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Dance

When I am working through creative problems, I like going out for walks. This afternoon, I went to Fort Canning Park, intending to visit the National Museum of Singapore. I wanted to say hi to a favorite art piece of mine, Suzann Victor’s “Contours of a Rich Manoeuvre,” an installation of moving chandeliers. Sadly, it was under maintenance, but when I peeked outside the entrance, I saw flying people. Specifically, there were two women swinging on the facade, and another three on a crane.

It’s the French group, Retouramont, practicing for their performance at the Singapore Night Festival.

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They remind me of Mary Poppins. In a good way. Sychronized sky dancing by real people is definitely better than one done by chandeliers. Thank you, ladies! I needed this today.

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The mixing of the traditional with the modern and the foreign have been a consistent source of fascination for me, as a waegukin (foreigner) living in Seoul. And so this official video of an excellently produced version of Les Miserables by the South Korean military hit home (from the official Youtube channel of the Republic of Korea Air Force):

This video is emblematic of my experiences here in taekwondo, which is used in the Korean military. While it is a daily 90-120 minute class of grueling militaristic training, there are some exercises that initially seemed to be a peculiar amalgam of tradition and Westernization.

In my class here (dojang #14 and masters #29 and #30), the language barrier is higher than the Namsan Tower, leading me and my teachers to communicate via our smartphones. They are quite patient with the first foreigner they have ever had in class (and for many, in their lives). While I’ve trained in other countries before, I have never experienced doing jump rope and taekwon dance until now. Two weeks ago, I remember laughing when the grandmaster mentioned Gangnam Style, without realizing he actually meant for us to dance it.

I thought he was kidding. He was not.

I suspect they didn’t think a waegukin will want to do it, but perhaps to their surprise, I did. (Hey, it’s still cardio.) So for the past few weeks, most of the cognitive load in my class have been devoted to learning how to dance K-pop with taekwondo moves, and learning how to jump rope to the beat of Gangnam Style and its parodies. It is quite a huge change from the traditional military-style training I’ve been exposed to. Instead of thinking it ridiculous, I actually feel that it contributes a lot to coordination and rhythm. And it shows. I see these nine-year-olds to be so disciplined, with side kicks past the level of their faces. They even gave me my own jump rope, which I need to practice with by myself as this is something I haven’t done since I was a little kid.

Here is a video of taekwon dance by Youtube user cOOlfren77:

A more extreme version of taekwondo jump rope is here in this video from Korea’s Got Talent by Youtube user taekwonropegirl:

Needless to say, I am absolutely transfixed at a rigid Confucian society making way for jaw-dropping creativity such as these. Especially for taekwondo, I like to imagine that such rigidity might have caused someone to snap and just do it to K-pop. Great fun.

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Streb, extreme action choreographer, for a series of articles I am writing about how drawing figures in a creative person’s process.

After reading her interview in The 99 Percent, where she said that drawing was the first thing she did when she had a new idea, I knew I had to meet her. Her drawings show how something monumental started with a series of lines and shapes.

Interestingly, her work invokes involuntary memory as well. In her talk in CUNY, someone in the audience asked about her definition of a true movement.

“A real move has to do with being itself…. It’s telling its own physical story, and maybe it would remind you of your mother’s perfume, maybe these memories are embedded in ourselves and it happened to you going down a hill or bumping into a tree with your sled. And what I’m trying to do is usurp those memories that are primarily physical and not tabulated because there’s no real nomenclature for it.”

I was also thrilled that she knew Lisa Randall, a physicist whose work I’m a big fan of, and it made me think how amazing it is that all these wonderful things are connected in some way.

Article/s to follow, but I was so moved by the interview that I decided to draw. She is one classy lady and a true artist. Thank you, Elizabeth, for such a lovely, gracious interview.