Thursday, June 14, 2012

B-Boy Competition

The week before Jane's wedding, we tossed around ideas for what to do after the wedding.  Weddings in Korea aren't like those in the states.  Instead of the party just getting started after the meal, once you clean your plate, the party is over.  We all figured since we'd already be dressed up and in Seoul, we may as well do something while we're out.  One teacher mentioned a "B-boy contest" in Seoul.  Hm?  You know, kinda like breakdancing?  Didn't sound too appealing at the time, then the week just got busier, so no final plans were made.  After the wedding buffet, we started discussing ideas again.  A teacher brought up the B-boy contest yet again.  Thankfully, a few other teachers said, "That doesn't sound like something I'd like.  We could always split up, though!"  We got to the subway station, and still a decision hadn't been made.  Two girls said they were going to the B-boy contest, and anyone else was welcome to come. Suddenly, Kyle and I were left standing alone. Hang out just the two of us - that was the last thing we wanted to do! What was the second-to-last thing we wanted to do? Go to the B-boy contest... A few near-collisions with Koreans whose faces were glued to their cell phones later, we caught up to the other teachers at the platform just before the train took off for Shinsa.  We soon realized that not only were we not looking forward to the next activity, the train ride was about an hour and a half long.

When we finally got off, we had to walk about two miles to the venue. In our wedding attire.  At long last, we arrived only to find a huge line out the door.  The line was made up of both foreigners and Koreans, all dressed in baggy jeans, cut-offs, proudly displaying their tattoos and flat-brimmed hats.  Here we were, winded and business casual.  Most of us plopped down on the nearest stoop to wait for a decision to be made.  I did this with an especially strong pout.  The two teachers who were excited for the contest all along jumped into line and immediately began making friends.  Another couple of teachers went off somewhere to find a bathroom.  When they returned, they were wearing Converse sneakers, torn jeans, and pony tails.  That's it, we decided, we're finding a bar.  Kyle and I left with two other girls and dived into the first bar we came to.  The bartender spoke no English, but we sank into one of her comfortable couches and wrote our order out for her.  As tradition in Korea requires, she also brought out a small dish of nuts and pretzels.  It's improper to drink alcohol without food.  We talked and laughed for a while over our $8 Budweisers.

 A few bottles in, Kyle looked at us and said seriously, "So are you really going into the contest?"

We all nodded, wondering what the big deal was.  He said, "Well, are you going to like, try and win or just goof off?" 

The three of us girls look at eachother wide-eyed, then burst out laughing.  It was quickly revealed that Kyle thought all along that we'd all have to participate in the B-boy contest.  One girl finally calmed herself enough to ask, "So what exactly was your plan, Kyle? To get eliminated immediately by not dancing, or just get drunk enough beforehand to not care?"

"I just wasn't going to go in at all!" Kyle said.  This, of course, led to more laughter.  Once Kyle realized he didn't have to compete, he said, "Well, then what are we doing here? Let's go in!"

The venue was like an empty warehouse all painted black.  It was packed, body to body, with three levels of walkways around the edges.  People dangled their legs between the railings, all trying to get the best view.

There was a stage in the center of one wall, and a long plain bar along another.  There were strobe lights and posters all around.  A DJ was set up on stage, and the emcee rolled around in a wheelchair.  Kyle and I looked at each other, laughing, suddenly feeling very relieved we'd ended up coming.  This was going to be good.

The bar was serving Smithwyck's, so we grabbed some beers and shimmied our way into the best view.  One by one, the judges came out onto the stage.  They performed some short dance number, then took their place in the judges' chairs.  The first round began.  The emcee spoke Korean the entire time, but the music was taken from many popular rap songs from back home.  Two B-boys were introduced at a time, then the DJ was called to "drop the beat."  The competing B-boys took turns dancing back and forth.  They were spinning, kicking, flipping, and handstanding all over the stage.  Sometimes, the competition got a little fiery, and the competitor would end his routine by puffing his chest up at his opponent or fake kicking him.  Other times when the second competitor started, he would storm around the stage in a circle, just staring at his competition, glaring and getting pumped up. 

Here's my favorite personality, the chef:

And here are the two finalists competing:

Like I said, the room was packed with people all staring at the same stage.  Anytime an especially good move was executed, the crowd would erupt.  When the competitors finished, the three judges each held up their choice's name.  Though extremely hesitant and judgmental from the start, within minutes of entering the venue, we found ourselves completely absorbed in the competition.  We were all at the same time amazed at the physical capabilities of the performers, entertained by the crowd's involvement, and enjoying something completely outside our comfort zones. 

I've never seen breakdancing outside of random scenes in movies or music videos, but I was really impressed by the way each dancer took on a personality. There were dancers who dressed in all black and danced like ninjas, not smiliing once while on stage.  Others looked nothing like break dancers in their fitted jeans and button-down shirts, acting nervous while the other dancers performed.  Then the music started and they let loose.  Another dancer dressed up in a collarless chef's shirt, baker's pants with an elastic waistband, and a bandana tied around his head.  He kept adding some sort of Latino flavor his moves and ended each routine with a full one-legged ballerina spin.  I quickly developed favorite dancers and was more than happy to stand there sweating in the packed warehouse watching each new round of dancing.  I was especially happy to see my favorite dancer take first place, B-boy Differ!

At no point in my life would I have been able to predict that I'd be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of strangers in Korea drinking a beer and cheering on a bunch of Asian breakdancers with Kyle standing next to me.  Events like these remind me why I decided to come to Korea in the first place.  I wanted to stray from the path I was headed down and take an adventure.  Weekends like these leave me with experiences I won't have anywhere else, and though I'm not sure they'll teach me anything specific or help build my character, they leave me with a lasting happiness and satisfaction for what I've chosen for this year of my life.

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