Town Center corner dancer gyrates hips, becomes Jacksonville celebrity

Spinnaker

If you’ve driven the length of Town Center Parkway during a weekday, you’ve probably seen David Nguyen, the 5-foot-2-inch Vietnamese dude having a dance-off with himself, sporting a permanent smile as wide as the business sign swinging from his shoulders.

Nguyen has become something of a Jacksonville celebrity in the 15 months he’s been slinging smiles and signs. Fame and fortune fell into this 20-year-old FSCJ digital media arts freshman’s lap.

He was close to being canned from his part-time, minimum-wage job at Quizno’s, formally located next to Publix on Town Center Parkway.

His managers told him he couldn’t make the sandwiches fast enough – but only because, he said, he was taking his time on them.

Lucky for Nguyen, the managers liked him and gave him an opportunity to make up some slack by filling in for the sign holder, who wasn’t at work one day.

At first Nguyen thought the job was “just horrible” and “embarrassing.” So to make the time go faster, he started dancing.

“This old lady started honking,” he said. “She was one of the first ones to honk at me, and I just got the groove to start dancing and make people smile.”

He never imagined it would escalate to the level that it has. He maintains a Facebook fan page with thousands of fans and said he often gets commercial gigs and job offers.

But Nguyen said he can’t do it alone. He credits the appreciation and interaction from passers-by for keeping him motivated to move.

Some people stop and take pictures of Nguyen. Some get out of the car and dance with him. And, every now and again, some very nice girls will flash him, he said.

By the time Quizno’s closed in August, Nguyen had already become a local celebrity with dozens of other establishments pining over his spunky moves.

He took a job and a $3.75 per hour pay increase at Whiskey River in July, where he now puts in solid three-hour dancing shifts Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. On the weekends, Nguyen works inside the restaurant – bar backing, busing tables and — you guessed it — dancing.

“He is so sweet and energetic,” said Erin Wheeler, a UNF communication senior and Whiskey River hostess. “I think he helps [Whiskey River] a lot. He makes people happy.”

Dancing for a living wasn’t what Nguyen foresaw when he left Texas for the Florida coast. In fact, he didn’t even know he could dance until he became a sign holder. Mimicking ridiculous dances he found on YouTube was his only muse. Now he takes requests.

“Anything that people know, I will do,” he said. “I will do footloose, the cabbage patch, the sprinkler, the lawnmower. I’ve got like 77 dance moves that I do.”

Dancing the way he does is tiresome and a great workout, Nguyen said. So he enjoys his down time and hanging out with friends.

But when he does go out for a night on the town, Jacksonville dudes beware; his new found celebrity status has the ladies swooning.

“I get very happy when I get a lot of approaches from girls at the clubs,” he said. “I’m single now, and I’m just having fun.”

Nguyen said it’s hard to explain the experience of suddenly becoming a local celebrity.

“People keep telling me I’m really famous and in my mind I say, ‘I know,’ but I don’t let it go to my head,” he said. “But everywhere I go, people notice me.”

Some “haters” occasionally drive by and heckle him, but he doesn’t let it slow his roll.

“There are some people that drive by that are very rude. They don’t like what I do. I don’t know why. I just ignore them.”

It’s the people that honk, smile and wave that make him happy, he said.

Regardless what David Nguyen does in the future, he has certainly left his mark here Jacksonville.

Nguyen’s top 10 songs to dance to:

1. “Miami” by Will Smith
2. “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire
3. “Staying Alive” by Bee Gees
4. “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins
5. “It’s Tricky” by Run DMC
6. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
7. “Get Jiggy Wit It” by Will Smith
8. “What is Love” by Haddaway
9. “Tootsie Roll” by 69 boyz
10. “Smooth Operator” by Sade