(Yonhap Feature) Dancers get into the swing of things
By Elisa B. Ketter
SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) — Nalla Kim, a petrochemical research scientist, is often spotted at a bar called the Big Apple. He also shows up regularly at Swing Time on Tuesday and Saturday evenings. He goes there to dance.
Kim and his wife Jessica are two of the better-known swing dancers in Seoul who twirl to big band music at clubs where people like them are easily found every night of the week. Nalla Kim has been dancing for seven years and teaching swing dance for five.
“We usually dance to a DJ’s music and there are some special nights with live bands,” Kim said. “There are some swing bands in Seoul.” The lively atmosphere at a swing club is a combination of smooth twists and turns plus rhythmic sounds.
South Korea’s swing scene has grown rapidly since Alex Nah brought swing dance to the country in 1999, according to Kim. Nah and his partner, Sang-mi Park, started by teaching swing dance to sports dancers. In 2000, there were only two “swing communities” — groups who meet weekly for lessons and dancing — in Seoul, Kim said. With the help of the Internet boom, swing dancing spread rapidly to the general public, and now, there are over 5,000 swing dancers in Seoul and more than 30 swing communities, he said.
Kim even met his wife Jessica, a 38-year-old professional singer and accordion player, through swing dancing. Since getting married, they have been dancing, working, competing, and teaching together, and both are now semi-professional dancers, holding day jobs and dancing at night.
There are classes available at different levels. Kim, for one, teaches beginners at an hourly rate of 30,000 won (US$26) to 35,000 won for a six to eight week series and advanced students at about 40,000 to 80,000 won for a four to six week course. He typically teaches two or three nights a week to teachers, programmers, researchers, and businesspeople.
“There are about a hundred students in my classes,” he said.
Nalla Kim, a petrochemical research scientist, is also a swing dancer who works and teaches with his wife, Jessica Yoon, also an avid fan of swing. (Courtesy of David Holmes)
One of the attractions is that one can learn swing dancing without having to be able to speak Korean very well, Kim points out. “There are many foreign dancers in Seoul,” he added.
April Scholes, an American who teaches art at the U.S. military base in Yongsan, Seoul, had never swing danced before she moved to Korea. She first heard about swing dancing through the online Meetup Dance Group and quickly found out its popularity. Now she is one of the most avid fans of her new hobby and says she knows of at least 15 swing clubs in Seoul.
“There are dance societies that hold special events and lessons. There’s always somewhere open to dance,” Scholes said. She started at a beginner’s class last year, taught by American English teachers, spending two hours every Sunday evening.
“The group of friends I went with would then meet once during the week to review and practice the steps before the next lesson,” she said. “If we hadn’t practiced, I don’t think we could have remembered the steps well enough to be successful dancing in the clubs.”
The charm of swing dancing may be in nostalgia, most of the swing tunes coming from the 1940s and 1950s. “It’s like stepping back in time inside the dance clubs,” Scholes said. The dance moves are also nostalgic. Haerin (Rosa) Lee, who became friends with Scholes through swing dance, began taking classes four months ago. She is currently learning the Lindy Hop, an American dance that evolved in the 1920s, on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Zenith Bose, 27, is an avid social dancer from Canada and found her group at Fiesta I and II, a club in northern Seoul. Immersed in this scene, Bose spends most of her time with Korean dancers these days. She has gone on retreats with her group also.
“Building community is really important in Korea,” she said, having lived in the country for four years. Currently a teacher at Seoul Women’s University, Bose dances 3-4 nights a week, a schedule that consumers her life because it is addictive. She regularly watches videos on dancing and is building her dance wardrobe. She is also taking lessons from two Korean teachers.
Haerin (Rosa) Lee (R) doing a swing dance routine with her partner Jae-seok Oh (Courtesy of Minwook Jang)
“A year or two ago, I would have never called myself a dancer. I am starting to consider that title now,” said Bose, noting how South Korea may well have the biggest swing dancing community in the world by now. “When Koreans get into something they give it all their love.”
The next monumental event for swing dancers here would be Camp Swing It (www.campswingit.com) on April 12-14. In its fifth year this year, the camp will have international teachers give lessons at workshops.
“I love swing dancing and swing era music,” said Nalla Kim. “Swing dance is not only dance, but also culture and life; it can be good exercise and a social activity.”
There are some rules recommended by professional swing dancers — women shouldn’t wear heels unless they know what they are doing; don’t wear anything too short or too tight; and smile and have fun.
Nalla Kim’s blog: https://lindyexplorer.wordpress.com