November 24 was the 110th birth anniversary of Choe Sung Hui, a dancing legend of the Korean nation.
Choe (November 24 1911-August 8 1969) devoted her whole life to preserving the unique national character of the Korean national dance.
Born in the dark period when Korea was trampled underfoot by foreign forces, she started to work as a maid of a dance institute at an early age of playing on her mother’s affection.
However, as she was endowed with brilliant intellect and talent for dance from her childhood, she practised unnoticed the dance movements of the institute students, which she had learned by the eye and ear over the windows during the day, at night in front of a mirror, while doing all kinds of odd jobs.
One day the director of the institute casually looked into the lightly practice room and was truly surprised. Her housemaid was performing wonderful dance movements she had seen nowhere else.
After that, Choe was not only recognized as a dancing talent and enrolled at the institute, but also climbed up the career ladder to the top with no peer in the dance circles.
Since she embarked on her professional dancing career, Choe had adopted the old poem, saying “Neither white gem will lose its whiteness though broken, nor bamboo lose its straightness though burnt,” as her motto and fought hard against Japanese oppression to keep up the national spirit.
Later, she opened the “Choe Sung Hui Dance Institute” in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.
Viewers expressed unreserved admiration for her, who performed soft and elegant Korean dance movements in Korean chima and jogori(woman’s national costume) to the time of janggu (hourglass drum: Korean musical instrument) with her shoulders moving up and down.
Her enchanting interpretation of dance and haughty manner were so overwhelming that no one dared to provoke her even at the time when everything Korean was prohibited due to the harsh measures of the Japanese imperialists to stamp out the Korean nation.
At the time the mass media lavished praise on her who displayed the graceful and soft qualities of Korean dance, calling her a “beautiful and brilliant world-class dancer”.
After creating a great sensation with the performance she gave at a theatre in San Francisco, the US, for the first time as a Korean in February 1938, Choe also made her name as an excellent dancer in Europe.
Seeing the exquisite and graceful Korean dance she performed so charmingly in national costume, Europeans reportedly brought world maps with them and asked her where Korea was.
After Korea’s liberation from Japanese military rule, Choe Sung Hui greeted her heyday of the creation of dancing art under the meticulous care of President Kim Il Sung and anti-Japanese war heroine Kim Jong Suk.
She formed an accompaniment group with players of janggu, drum and Korean flute, national musical instruments, and exactly demanded women dancers wear Korean chima and jogori and keep national flavour and zest of Korean dance in their performances.
And she staged dance pieces to demonstrate the good qualities of the Korean national dance, while creating lots of dances and writing books on national dance with untiring enthusiasm and quest for knowledge.
She studied various items of Korean national dance with a long tradition including folk dance, Buddhist dance and court dance, picked dance movements that are strong in national flavour and elegant out of them to complete dance pieces and put them on stage.
She advocated the production of new dance pieces that preserve national identity, while meeting the aesthetic tastes and emotional demands of the contemporary people.
Her dance pieces usually assumed two aspects: dark and bright. The former reflected sorrow and bitter grief of the colonized nation before liberation, with the latter representing the vibrant spirit, optimism and sentiments of the Korean people for building a new Korea after liberation.
In particular, she visited farms, factories and fishing villages seething with activities for production to create works echoing all-people sentiment, while picking out popular dance movements, and devoted time and energy to the training of new dancers.
A dancer known to have sweated the most for training, Choe spared time very much and always complained to her students that she was pressed for time.
“She often said ‘raising arms with a sense of lifting several pounds of weight’ and ‘opening two arms like a soybean rolling down along the shoulder line’. And such her watchwords are still used in the dancing circle,” said Han Myong Hak, an official of the Central Committee of the Korean Dancers Union.
Choe devoted her all to the development of Korean national dance and authored many books for the education of the rising generations. The treasure of national dance left by her is still invariably carried on.
President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il remembered her exploits though decades passed after her death, praising her as a meritorious artiste. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un saw that a workshop was organized to retain Choe’s dancing style and her works were arranged again and put on stage.
The former People’s Artiste, chairwoman of the Central Committee of the Korean Dancers Union and deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly still lives in the memory of the Korean people.