Behind the Velvet Curtain of Sabra Johnson: From Winning So You Think You Can Dance to Creating Saigon’s Mesmerising Burlesque, JACKFRUIT.

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Your Passport to Saigon’s Unmissable Underground Arts Scene: Sabra Johnson’s Journey and Mesmerising Show!

There’s wild energy to Saigon by night; you can feel it in the groaning traffic. The sun sets, the moon rises, and the tapestry of electricity lines begin to hum as the city lights wink. Somewhere between the tall skyscrapers, the mega malls, the street side stalls, the rooftop bars, and regular go-to weekend endeavors – meet the underground arts scene of Ho Chi Minh City. Step behind the velvet curtain into a world where dance, feminine power, music, and artistic mystique meet as we unravel the secrets of Sabra Johnsons journey from the iconic stage of So You Think You Can Dance to founding her dance company Eva and choreographing and directing her exclusive, spellbinding – JACKFRUIT Burlesque Show at Barzinga. Calling all art, dance, theater, and music lovers on an adventure to discover her magnetic story and uncover Saigon’s hidden gems.

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Sabra Johnson’s Journey: From Humble Beginnings to So You Think You Can Dance, Season 3 Champion

Sabra Elise Johnson’s life is painted in a colorful palette of travel, adventure, and passion. After being born in the Netherlands, she spent nine years of her childhood in Germany before setting roots in Utah for the next 9 years, where, at the age of 15, she stumbled upon the beautiful world of dance. Sabra fondly reminisces, “It was like coming home,” a feeling that would resonate with anyone who’s ever found their true calling. 

Before dance took center stage in her life, young Sabra briefly flirted with the idea of a career in fashion design after high school. However, fate had a different choreography in mind. Sabra worked at a dance studio to save money, accompanying their team to competitions and workshops, leading her to spend an inspiring week in NYC with top dancers. “From that week, there was no doubt that I was moving to New York City and pursuing dance. Fashion forgotten. Since then, I haven’t worked outside of dance.” And so her love affair with dancing begins!

At 19, Sabra won the Fox Reality TV Competition So You Think You Can Dance on Season 3. Describing it as “exhilarating, challenging, and life-changing.” She learned from renowned choreographers in the industry and shared the spotlight with the nation’s most exceptional performers. 

Sabra’s win on So You Think You Can Dance didn’t lead to a traditional dance career. Instead, she embraced challenges, personal growth, adventure, and creativity to carve her unique path.

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Hello Vietnam – Exploring the Dance and Art Scene in Vietnam

From New York to Ho Chi Minh City, Sabra’s journey took an unexpected turn. “In 2016, I wanted to come to Asia and spend a year or so exploring. The second country I ended up in was Vietnam,” she reminisced. It was a leap into the unknown, where culture, language, and traditions danced to a different rhythm. A friend welcomed her to Vietnam’s leading professional dance company, UDG Vietnam. Sabra began training and teaching, performing, and ultimately, creating her own performances. And just like that, seven years flew by, with Vietnam becoming the canvas for her oozing creativity and flair! As many fellow expats can understand, Vietnam’s unique charms, warm embrace, and forgiving chaos were captivating. It allowed her to explore her artistic passions freely, without the constraints she had experienced elsewhere. Sabra found her creative haven here, and it was in Vietnam that she would craft her most enchanting performances.

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Eva Dance Company: Empowering Women through Dance

Sabra’s artistic vision expanded as she ventured into the realm of Eva Dance Company. “I had wanted an all-girls company for a while. I saw a place for girls to train as women to be strong and sexy. To celebrate them, make them confident, give them work, make them work,” Sabra explained. Eva Dance Company became her platform to empower women through the art of dance. “I want my girls to be well-versed in dance, professional, and have opportunities open up to them through dance,” Sabra says, her passion evident. Eva empowers women as a platform to express their strength and beauty. And it was here that the seeds of Jackfruit Burlesque were sown, a show designed to celebrate and flaunt the essence of womanhood.

The Journey of Jackfruit Burlesque – an unmissable intoxicating experience in Saigon

The birth of Jackfruit Burlesque was an unexpected collaboration with Barzinga, an underground gem nestled in Saigon’s creative scene. Sabra reminisces, “Phuong wanted me to do an event for her new bar, Barzinga, and the event turned into a show that will play twice a month for 2 years!” The creative whirlwind was fueled by artistic freedom and an intimate 3×3 meter stage, which strangely ignited their creativity. The name, inspired by an erotic 19th-century Vietnamese poem, perfectly encapsulates the show’s essence—provocative, relevant, and elegant. The result is a mesmerizing addition to Saigon’s nightlife, blending elegance with grunge, art with audacity, and celebrating the diverse facets of womanhood.

