Imagine a ballerina or ballerino. The dancer is holding her/his hands up and standing straight on the tips of her/his feet while moving gracefully with light steps. Also, picture the dancer wearing white clothes that oscillate in time with the music now doing breathtaking spins. Typically when we think of ballet dancers, we think of women; however, today there are a growing number of soldiers taking up the art of ballet from Sookmyung’s alumnus, Park Sunwoo. In December The Sookmyung Times met Park Sunwoo to learn about her donation of talent for soldiers as she strives to change the world.
You are the first person ever to establish a ballet class in the military. What motivated you to teach the art of ballet to soldiers?
There have been so many sorrowful incidents recently in the military. Also, my brother has now entered the military to complete his military service, so it left me feeling that all men serving as soldiers were in a sense my brother. My first visit to see my brother during his military service was eye-opening. I noticed various clubs such as baseball, basketball, and even swimming. However, the mood among the troops was cold. Indeed, military life should be harsh, but it could also be enjoyable. The only thing I could do to help ease their stress during their military service term was to donate my talent. I thought that since it was unique, it could be seen as creative and innovative. I was sure that although soldiers would suffer from awkwardness, it would train and develop now only their physique but also their mind. I was sure ballet would be an effective training method that is enjoyable.
The idea of soldiers engaging in ballet does sound bizarre. What advantages does ballet have for soldiers?
Outside the military, people have various ways in which to relief their stress, but because soldiers are confined to military training areas, they are unable to break through their stress. Ballet is all about expressing your opinion, so it makes people feel mentally comfortable. Also, as it is physically demanding, it enables them to gain more strength and flexibility. Compared to the harsh soldier training, ballet, despite being tough, enables soldiers to relax their muscles. Ballet can also reduce fatigue and correct posture, which sometimes hinders their performance as soldiers. Interestingly, some soldiers have claimed they feel taller than before trying ballet.
Were the soldiers able to follow a ballet class successfully right from the beginning? Also, could you share an event, one that remains with you right now from when you first started teaching?
Before having tried ballet, soldiers claimed men in ballet tights looked silly and even pitiful due to the embarrassing clothes they had to wear. Moreover, the soldiers said they couldn’t understand dancers’ strange motions. However, after having tried ballet, they were surprised at the level of difficulty. Ballet, they learnt, is not as simple and elegant as they expected. It required much physical strength. I still recall the moment I taught a strong pose in class. Several other poses were hard, but for this one, soldiers fell down or (grinning) looked like monkeys and mimes. In retrospect, I extend full appreciation to those soldiers who attempted to follow the course despite the level of difficulty for them.
You have been donating your talent every Saturday for the last 5 months. Teaching the soldiers, do you gain a sense of pride in yourself?
Before starting the class in January, I prepared for the course for over 6 months and was in constant contact with the Ministry of National Defense and professors. I began the first Saturday in July of this year. Engaging in the program, I feel happy and have gained close familiarity with each of the students in the course. Contact with people is warmer than words. Also, letters of appreciation for my teaching make me develop pride in what I am trying to accomplish. Through me, attitudes towards ballet have become positive, which is the ultimate purpose of the course.
Ballet looks elegant and flawless. I mean, what are the hardest aspects of being a ballerina or ballerina and how do you overcome them?
At first glance, ballet does look graceful because of its beautiful poses. However, to do those poses, there are 2 things one must overcome. The first is weight management. If a dancer were fat, the pose would change. Therefore, ballet dancers have restrictive diets and they must check their weight daily. In short, there are times when one must endure the strenuous exercise on little food intake. Also, dancers must battle a war within themselves. They must learn to fight the urge not to practise. They also have to judge their appearance on their own and overcome any weight issues. In order to win this battle, I think positively. There is no better way to overcome stress than to think and use positive reenforcement. Thanks to my endeavours and hard work, I have achieved my dream to be a ballet teacher.
This sounds like the just the start of your passion to introduce ballet to the world. What are your goals for the future?
I am going to continue to study about effects of ballet education. I know that ballet could benefit all our lives, so I want to introduce people to the advantages of ballet. Therefore, I plan to establish two things in the future. The first is to make learning ballet compulsory in elementary school. I hope to write a thesis paper on the reasons why ballet should be mandatory in elementary school. Next, I want to establish an activate ballet corps training camp in the military. Unfortunately, a lot of ballerinos have had to give up their dream of being a ballet dancer due to the mandatory military service term. Many talented athletes have not been able to participate in international contests. With ballet at military training facilities, I hope to ensure they still gain equal opportunities as those ballerinos outside of Korea. Last, I hope to continue teaching ballet as a recreational club for soldiers if allowed.
Would you please give some advice for Sookmyung students?
Sookmyung Women’s University was a dream come true. After receiving notice of acceptance, I felt more valuable. Frankly speaking, as an undergraduated student, majoring in dance, I didn’t realize how special Sookmyung was, but I now know its greatness and regret I took it for granted. After graduating from Sookmyung Women’s University, I appreciated how, compared to other universities, much Sookmyung does for its students. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy my twenty’s years due to practise, so if I could say just one thing to my fellow Sookmyungians, enjoy campus life, experiencing various things through club activities, listening to diverse lectures and double major.
* Student of Department of Dance ’05
* Assistant Professor of Department of Dance in Sookmyung