Three separate Max Nguyen reflections flow across studio mirrors as he plans out the steps to his next dance routine. Members from his dance crew, CoaliSion, patiently mimic his movements as he repeats the lyrics that connect to each move.
“I’m livin’ in the 21st century, doin’ something mean to it,” Nguyen said, spitting the lyrics to Kanye West’s song, “Power.” He demonstrated stepping on something imaginary as he said, “And then you just imagine stepping on something, you know, be mean to it.”
“I got flow like Kanye, you know what I’m saying?” he said, doing his own little version of a Kanye West shrug. Alexandra McLaughlin, a member of the crew, gave him a look and an audible, “Hmmph.”
But he was right; he does have flow. Nguyen, a 19-year-old Vietnamese dancer, wants to spend the rest of his life dancing. Whether that means being a backup dancer in a Chris Brown music video or teaching his passion to eager learners, a traditional desk job is simply not going to satisfy his constant need to move.
One member of the dance crew arrived late. “I’m sorry. I was making fried rice,” said freshman Mikey Castoro, an information technology major.
“Can’t you make something normal for breakfast?” one of the other members joked, patting him on the back, then getting back into formation.
Nguyen formed CoaliSion last month because he wanted a group of individuals who understood good choreography and possessed motivation to do something new and different.
Born in Dallas, Texas, his earliest memory involving dance goes back to when he was only 3 years old. He was watching Michael Jackson on TV performing ”Beat It.” However, Nguyen didn’t start dancing until his sophomore year in high school.
“There was this asshole there (high school). He was tall, and he was bald, and he was doing all these waves and stuff — you could tell he didn’t know what he was doing,” Nguyen said, waving his arms around in demonstration. “I’d been dancing for a while, so I went and ‘battled’ him. People were like, ‘That was so sick Max,’ And I liked the attention.”
As the years progressed, Nguyen quickly realized that dancing wasn’t about attention; it was more about the art form.
“My dance is based around my swagger — and yes, I pronounce swagger with an -er,” Nguyen said. “It’s my persona. The way I carry myself.”
According to Nguyen, dancing is sort of like dialect; you can tell the difference between someone who has a Southern accent and a person who is from Chicago. The same concept applies to dance styles; someone from Texas is completely different from someone from Boise, a trait that makes Nguyen stand out.
“I’m trying to mold Idaho,” Nguyen said with a laugh. He admitted that Boise isn’t exactly the dancing capital of the world.
One way to incorporate his unique style into the Boise dance culture is by taking talented, eager-to-learn dancers such as Mikey Castoro under his wing.
“He breaks a lot of things down for me and a lot of other people I’ve danced with haven’t done that,” said Castoro, who has been working with Nguyen for the past year. “Max has shown me the structure of dance; how to count beats, all of that stuff.”
Nguyen’s extroverted personality plays a huge role in his routines; they simply wouldn’t be the same without the fun, carefree feel.
“I’ll take a bunch of my little quirks in the real world and throw them into my choreography,” he said. “My choreography is pure me, it’s all me. It’s the way I’m goofing around, the way I’m having a good time.”
This unique form of dance was noticed by preliminary judges of So You Think You Dance, a dance show that Nguyen and his brother, Myk Nguyen, auditioned for in July 2008.
The Nguyen brothers had to wake up at 5 a.m. to wait in line in downtown Salt Lake City. The line stretched for blocks and blocks, but the brothers were lucky enough to be one of the first 10 teams in line.
“I was surrounded by so many dancers. There were steppers, krumpers, breakers, contemporary dancers, ballroom dancers and me. I’m from Boise, Idaho. I’m not used to that,” Nguyen said. “It’s like you’re a fat kid and you went to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You’re surrounded by everything and you want to lick everything.”
Though they didn’t make it to television round, they did make it past the first day with a golden ticket to day two.
If there is one thing Nguyen is adamant about, it’s the distinct difference between breakdancing, hip-hop and choreographing. To outsiders, it all looks the same, but to people who dance, they are three completely different worlds.
Breakdancing, or b-boying/b-girling, is an early art form of hip-hop. It’s considered one of the four elements of hip-hop. Hip-hop is basically a catchall, and includes everything from popping to locking. Choreographing is the process of bringing a vision to life that can be taught to others.
Someday Nguyen wants to travel the world and teach dance. He said dancing is his passion and it consumes his time, thoughts and life.
“Something I’m telling myself is not to let my goal consume my life,” he said. “Alex told me that if I focus too hard on my goal, I’m going to miss out on life. I told her, ‘I don’t have much of a life, all I do is dance.’ And she said, ‘Exactly.’ And I realized ‘Wow, Max, you’re freaking stupid.’ ”
McLaughlin, a senior at Timberline High School, is one of Nguyen’s closest friends.
“I think it’s really important to stay focused on what’s important, but not completely lose balance and make that the only thing that you care about and put your efforts into,” McLaughlin said.
Dancing is more than just a hobby or a way to get attention for Nguyen; dancing is a way of life. It’s the air he breathes, the way he moves and the driving force that keeps him motivated to reach his goals.
“Dancing is like an emotion for me now, it’s not just something I can go out and do,” Nguyen said. “It’s something that I have to put my heart and soul into. It’s something that I’ve dedicated my entire life to.”