South Korea embraces breakdancing craze

7:03 AM, Jun 3, 2007   |    comments
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They are South Korea's B-boys, hip hop-loving breakdancers who have become the country's hot cultural export decades after the original American dance craze.

The South Korean government is latching on to B-boys' acrobatic moves as a way to promote the country's dynamic image and draw tourists, and leading corporations are featuring the dancers in TV commercials and high-profile events.

New theater shows feature B-boys, who in Korea sometimes combine their syncopated hip hop beats with traditional Korean folk percussion to fuse new with old.

At a three-day international dance battle that ends Sunday, B-boys from around the world praised the attention in South Korea, saying it was almost unheard of anywhere else today. The Korea Tourism Organization, city government and major companies sponsored the competition.

"Korea is definitely leading the way," said Joe "Jorawk" Stolte, 24, a member of the "Massive Monkees" crew from Seattle. "It's really dope that the government here supports B-boy culture."

B-boys trace their origin to the Bronx in New York in the late 1970s when they performed their stylized movements at street parties during the intense sections of hip hop songs referred to as the "break." The term "B-boy" is short for "Break-boy," or "Bronx-boy."

South Korean B-boys say the movement here dates to the 1990s, with some young men taking it up for lack of other diversions before they entered mandatory two-year military service.

The Korean scene did not get international notice until its debut at the annual Battle of the Year competition in Germany in 2002 - when the South Korean crew "Expression" took the top award. South Korean crews went on to win again in 2004 and 2005.

Given Koreans' passion for winning and a culture that rewards success in anything - from the national soccer team to building bigger flat-screen TVs - the B-boys' winning ways captured the nation's imagination.

"Korean people obviously like being No. 1. They don't say much about being in second place," said Chang Jae-bong, 30, head of the Korean "Drifterz" crew, one of the country's leading groups.

In the crew's nationally televised performance Friday, The Drifterz B-boys threw their bodies through the air and slammed into the ground in pain-defying ways, strutting lightning-fast footwork before the finale's obligatory headspin.

"When the Koreans start something, they have dedication and discipline so they get very good results," said Monica "Krazee Grandma" Masuda, a 67-year-old from Sweden who has been a B-girl for eight years - and pulled off a headspin of her own during an exhibition at Friday's group performance battle. "Korean breakers are top level in the world."

South Korea's pop stars and actors have already gained wide followings across Asia as part of what is known as the "Korean Wave" - with girls from Thailand to Tokyo swooning over singers like Rain or actress Lee Young-ae.

However, there is concern Korea is losing its status as the barometer of what is hip across Asia. And the government is not willing to sit back and watch.

"The creative power of B-boys makes this a chance to show Seoul's new culture," Vice Mayor Kim Heung-kwon said.

(Copyright Associated Press, All Rights Reserved)

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