Last weekend was "A Starry Night", a winter ball celebration for the high school kids from the school where I teach. I had the privilege of chaperoning with my husband and a few other adults the 100 kids. The venue was a beautiful hall in the Gangnam area of Seoul. I was curious to see what a dance would be like in Korea versus back home. Well, kids are kids and dance music is dance music, but it still held some surprises.
At 7 PM, the students arrived as expected, in semi-formal attire and with dates. They made their way to the edges of the room to sit at candlelit tables and chat. The student-DJ began playing upbeat music that the kids knew and enjoyed. Pretty soon the high schoolers approached the dance floor. They were tentative at first, girls congregating with girls and guys with guys. After a bit, two groups forms - guys and girls. The music thundered and Ian blew the whistle to the beat. The scene so far reminded me of a junior high dance when I was a kid. It was charming. The kids were enjoying themselves.
As the music called to them, they came closer to the DJ dancing and bouncing. Before long nearly 100 kids all were jumping to the music on a small raised stage, something probably designed for a wedding soloist. They looked like a mosh pit minus the concert! This went of for a long time, no slow songs, no guy-girl combinations, just a ball of knats swarming the stage. Baffling.
Finally a few slow songs were on the playlist. I'd heard from other chaperones that the students rarely would slow dance. My husband and I decided to lead by example. So we took to the floor. We were amused by the genuine joy the kids had at seeing us dance; a few even took our picture on their cell phones. About 12 couples managed to make their way to the dance floor during the slow music.
By 9:30 a most extraordinary thing happened. The dance organizer said the kids had been dancing straight for a few hours and were tired, he was considering calling it a night (about 30 minutes early). We mentioned that perhaps some would be angry to end early after paying good money for the event. He shook his head, understanding. Next thing we know, this young man is sitting down at the white baby grand in the hall and dedicating a song to the kids there. He proceeds to play a short song, perhaps original, while all the kids sit quietly and listen. "What an amazing group of young people," I think. Then the amazing becomes extraordinary. The students start chanting for one of their classmates to sit down and play. Dean somewhat reluctantly comes forward, sits, and begins playing a 6 minutes classical piece from memory. I was awed by how the students sat and listened attentively and THEN demanded he play another piece! Can you believe he proceeded to play a 9 minutes memorized and rather bombastic piece? Unbelievably, they shush one another and continue listening. Yet another few musicians made their way to play and sing before the night was over.
So there it was. My first high school dance in Korea; I felt as if I'd traveled back in time to a time and place a bit more innocent than Green Bay. (Ironic, when you consider we were not in a city of 100,000 but of 15 million people.) How could a dance turn into a classical concert? I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.
But let me leave you with this thought: several times now I've witness our students encouraging one another to perform and performers stepping up with no embarrassment. I've witnessed kids mess up while performing and others encouraging them with shouts and clapping rather than making fun of them. These moments I wouldn't trade for the world, even on "A Starry Night."