Above is Korean belly dance team “Butterfly” at the Ninth Golden Belly World Belly Dance Art Carnival, which was held in July in Xaimen, China. The 10-member all-female dance troupe, most of whose members hail from Seoul, is directed by Sujee Choi, who’s one of Korea’s premiere belly dancers and instructors. The ladies competed against 60 other dance teams, from China, Korea, Russia, The Philippines, Singapore, and Argentina. There were also approximately 140 solo performers, one of whom was Butterfly’s own Hye-kyoung Lee, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing in February of last year. I spoke with Hye-kyoung after her return to Korea from China and asked her about her group’s preparation for and their experiences during the competition.
CHRIS CHARLES: How long did you ladies practice for the Golden Belly competition?
HYE-KYOUNG LEE: It’s one of the biggest belly dance festivals in China. Our team rehearsed for two months in preparation for the competition, but I joined in just one month before, because I had no time to join sooner.
CHRIS: In the video I saw of your group’s performance, there were ten ladies; six wearing green outfits and four wearing pink outfits. What are the meanings of the two different colored outfits?
HYE-KYOUNG: It’s very serious meaning, In short; the pink costumes are worn by the mid-level students and the green are worn by the junior students. We’re like butterflies. Meaning, the butterfly is protective of their younger. It’s a very different meaning from other dances performed. When I hear that music, I feel nervous in my heart. The music its very serious and it’s very sad music. If we practiced more, we will be able to compete in more international competitions.
CHRIS: I understand the team’s director, Soojee Choi, was who you studied belly dance with?
HYE-KYOUNG: Yes, Butterfly director Sooji Choi is my belly dance teacher. She was the first teacher I studied belly dance with during the time I was doing (other forms of) dance. She is also the president of our main association. We are both dance instructors in separate places but she is the president of the whole association.
CHRIS: Was Soojee also a model or actress in Korea, as you were? HYE-KYOUNG: No, Soojee is a well-known belly dancer in Korea and the president of our association but she was not a model or actress.
HYE-KYOUNG: Yoo-jin Ahn? Well, I don’t know how famous she is today. She is far away (from Korea) now. She was a fake university professor and the story ran in the newspapers here. Her’s is Turkish belly dance style and we’re Egyptian style. There’s a difference. We’re a detailed belly dance style. Yoo-jin An’s style is “manly.”
CHRIS: Yes, she did falsify some credentials so she could teach dance in a university So, will you be going to another dance competition soon?
HYE-KYOUNG: Yes, the World Dance Competition on October 3rd. I have no real dance talent, I have just charisma and bright eyes. It’s my competitive power, because I don’t always put forth as much effort to dance. I tell you honestly, because I get tired when I move my body.
CHRIS: (Laughs) I don’t believe you really feel that way. You’re a great dancer and your peers and students admire you. Will you also be doing a solo performance at the World Dance Competition on October 3rd?
HYE-KYOUNG: Yes. And Soojee Choi really loves me. We’ve been friends for a very long time. We’re like sisters.
CHRIS: Do she also water ski?
HYE-KYOUNG: No, she is scared to take that challenge. Actually, I’m scared to water ski right now. The reason is that I hurt my legs. When I have the time, I water ski, but I have to always be willing to take the risk and I have to be careful of that. CHRIS: I understand Soojee, like yourself, also does other styles of dance, such as jazz, and ballet, right?
HYE-KYOUNG: Butter. Butter is ballet+belly. She was a sports dancer at first, but she switched to belly dance after time.
CHRIS: Were you two friends during the time when you were acting and modeling?
HYE-KYOUNG: No. I quit acting and had already started dancing when we met.
CHRIS: Well, I know because of our time differences, we don’t often get a chance to chat much, so, thanks for this little follow-up interview, Hye-kyoung. We’ll definitely keep in touch. HYE-KYOUNG: Yes! Thank you!
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.
An article I read at another site about Chinese ladies taking up pole dancing, reminded me of another form of dance not rooted in the Far East, that’s become popular there. Belly dancing was introduced in Korea in the mid-90s
Choreographer and dance instructor Hye-kyoung Lee doesn’t look old enough to have played a company secretary over 20 years ago, but that small role on a then-popular Korean TV drama was her acting debut. Four years after that, she began
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