Sabra carefully selected and trained her dancers with an eye for stage presence and endurance. Rigorous training in jazz, ballet, and heels, plus five-day-a-week rehearsals for three months, produced a show full of energy and passion. Barzinga, with its gritty, underground, speakeasy charm, emerged as the perfect backdrop for Jackfruit’s provocative spectacle. The intimate, sensual setting is the ideal canvas for a new concept Saigon hasn’t seen. Despite the challenges of transforming a bar into a makeshift theater, the collaboration with Phuong flowed seamlessly, even leading her to narrate the show with finesse and humor in both English and Vietnamese performances. The entire experience leaves you spellbound.

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Sabras Philosophy and Future Fantasies: The Power of Dance and Storytelling

For Sabra, dance is not just movement; it’s a form of storytelling. “It’s an ongoing debate. Does it make sense? Does it not? How to say anything without saying anything at all?!” she pondered. Through her choreography and direction, she transforms movement into a narrative filled with emotions and provoking anecdotes. Jackfruit Burlesque, in particular, is a unique celebration of womanhood. “Jackfruit is the only show in this city that shows women in their cliche and out of it. Women are really beautiful; what’s so wrong with that?” Sabra questioned, and her answer echoed in every graceful step and powerful gesture of her dancers.

Sabra’s wildest creative fantasies keep maturing and pushing boundaries through her love for dance. “There is a seed of a Jazz and Contemporary piece in my brain for next year. Also, a local and international tour,” she revealed. For Sabra, success is about perseverance, and she remarked, “Pursuing art requires patience and persistence.

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Editor’s Note & Review of the Show: A Golden Age 

I first met Sabra at The Dance Centre in Thao Dien, where I rekindled my love for dance. Each student who took her class, including myself, was in awe of her dancing talent, originality, and warm nature. Could it be that Sabra I had followed from So You Think You Can Dance? I thought, surely not! After knowing Sabra for a few years, I caught wind of her Jackfruit Burlesque at Barzinga and got a ticket for the opening weekend. I was blown away by her work. I felt exhilarated and inspired to start a column on Vietnam is Awesome to highlight creative individuals like her and their contributions to the world. I asked her if she would like to be featured, and she invited us back a second time to experience her show. While researching her to set the interview for this article, I realized it was, in fact, the Sabra I had been watching and admiring as a teenager on the Fox Reality TV show! And to think Sabra, with her humble nature, had never mentioned this huge achievement to me. I feel honored to know her and share her journey with you.

Jackfruit is reminiscent of the “Golden Age” of burlesque in America between the 1900s and the 1930s, where sultry performances in clubs, cabarets, and theaters lit up the night. But what distinguishes Jackfruit is its high caliber of dancing excellence, a celebration of various dance and music styles, a hint of comedy, a touch of theater, and the subtle caress of seduction. It’s an unapologetic celebration of women, smashing stereotypes and presenting them as the multifaceted, beautiful beings they are. This is what I love most about the show. A fusion of Soul, Jazz, Funk, and the masterful blending of dance and music genres created a true work of art. Step into the alleyway and make your way to Barzinga to be greeted by friendly staff and an alluring atmosphere. Every detail was tastefully evocative, from the decor to the soundtrack to the welcome cocktail, celebrating the essence of femininity – salty, sour, or sweet. Sabra’s show is a testament to girl power, a celebration of strength, sensuality, and artistry. 

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Vietnam Is Awesome team with Sabra and Phuong at JACKFRUIT.

Curtains Close 

Jackfruit is an unmissable experience for anyone exploring Saigon’s underground arts scene. As Sabra continues to shape her artistic vision and write new chapters in her remarkable story, she reminds us that art can inspire, provoke, and celebrate the beauty of the human spirit. Thank you, Sabra Johnson: Dancing with Passion and Purpose, for bringing something special to Saigon nightlife and elevating the creative scene in Vietnam. Don’t miss out, and get your tickets now!

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Lauren Tracy
Head of Content & Communications - Vietnam Is Awesome
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Lauren has been living in Vietnam for the past 8 years. Her passion for the travel industry and wealth of experience has led her to become the Head of PR & Communications at Vietnam Is Awesome.

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