Northern dancer jumps her way down South

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Northern dancer jumps her way down South

A third-generation Korean from Japan, Paek Hyang-ju, 31, started dancing at the age of two, when she could barely walk, and mastered traditional Korean and East Asian dances in prestigious dance academies in North Korea and China. She has been compared to Choi Seung-hee, a famous Korean dancer in the early 20th century, and is now trying to create a new art form, blending traditional East Asian dance with B-boy breakdancing.
Ms. Paek, the leader of East Asian Dance group, has been performing with the famous B-boy dance group T.I.P. since last Friday at Baekam Art Hall. The performance is titled “The Code.”
“I believe dance as art can go beyond genre and communicate with audiences of different cultural origins. In that sense, I can create a new style of dance,” Ms. Paek said.
Comparing the two extremely different styles, she said, “B-boy dancing has the adaptability of water, which is a characteristic of modern art. It’s also improvised and impulsive, while traditional dance is choreographed from beginning to end.”
She was born in Kobe, Japan, and grew up without a nationality ― holding an “internal passport” like most Korean-Japanese residents associated with the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents. Her father, Paek Hong-chon, was a dancer in the Kumgangsan Opera Troupe and a senior official in a culture and arts federation related to the association.
While she was a teenager, she traveled around China, Japan and North Korea to learn different kinds of dances. From 1988 to 1990, she studied traditional dance at Pyongyang University of Music and Dance. From 1991 to 1995, she studied East Asian dances at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, China. In the meantime, she also trained in the “Choi Seung-hee dance style” with Kim Hae-choon, choreographer of Mansudae Art Theatre and the stepson of Choi Seung-hee.
“I’ve done Choi Seung-hee style dance, but that’s not all I am. I didn’t have a chance to demonstrate my own style. I also wanted to try something new,” Ms. Paek said.
“I was pondering my own identity. I want my dance to be accepted in different cultures around the world rather than just in one culture,” she added.
Her grandfather was a native of Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang province, but she could not visit Korea until 1997, when Japan’s Tokyo TV produced a documentary on Ms. Paek. It was a time when the relationship between the two Koreas remained hostile, and it was very difficult for ethnic Koreans associated with the General Association of Korean Residents to visit South Korea. In 1998, she performed in South Korea for the first time to much fanfare from the South’s media. She continued to perform in many different venues in the country, and became a South Korean citizen in 2003. After doing so, her father was no longer able to train his students and her mother lost her job at a school associated with the General Association of Korean Residents. Ms. Paek said that was due to pressure by the pro-North association.
Asked why she became a South Korean citizen, she replied, “Dance as art should not be bound by politics nor reflect political views, and the pursuit of art is for coexistence, not confrontation.”
The reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas during the Kim Dae-jung administration also lead to her decision, she said.
She began studying traditional dance at the Korean National University of Arts, where she met the man who became her husband. She got married in 2003 and gave birth to a daughter in April, 2005.
Asked about living in Korea, Ms. Paek said, “I feel like I am starting anew. I am glad that I have the opportunity to do it here, in my country. This marks an end of my preparation and a new beginning at the same time. I wanted to have a good start and I feel that it is possible.”

by Limb Jae-un

The performance runs until Sept. 30 at Baekam Art Hall, Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.
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