Hepcats take style to VietnamPerformances this month will raise funds for a cultural exchange tour.

"The Swingin' Hepcats are dancing to Danang.The Lindyhop dance team will perform May 25-26 on Bainbridge Island to raise money for an upcoming dance tour of Vietnam. The Vietnamese government issued a first-ever official invitation to American youth, when they summoned the Hepcats to perform there with an indigenous dance troupe.The Vietnamese government regards this trip as a diplomatic breakthrough, said Kids First director Roger Ferrell, whose nonprofit to aid Vietnamese children is co-sponsoring the tour. They're putting a tremendous amount of energy into making it a success. The Vietnamese teens will be selected from five high schools by the Vietnam Youth Federation, according to Swingin' Hepcats founder and director Mark Cohen. The two troupes will meet in Hanoi in early August and practice jointly for a week, learning each others' routines. Then they will dance throughout Vietnam, appearing in Hanoi, Hue, Danang and Saigon.Funds raised by the Hepcats will underwrite the Vietnamese teen dancers; the Hepcats are paying their own way.Cohen notes that this may well be the first time the Vietnamese teens get to see other parts of their own country.The hard-working Hepcats, who practice three times a week, have applied the discipline they've learned through dance to the massive fundraising effort. Last week alone, Cohen said, the team raised $2,000 through performance and donations. Kingston's David Wolfle elementary school PTA donated $500 and Seattle University gave $500.I'm selling tickets at Safeway, like a whole bunch, Hepcats team member Tania Anderson said. I don't mind working hard, because I think it's going to be the most amazing thing that this team has done. The Vietnam tour caps a stellar season for the Hepcats, who placed fourth and fifth against the top US adult teams and nabbed other honors in the national swing dance competition in Los Angeles.The Hepcats laid the groundwork for the three-week journey though Southeast Asia with a trip to Omtepe, Nicaragua, Bainbridge's sister isle.The Hepcats and the Folkloric Dance Troupes of Omtepe lived and danced together for two and half weeks last summer. Team members say the Swingin' Hepcats learned to be flexible about food and accomodations in Nicaragua. They also discovered that touring together forms a strong bond, overcoming language barriers. The team - and Cohen - anticipate that touring in Vietnam will prove the point again.When Vietnamese and American teens link hands to perform onstage, Cohen said, they will bridge cultural differences and the U.S./Vietnam war's legacy with a language understood the world over - dance!* * * * *The Swingin' Hepcats perform to raise money for their tour of Vietnam 7:30 p.m. May 25-26 at Bainbridge High School's LGI room.Tickets are $12 adults, $8 seniors and students, $35/family of four (and $5 each additional family member), available at Town and Country, Safeway and at the door. For information, call 842-3012. "

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