a state of change
As his hands shifted across the steering wheel, Nicholas Truong realized he still remembered the roads of Garland, Texas, like the back of his hand.
It’s been four years since the dancer and choreographer relocated to Phoenix, and he had returned as a visitor—but time doesn’t matter when your hometown’s woven into your muscle memory. “It’s as if I never left,” he says.
Born in San Diego, California, Truong moved to Dallas when he was two. There he learned to dance, lead and (eventually) let go, but the sentiment remains:
“Texas raised me,” he says. “Dallas raised me.”
BAND KID BEGINNINGS
Growing up, dance was a stark contrast to who he was. It was an extroverted art, and Truong was a shy band nerd who was often bullied. Still, he was drawn to it. In 6th grade, he saw two older b-boys perform.
“I saw the bald guy do a head spin on his bald head,” he says. “And I was like, ‘yo, I want to do that.’”
So during class, when he wasn’t playing alto sax, he and a couple friends would try to learn breaking. C-walking (which Truong says was referred to as clown-walking at the time) was popular, especially within the Asian community, so he picked that up as well.
Texas raised me. Dallas raised me.
“I feel like I did it in the beginning to make friends and seem cool and not nerdy or whatever, to kind of fit in a little bit,” he says.
“But it ended up being really fun. It was one of the first styles I ever picked up, and as a dancer, I’m really grateful for it because I’m really familiar with footwork.”
Soon he was freestyling, then choreographing and performing. During his sophomore year at North Garland High School, he choreographed a piece with two other friends for a performance that just so happened to be on his birthday.
The event was in the middle of the school day. Students could buy a ticket to essentially skip class, so the auditorium was packed. He loved the rush of being on stage and people enjoying the work he put in.
“I remember when I was done, I heard the crowd screaming,” Truong says. “And I was like, ‘yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
ON the rISE
Truong joined youth teams around Dallas and was part of Minority Brothers Crew in 2012. “We were just a bunch of kids that banded together,” he says.
True to the name, they were all minorities, except for one key white guy, which they ironically called “Major” because he was, um, the majority (it later became his dance name).
“I remember when I was done, I heard the crowd screaming. And I was like, ‘yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
They competed against other youth teams, especially ones from Houston. According to Truong, in Texas, Houston is the dominator of dance. It’s the hometown of dancers like Brian Puspos, Chachi and Andrew Batterina, as well as top tier dance crews.
And while other youth teams had adult choreographers, MBC was comprised of kids choreographing themselves. They were the first ones from Dallas to ever place in Houston, during a World of Dance competition in 2014.
Truong’s dancing soon took on a “smooth and wavy” style characteristic to Texas dancers, which he attributes to chopped and screwed—a remixing technique iconic for its syrupy slow beats and pitched-down vocals developed by Houston’s DJ Screw in the 90’s.
As MBC gained recognition, Truong says that adults in the community began seeing potential in young dancers, even taking some under their wing and teaching them to lead.
Truong, one of the youngest to do what he did, was definitely noticed, but he had no interest in leading, at least not yet. He was focused on one thing: joining his dream crew, The Renegades.
“What The Renegades was to Dallas was basically like this Avengers team where they put together all the best dancers in Dallas that were older than 18, and they competed,” he says. “So when I graduated, I joined another youth crew named INC—Impact N Change.”
Truong knew INC was run by some of The Renegade members.
“I did this strategically with my brain like, ‘Hey, I’m dope, let me in Renegades, I just turned 18’ and it lowkey kind of worked,” he says.
He was asked to join The Renegades after two months of being in INC. The first time he traveled outside of Texas was for World of Dance Chicago, where they tied for third place. His mentors trained him to choreograph, and he got to choreograph for the team himself.
BEcoming a leader
At the same time, he was choreographing for the Filipino Student Association at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“I’m not Filipino myself, but I was asked to come and choreograph for their modern team,” he says. “Their modern team is basically their hip hop choreography team.” He gives a rundown of FSA: “The purpose is to unify Filipinos, although you don’t have to be Filipino to join.”
“I did this strategically with my brain like, ‘Hey, I’m dope, let me in Renegades, I just turned 18’ and it lowkey kind of worked.”
