The Disco Diva of Saigon

A small but growing community is stepping out of the shadows of Vietnam’s past into the twirling lights of a disco ball. Meet Skarlet Tran—their fearless leader.

by Simon Stanley
Photos by Vinh Dao
Translations by Cam-Tu Tran
Published by Roads & Kingdoms, May 2018
Long-listed for One World Media’s 2019 Print Award

 

Inside a cramped apartment above his District 5 dance studio in Saigon, Danh Thanh Tran adds the final touches to his makeup. Resplendent in a white leotard, trailing black cape and eyeliner that sparkles under the cold tube lighting, Danh, 33, pulls on a Whitney Houston-esque wig.

Something under the feminine mask stirs and it is hard to miss. His eyes: smoked and heavy with makeup, faux lashes, and the playful tint of blue contact lenses, are alive and flirting, his voice is louder and stronger. Danh’s cocoon of conformity evaporates as Skarlet announces her arrival upon glittering wings.

As the studio’s open shutters vibrate to the pounding rain outside and the humidity rises, Danh gets reacquainted with his alter ego. He struts up and down the dance studio and leaps into the air before performing a perfect landing in stiletto heels. He takes a moment to admire his reflection in the mirror, grabs at his smoothed down groin and tweaks the bleach-blonde wig before continuing his pouting, preening parade.

“It’s like a whole new start, a regeneration, a chance to do what I want,” Danh says. “Everything suddenly becomes so clear, so perfect.”

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