South Korea’s coolest cultural draw
In the land of Samsung and kimchee, there’s a cultural phenomenonthat’s moved out of the underground and into the sights of nationaltourism marketers.
In the land of Samsung and kimchee, there’s a cultural phenomenon that’s moved out of the underground and into the sights of national tourism marketers.
South Korea is king of B-Boy dance culture, routinely sweeping up international awards for a pursuit that most would more closely associate with the streets of New York City. (It was there, during the 1970s, that a variety of dance styles fused together and became a key part of the burgeoning hip-hop scene — today’s B-Boys can trace their roots to that era.)
In the 1980s and 1990s, the movement came to South Korea, where it’s been practised and honed. South Korean B-Boys appropriated American moves but improvised their own touches, and now the country boasts about 100 crews who compete in international championships and regularly beat out competitors from the U.S.
The Drifterz Crew, three-time winners of the U.K. B-Boy Championships, say that extreme dedication is the reason Koreans make such great B-Boys. “Koreans practice like it’s a science. They break it down and study the parts,” explains one crew member.
They’re known for their precision and for practising four to six hours a day.
B-Boys — and the occassional B-Girl — are becoming so popular that even the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is getting behind them, promoting the movement as a “cultural and unique” attraction for foreign tourists.
The KTO has even set up a “performance tourism marketing strategy” through which tourists can come to see Broadway-style shows starring internationally-acclaimed B-Boys.
Jump, Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy and Marionette are all examples of non-verbal, multi-media shows that target tourists by transcending language barriers through dance, music and high production values.
Miss Lee, a Utah-raised 24-year-old who recently returned to South Korea to live, work and study, taught herself how to battle by watching American break-dancing videos.
Her signature move is a one-handed hand hop, in which she bounces upside down in a hand-stand-like position.
Miss Lee is also performer in the stage show B-Boys and Ballerina, best described as Stomp-meets-West-Side-Story with a hip-hop twist: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, conflict ensues. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks, and the matter can be settled only one way — with a dance-off. The girls don Sandra Dee-style skintight black pants and true love prevails over social class.
The pounding music, provocative costumes and skilled choreography make for an impressive stage show.
Tourists leave the theatre bursting with energy, excitement and an earnest desire to take B-Boy dance lessons themselves.
• For more information on performances of B-Boyz &?Ballerina, visit bisabal.co.kr.
• To see the country’s B-Boys at their finest, attend the R16 World B-Boy Championships &?Urban Arts Festival, www.r16korea.com.
Catch the second season of Word Travels, a documentary series that follows the real-life adventures of travel writers Julia Dimon and Robin Esrock. It airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on OLN.
– Julia Dimon is co-host of Word Travels, airing Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on OLN; www.juliadimon.com.