Ballet Goes Mainstream in Korea

Once considered an elitist form of performance art, ballet now appeals to a wider audience. We take a look at how ballet academies for hobbyists, ballet festivals and amateur ballet teams are contributing to the growing popularity of ballet.

At a ballet studio in Mapo-gu, Seoul…. practice is in full swing. Meet Swans, a ballet troupe founded last January. The dancers are preparing for a regular performance scheduled in July. Surprisingly, they are not professional dancers.

“Hello, I’m Kim Mi-na, a member of Swans and a 29-year-old pharmacist. I liked watching musicals, plays and ballet performances and took up ballet lessons as a hobby. It’s been about a year and a half since I started learning.”

There are about 30 members in the team who come from different backgrounds including a medical doctor, a flight attendant, a housewife and a writer. Just like Kim Mi-na, they all took up ballet as a hobby but began taking it seriously.

“Ballet classes are about training for an on-stage performance. I think the students in the amateur ballet class had a yearning to perform on stage. We created this ballet team to give them such opportunity.”

Last year, Wise Ballet Theater presented “The Nutcracker” featuring professional and amateur ballet dancers.
After witnessing the passion and ballet skills of hobbyists, the ballet company decided to create a team for non-professionals.
The amateur ballet team plans to present performances four to five times a year.

“American dancer Isadora Duncan once said ballet should be a dance for everyone rather than a few. Her words really resonated with me. I want to offer more opportunities for ballet hobbyists to perform on stage and create a high-quality amateur ballet team.”

Rehearsal continues until late at night. The amateur dancers join the intensive session after a long day at work, but they are all smiles. What is it about ballet that fascinates them the most?

“Ballet has become my pick-me-up. It is an expression of my body, so I have learned to cherish my body as musicians would cherish their musical instruments. Ballet made me love my body and myself more than before.”

“It’s tough, really tough. But at the same time, it’s so much fun.”

41-year-old amateur ballerino Jang Ji-woong has studied ballet for ten years. He thinks there has been a noticeable shift in people’s perception towards ballet.

“It’s what I like, and there’s nothing strange about it. So I told my friends about learning ballet. They seemed surprised at first,
but now they see it as part of my life. These days, I’m more open about it.”

Ballet was long considered a classical performance art reserved for professional dancers. It was believed to require natural born talent and physique. Often, dancers were trained from an early age. But in recent years, ballet has been increasingly viewed as a form of everyday performance art. This newfound notion has helped bring it mainstream.
Well-known ballet companies, dance academies, cultural centers at department stores and public sports centers are offering ballet classes for adults. Being able to perform on stage is not the only reason why people are taking up ballet.

This ballet academy started as a small ballet club a few years ago, but now it has three branches. We asked the owner of the dance school the reason behind the recent boom in ballet lessons for adults.

“A lot of media coverage of celebrities staying in shape or losing weight with ballet has triggered women’s interest in ballet.
We’ve seen an increasing number of people taking up ballet lessons as a hobby in the last three to four years.”

Lessons offered in many ballet academies focus on ballet’s functional aspect. Ballet is known to improve one’s posture, flexibility, balance and physical strength.

“Ballet helped me improve my posture and alleviate pain from bad posture. My friends now tell me that my posture has improved a lot and wonder what I did.”

Some classes incorporate Pilates inspired moves into ballet routines to maximize results.

“Ballet stretches make you use your leg inner muscles than outer ones, which helps your legs slim down, builds a beautiful body curve and offers a healthy way to lose weight.”

The students now see ballet as an everyday sport. What do they think about the dance lesson?

“It really helped me with my diet. I’ve received many compliments about my neckline. I think ballet is an easily-accessible exercise that can improve people’s posture and make them more beautiful.”

What began as a court dance in 15th century Italy has now transformed into a form of everyday performance art. We hope the recent ballet boom can help carry the legacy of ballet, while making it a more accessible art form for everyone to enjoy.

Sasha Waltz & Guests »Figure Humaine«

It is a new year, a new time, a new beginning – and this offers a new freedom. With only days before the official opening of the concert hall, Sasha Waltz and her celebrated dance company invite you to explore the Elbphilharmonie foyers accompanied by choreography and music. Their performance is based on the chorus work »Figure humaine« (Human Image) by Francis Poulenc. It outlines a fresh start for society – out of the spirit of humanity – and culminates in an Ode to Freedom.