“Once a year the five biggest schools in Texas meet up for an event called GoodPhil where they compete against each other in sports, dance, culture and spirit—and it’s always a blast. There’s never usually beef. And all the schools are in one spot, so you know the parties are lit.”
He was part of UTD, representing Dallas as a choreographer. But midway through the season, he somehow became a leader. “I always tell people this: I never saw myself as a leader. But I was just placed in situations where I think it just came out of me,” he says.
It was the biggest challenge. He choreographed a team where everyone was older than him. And he wasn’t even a UTD student—he was attending a nearby community college.
But he finally had the opportunity to run a team the way he wanted to. “How would I want to be on the team?” he had asked himself.
“How would I want to experience this, and how could I make these experiences great and powerful so others experience it too?”
He never looked for skill, because at this time he was teaching, and he felt like he could teach anybody.
But what he did look for was work ethic—a.k.a. the most important thing you could have as a dancer, according to him.
“So during auditions, I didn’t even care if you were getting the choreo down. I was paying attention to how hard they wanted to push, how hard they really wanted it, because that’s what I need on a team,” he says. “I can have a really talented dancer, but if they’re lazy, I don’t want them. And that’s how it’s always been.”
He stayed a part of FSA for three years. It was like being a part of history, as FSA and GoodPhil had deep ties with Texas dance culture.
“I felt like I was a torchbearer,” Truong says. “All these people, giving me the torch to carry it on. I just wanted to pass on the legacy and serve my time gracefully—like presidency, I guess.”
“I always tell people this: I never saw myself as a leader. But I was just placed in situations where I think it just came out of me.”
In his time, he says he was able to make UTD history, something he refers to as one of his proudest, crowning moments: “Up until this point, I’d grown up always losing to Houston, so it was always kind of on my bucket list to beat at least one Houston team, and we beat U of H in 2016.”
“It was awesome. We got second. I don’t think they placed, and they were real mad about it and then they came back harder next year and whooped us.” He laughs. “Respect! It’s all fun and love though.”
As Truong’s achievements and successes grew, so did the pressure that often accompanies prodigy.
“You know the saying goes? Don’t meet your heroes, because they’re actually terrible people sometimes? That’s basically what happened,” he says. “I felt used for a bit only because I was young. I was just looking up to people, you know?”
He felt like he always had expectations and roles to fulfill. “However, they weren’t my expectations and roles that I wanted to fulfill, and these were just expectations and roles that other people expected of me, which kind of messed with my identity for a bit,” he says.
It was something he never realized until he moved to Phoenix at the end of 2017. He had lived 20 years of his life in one place, and it was all he knew. Now, he was starting over.
“I felt used for a bit only because I was young. I was just looking up to people, you know?”
“Nobody knows who I am, where I’m from, or the skill sets that I have—it’s a very life-changing and euphoric, introspective experience,” he says. “I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about traumas that I had. Moving over here, I kind of lost my identity for a bit, I’m not gonna lie. I was struggling to figure out who I was.”
ON TO THE NEXT
A family friend introduced Truong to Jukebox Dance Studio, where he was welcomed with open arms.
Arizona was strong foundations, he says, and he learned different styles, their individual cultures, history, how they came to be, and how to respect them.
After three months, he went from being part of the team to becoming a director. Slowly, in this new community, he allowed himself to recalibrate his mindset and healed his relationship with dance as a career and as an ongoing journey.
“I’m always on this mission to become a master,” he says. “Give or take without the fame, money or anything like that—one day, I will become a master in this stuff.”
As part of Jukebox Fam, he’s been a part of their recent wins, and he’s currently preparing for the next competition.
He admits it’s different now (all competitions are held online until further notice) but as the pandemic reshapes the dance world, Truong looks forward to the future, however uncertain it may be.
“Not everything should be like sunshine and rainbows, it’s gonna rain every now and then, and through the rain, you grow.
The only way you grow is to be in an environment where you’re uncomfortable. I’ve been placed through a lot of situations where I was uncomfortable,” he says.
“And I adapted in ways that didn’t compromise who I was—or who I am.”
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