to just try to understand the lyrics. Who did I ask for help? My dad. On Friday night before the first dance practice, I asked my dad to translate each line, one by one, so that I can understand the meaning of the song and choreograph the dance with movement related to the lyrics.

My main goal for choreographing the dance to this specific song was to make sure that this dance did not look like a Dâng Hoa. The song I chose is commonly sung in church. We actually heard this song being sung during a rước kiệu for Các Thánh Tử đạo Việt Nam at our parish a few weeks before LBM. When I told a few HTs during the rước kiệu that this was going to be the song Nghĩa Sĩ will dance to, they had a confused face and were probably thinking, “How are you guys going to dance to this song?” And honestly, I didn’t really know how I was going to choreograph this. All I knew was that I did not want this dance to look like a Dang Hoa. The dance should not entirely look gentle, graceful, or flowy. The dance had to look mostly sharp and serious, but at the same time, worshipping God.

When I think about the Vietnamese Martyrs, I think of death because they all died for God. The lyrics, “Cho đầu rơi máu chảy / ánh đức tin kiên trung / chiếu sáng khi gươm vung”, (Let the bleeding head fall / Strong, bright Faith / Shines brightly when the sword swings), is about beheading, which was probably the one of the most common ways the Vietnamese Martyrs were killed. I decided that this dance was going to portray the different ways the Vietnamese Martyrs could have been killed.

Now, how was I going to portray violence in a dance without being too explicit? Using plastic swords would have been too obvious and it would have made the dance look like a homicide demonstration. It might as well have been a skit then. Fans and Bamboo hats were out of the question because they seemed too gentle and graceful. In the end, I decided to use fabric. Fabric was the most versatile. It can be both flowy and strong and can balance out the sharp dance movements.

I use GoogleSheets to plan out the entire dance. This method works for me because I can see the overall feeling and picture of the dance.

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How I planned out this dance

For costumes, I knew I wanted everyone to look uniform. Death did not discriminate gender. There were both male and female martyrs. I wanted everyone to look like they were poor or in poverty so that all they really had was their faith. The mood of the entire dance was serious and a little dark, so I wanted dark colors. Hence, this is why they wore dark brown Ao Ba Bas and black pants/leggings. The fabrics were red to represent blood. They were practically walking Hiệp Sĩ Khăn Quàngs. (Boys had black fabric because I did not have enough red fabric, but at least it still matched the theme).

The Dance


There were 3 methods of killing portrayed in the dance: 1) Beheading, 2) Hanging, 3) Splitting (Stretched to Death).

  1. Beheading: Both Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam took turns portraying beheading at 0:52 & 2:10. The fabric certainly disguised the movement, but if you take a good look, it really is the movement of beheading. This was shown twice because I wanted some equality (both genders dying). There were some female Vietnamese martyrs recorded. Plus, I wanted to emphasize this very common killing method in Vietnam.
  2. Hanging:  Shown at 3:21. This method was the most explicit and I felt that it was more appropriate for the Nghĩa Sĩ Nam to be hung rather than the Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ. In addition, most Vietnamese Martyrs that were recorded were male because they were priests. While teaching this part, I joked that the girls putting the fabric around the boys’ neck was going to be the most romantic gesture of this dance. You think the girls are giving the boys a hug from behind, but nope!
  3. Splitting: Shown at 3:30. Although this may not have been a common method of killing in Vietnam, it may have still been possible it was executed. This could have been an unrecorded method of murder. Disguised as an acrobatic portion of the dance, a Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam sibling pair showed off their flexibility and portrayed this death.

The separate Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam dance portions were the most difficult to choreograph. At this part of the song, the tone is more gentle and calm. I added floorwork to match the pace of the song. For Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ, I incorporated contemporary dance to differentiate this part from the refrain. For Nghĩa Sĩ Nam, I used tribal-like dance movements and (what the boys thought) a breakdancing pose to keep it different from the girls. In both cases, my aim was to show them worshipping and praising God.

Throughout the dance, there were many waves (cascading). This represented the ripple effect of Vietnamese martyrs. Words of mouth spread that certain individuals died for Jesus Christ. Some people even followed the martyrs’ footsteps. The Vietnamese martyrs affected many lives, including our own lives today.

The flying stunt (2:00) is to signify going to Heaven and reaching towards God. In a way, I based off the idea off of the “Creation of Adam” painting. When I look at this painting, it looks like Adam is reaching towards God. (Totally unrelated to the actual meaning of the painting, but this is how I interpreted it).

“Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

The Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ not doing the stunt were to align their right arm and leg to be a straight line, signifying a straight path to Heaven. When you are martyred, you have a straight path right to Heaven after you die for God.

