Some lives do have second acts

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Some lives do have second acts


Eight men, all dressed in red tops, sat down on the floor and stretched their legs. There are usually 10 of them, but two were no-shows. At the direction of James Jeon, 54, choreography director of the Seoul Ballet Theater, they clenched their fists and then opened them repeatedly. As they lowered their torsos toward the floor, they collectively groaned. “It’s hard for me, too!” Jeon shouted.

The men spread their legs wide. Jeon’s legs almost formed a 180-degree angle, but the men’s postures were all different, ranging from 40 degrees to 120 degrees. After spending up to 20 years on the streets, it wouldn’t be a surprise if their bodies were paralyzed. As they had abused their bodies so much, it was hard for them to suddenly move their limbs freely.

But don’t be mistaken. Five of the eight men were on stage to perform the Nutcracker in December last year, and three of them performed in the ballet Communique in October last year.

They are the salesmen of “The Big Issue” magazine, which supports the rehabilitation of the homeless. To escape their situation, the men volunteered to sell the magazines, and now they have joined the ballet class. Every Sunday, they sweated it out at the practice studio of the Seoul Ballet Theater at the Gwacheon Civic Center.

“Okay, you have done well. Now, put your ballet shoes on,” said Jeon. In the classroom, everyone is called “Sir” whether it is Jeon or Seoul Ballet Theater General Director Kim In-hee or homeless men. As they began training for some basic movements, the song “Memory” from the musical “Cats” was turned on. “En bas, en avant, en haut, a la seconde,” Jeon directed, and the men responded accordingly.

“Move gracefully! You’re not selling something at the Namdaemun Market!” Jeon shouted. Now they moved to “spotting,” a technique to keep their heads and eyes fixed in order to prevent dizziness when they execute ballet turns. It must have been difficult, because the men struggled.

The ballet class for the homeless opened in April 2011. The students’ hunched backs are now straightened up and their eyesight has improved. Most of all, their self-esteem had risen.

Lee Min-su, a 43-year-old who sells the magazine at Exit 2 of the Seoul National University Station, was admitted to the Korea National Open University to major in tourism. Lim Jin-hee, who works at Exit 6 of Gangnam Station, made repeated appearances on the Communique and the Nutcracker. He is also a member of the homeless soccer team. Oh Hyeon-seok, of Exit 8 of the Express Bus Terminal Station, will soon get a license to work as a boiler technician.

After spending three hours observing their practice a few days ago, I went outside to see the Gwacheon Civic Center surrounded by cherry blossoms. It reminded me of the popular song “Cherry Blossom Ending” by Busker Busker. Cherry blossoms have an ending, but there is no ending to a life, unless you give up on yourself.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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