This is the story of Hanoi, an ancient city in the midst of its 1,000th anniversary as the capital of Vietnam. Every morning Hanoians from across the city gather at Thong Nhat Park for exercise, chatting and ballroom dancing, but as the city at its millennium opens to a new era of global investment, the park has become a target for commercial development that threatens the conviviality of city life.
In 2010 Hanoi celebrates 1,000 years as the capital city of Vietnam. “Dancing in the Park” is a metaphor for the vitality of the city through time that is manifested in the social life created by Hanoians in public spaces. Every morning from 6-8 a.m. before it is officially opened for the day, Thong Nhat Park fills with people of all ages coming to exercise, play sports, walk and jog, sit and chat – and join with friends and strangers alike for ballroom dancing. Each activity is self-organized and often includes the setting up of equipment, providing music and leadership by self-appointed and popularly selected mentors. While open to all, each activity has rules for cooperative engagement that serve to create an organized tapestry of social encounters across the park. Built by the people themselves after the liberation of Hanoi from colonial rule, Thong Nhat Park has an exceptionally potent meaning to the people of Hanoi as a collectively owned public space. However, with the opening of Vietnam to the world economy from the late 1980s, the park has experienced repeated attempts to commercialize it, first as a privately-owned amusement park and, most recently, with the ground digging for a 5-star hotel. The film shows how park users create social activities and how view the importance of the park in their lives. It also follows how NGOs and journalists in Hanoi have mobilized Hanoians to save the park from privatization.