The ending pose was inspired by Miền Đông Nam’s Đại Hội Hiệp Sĩ Quốc Tế (2012) performance. The Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ represents all the Vietnamese Martyrs. As she climbs up, she is traveling a rough road just to die for Christ. Hence, she opens up her arms like how Jesus died on the cross and falls. The Nghĩa Sĩ Nam catches her to signify God will save us all, especially because we died for Him. This ending pose can be interpreted in multiple ways, but this is what I wanted the ending pose to mean.


Final Thoughts

I think I was more nervous than the Nghĩa Sĩ on the performance day! We got 2 run-throughs on stage before and I still felt like there was so much to clean up, but we were out of time. (I am a perfectionist) However, during the actual performance, the Nghĩa Sĩ’s movements were so smooth suddenly! That’s the funny thing about performances. They always look so off during regular practice, but when it comes to actually performing, they somehow sync up together and look a thousand times better! The crowd cheered for a lot of parts of the dance (including parts I forgot they would cheer at) and I was so proud of the Nghĩa Sĩ for nailing down each stunt. Big shoutout to their Nghĩa Sĩ peers! They cheered like crazy for their friends!

Choreographing this dance brought back my forgotten love for choreographing and creativity. There were many times when I ran into a mental block because I couldn’t think of moves that matched the lyrics. I had to somehow make this dance look sharp and serious with a low-profile story of the deaths of the Vietnamese martyrs without being too explicit. On top of that, it still needed to actually look like a dance, not a skit. There are no examples on YouTube of a religious dance that looks different from a Dang Hoa. I was in a new territory of dance and needed to be creative. Ultimately, I am honestly quite happy with how the dance turned out. For the first time, I incorporated stunts in a TNTT dance and learned how to think outside the box more. We all worked hard and I appreciate my Nghĩa Sĩ kids for trying everything I threw at them despite how difficult some moves and stunts were. They are so fun(ny) to work with!

Needlessly to say, I cannot wait until I choreograph the next dance!


Christmas Drawing 2018

In the middle of a prayer, you asked me if there was anything I would like to add as we prayed to Mother Mary. I paused, thought of my words, and said: “I want to be like you.” Somehow, the words were difficult to say even though I was unsure of what exactly I was asking for. I hear you re-adjust yourself. After a long moment of silence, you asked Mother Mary to let me know that I am pure, just like her; because I am pure in heart and soul despite the fact I felt quite the opposite in every part of me. Unexpectedly, I cried because I did not know that I needed to hear this.

The last time I drew and colored a drawing in Photoshop was in my senior year of high school (2012). Basically, it has been about 6 years since I have done something like this. This is what an engineering college education and starting a career does to you. Therefore, my art skills have remained (or deteriorated) as to how it was in my high school years. Anyhow, I am happy to start drawing again with the VEYM DAC (Digital Assets Collection)/TNTT Arts Team.

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Rough Sketch

Last month, I was swamped with other activities that I missed the Mother Mary theme. This month was chosen to be a Christmas theme. I unintentionally was somehow able to merge the two themes together: Mother Mary & Christmas. Another Huynh Truong pointed out the Motherhood portrayal in my piece. Motherhood is an essential part of Christmas.

When I first sketched this, the female Huynh Truong did not have a veil. I wanted to somehow include Mary in the drawing. Therefore, the light blue veil is to remind viewers of Mother Mary.

What I wanted viewers to take away from this artwork was that Mother Mary is a good role model for all of us. We could all be like Mary.


Joshua 2018 – Ban Phim Ảnh

In late July 2018, I attended Joshua in Atlanta, Georgia. It was my first time going to Miền Đông Nam. Once again, I was traveling by myself, except this time, more people from Miền Tây was attending this event.

It’s funny. A month ago during Sinai 24, I told people that I was most likely not attending Joshua 2018. However, I realized that helping out at the event would fulfill a Sinai Post Camp assignment. I decided to attend Joshua 2018 and help out with Ban Phim Ảnh / Photo-Videography Committee.

Although I have owned a camera for years, I have never actually been officially part of Ban Phim Ảnh for any event until now. It has always been unofficial, so this was basically my first time being part of this Ban. Before, I would be more relaxed and capture whatever I wanted. However, since I was officially part of the Ban, I felt an obligation to actually be working. The main thing I took away from this experience was that this job was difficult. I had to constantly be alert, on my feet, and ready to take a photo at any given moment. I had to capture moments that were unexpected and could disappear as soon as they came. It was tiring! I gained so much more respect for my brother during this event. I never realized how exhausting it was to be the camera person.


A few thoughts that occurred to me during Joshua were the following:

  • Never have I been more proud to be from Miền Tây until now. I’m not sure if it is because of the low number of us attending or because I have recently attended Sinai 24 the month before, but I was proud to say that I was from Miền Tây.


