When dancing goes bust

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When dancing goes bust

So you were out dancing with your friends in Itaewon last weekend? Congratulations. You were breaking the law.

Well, maybe you weren’t breaking the law. If you were dancing at King’s Club, you weren’t. King’s Club, the timeworn disco in the center of the nightlife area, is about the only place in Itaewon that has a dancing license. If you were dancing at any other place ― the Hollywood Basement, Why Not, Polly’s Kettle, you name it ― you were breaking the law.

You see, bars and clubs in this country are usually forced to operate under a restaurant license, which means they aren’t supposed to have loud music or dazzling light systems, or let patrons shake any booty. A dancing license, our sources say, is only issued by the upper echelons of the government, so it’s essentially impossible to get.

So, “kicking off our Sunday shoes,” we ask ourselves, “Is Korea the equivalent of a puritanical Midwestern U.S. town? Is this 1984 and are we Kevin Bacon?”

Not quite.

The stupid system that makes dancing technically taboo exists for one good reason: to make it easier for petty gangsters and venal police officers to extort money. If a dance club starts getting popular, a policeman may start paying it more “friendly visits,” which means his little boy needs a new pair of shoes, which means he is hiking his protection fees. If the club owner doesn’t cough up the cash, he’s just asking to be nailed with fines ― for the crime of allowing dancing to be committed in his club.

Sometimes the club owners themselves put the extortion process in motion. Last weekend Club A, jealous of Club B’s success, decided to play nasty (Club B asked that the real names of the joints be kept secret). Club A paid gangsters to bust Club B, a friendly and fun place to dance. The gangsters told the police to raid Club B, and the police dutifully obeyed.

Who’s in charge here?

So on Saturday night a few uniformed police officers waltzed into Club B ― right into the middle of a good time, complete with loud music, a dazzling light system and gyrating posteriors. They invaded the benign and pleasant atmosphere, and promptly extinguished it.

The policemen told the owner of Club B that the dancing had to stop. The owner protested, saying, “Hey, this isn’t North Korea ― this is a free country.” But the police threatened to fine him. The music was turned down and the lights turned off. The dancers stopped dancing. Then they started to trickle out.

Mr. Itaewon Policeman, we have a message for you. We appreciate the hard work you do, and that you protect us. But if you think you’re not earning enough, go talk to your employer about it ― the government. Take the honest route. Don’t gouge the hard-working business owners that keep this economy afloat, especially the owners of bars that keep our spirits afloat. We need them.

And here’s another message, coppers, recycled from 1984: Wake up. It’s 2003. Dancing is not a crime. It’s time to lose your blues and let everybody get footloose.

by Mike Ferrin
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