  • Some people are already committed to misunderstanding you or disliking you. I realized that although this is sad, this does not hurt me as much as I thought it would because I have been through worse.
  • Events like Joshua are basically reunions for older people. Since I felt like this was a reunion, I guess that basically means I’m getting there (old).
  • At the same time, these events are like meeting well-known Huynh Trưởngs you would normally never meet in person, but only see on FaceBook.
  • Wow, although I knew a good majority of the Huynh Trưởngs due to previous training camps, there were still a lot I did not meet yet. I am so thankful for the friends I have made at previous camps.
Tiberia IX – Đội Anrê: Can Đảm
  • This is definitely not good American food. I want Vietnamese food… NOW.

I made a small Joshua 2018 highlight video to test out my new camera.

I am glad that I attended Joshua 2018. The experience gave me a completely different perspective on TNTT.


37th Lễ Bổn Mạng – “After Party”

You see, the thing is… I don’t drink (alcohol). Okay, I do, but probably like 5 times a year. (5 very low alcohol content drinks)

Instead, I enjoy being sober – talking and laughing with friends. This is what I consider a “good time.”

As I sat with fellow Huynh Trưởngs from other Đoàns, playing card games while sipping on my milk tea, I thank God for this simple and wonderful moment.



37th Lễ Bổn Mạng – Invitation Design

This year, I was in charge of Ban Linh Tinh for Lễ Bổn Mạng. One of the responsibilities of this Ban is to make invitations, which were to be printed and handed out to the different communities at our parish.

The criteria for the invitations were as follows:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location
  • “37th Anniversary”
  • Both Vietnamese and English
  • Simple, but not plain design

I have been out of practice in terms of designing flyers, so I used Canva to aide in my design of this invitation. Creative people don’t always need to reinvent the wheel; we use our resources!

My initial design started out very much like the template flyer. Although I did alter some fonts, it remained mostly unchanged from the original template. I stuck with the color red or pinkish red to represent the blood of the Vietnamese Martyrs, the theme for this year’s Lễ Bổn Mạng.

Red White Brush Strokes Blood Donation Poster
Original Template


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Initial Design

I received feedback and was told to make changes.

The designs were plain. Improve the design. Change “37th Le Bon Mang” to “Mừng Lễ Bổn Mạng – Kỷ Niệm 37 Năm Thành Lập”
Change  “Văn Nghệ – Sau Khi Thánh Lễ” to “Văn Nghệ – Sau Thánh Lễ trong Sullivan Hall”

Per the comments, I made the revisions.


I Googled search and found a very famous picture of the Vietnamese Martyrs. I’ve seen this picture multiple times as I was growing up so I felt like this one spoke out to me the most. Thus, the flyer received a pixelated Vietnamese Martyrs background and alternating red & white background for the text. It may not be very noticeable but, I also made the Doan name a brighter red.

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I received the second round of feedback and was reminded to have both English & Vietnamese. The flyer just received more text.

I received the third round of feedback. I needed to get rid of the awkward bright red stroke in the middle of the flyer as well as make the bottom seem messier with more brush strokes to match the top.

Finally, we came to this final version of the flyer. This flyer was to print on cardstock paper and sealed in an envelope to be the invitations to be handed out to the different communities in our parish. In addition, the flyer was used to promote our LBM on Facebook.

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Final Design

I am very happy with how the flyers turned out. It’s simple and yet displays the theme very well. I’ve received many compliments on the design, so there’s reassurance that this design is decent.

This is a good start for getting back into designing again!


Sa Mạc Thăng Tiến XXXVII

A part of my brain told me that I should be at the other camp, but my heart knew that this is the place where I belonged, where I needed to return to, and where God lead me to. As painful as it may have been to let go.



As I performed the semaphore message for HTDT, I was told to do it slower. “Slower? This is already slow!” I thought. Even my former less experienced students can get the message at the speed I was going at. However, I knew he was right. I had to go slower. I had to hold each letter longer than I was used to. I had to remember what letter came up next. I had to remember where in the message I was at.

And perhaps I should shift my lifestyle as well. I probably need to slow down, experience and enjoy each moment, and remember the bigger picture of the journey of life.

Amazing Race at SCU

Finally. After 5 years of being a Huynh Truong, a trip to Santa Clara University for Nganh Thieu finally happened. For the last 5 years, I kept saying that I wanted to plan out an event like this, but it never happened because I had to focus on school. But finally, in my last year of my term as Nganh Truong for Nganh Thieu, it happened.

I am so thankful for the Huynh Truongs that came out to help. Without them, this event wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you all for your support.

Crutching around the campus was tough. Real tough. A woman who just came out of mass saw me trying to catch up with the girls and said, “Props to you for trying to catch up with those characters,” as she pointed to the Nganh Thieu girls running ahead. I smiled. Their energy somehow never fails to energize me. This is why I do what I do.

Influential Person

This past Sunday (1/14/2018), one of my Thiếu Nhi kids told me that she has an assignment from school in which she has to interview an influential person in her life. “You’re an influential person to me, so can I interview you?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered, after having a moment of gratitude and love.