There’s more to the South Korean capital than kimchi and K-pop. Retro dance and vintage style are surprisingly alive and kicking.
Anyone not living in a cave would have a general idea of Psy, K-pop and Korean drama and how all things Korean are an indelible part of today’s popular culture. But who knew that the soul of Seoul could very well belong to an era that harkens to the past more than the future?
The proof lies with some 1,000 swing dancers who can cut a rug on any given dance floor in the city with their nimble feet and nifty vintage style. Places like Sky Ballroom and the Big Apple and dance studios teaching vernacular dances are second homes to young (and some not-so-young) folks who come to break out some old-school moves.
Welcome to an alternate world in South Korea, where jazz tunes are the soundtrack, speakeasy bars the hot spot, tailored vintage the fashion, and ’60s swing and Lindy Hop the dance du jour. Immersed in a bygone world, dancers spend an inordinate amount of time honing their moves before they step out.
Step to it
A country as far removed as possible from Harlem, New York – the original home of happy feet where the dance began its roots – now arguably holds the largest community dedicated to the African American dance called the Lindy Hop, an energetic dance that originated in ’30s Harlem and evolved with the jazz music of the time. Those who don’t dance just pose – in carefully curated clothing either found in flea markets or made-to-order by specialist tailors.
The Korean obsession with perfection is alive and kicking at Camp Swing It, a three-day Lindy Hop dance mecca of sorts, held annually in Cheongshim International Youth Centre north of Seoul. Since 2009, local dancers have been strutting and swivelling in enthusiastic – and practiced – fashion.
In preparation for meets like Camp Swing It or the numerous other international Lindy Hop camps and festivals, the Korean dancers hit the floor almost every night of the week. And there are enough dance studios and jazz bars in Seoul as well as other cities like Busan, to cater to this keen mass.
But the dance camp is a beast all its own, growing exponentially from a small but fervent dance scene to one that is about 1,000-strong. Every April, the otherwise cold and drafty youth centre in the middle of nowhere becomes a hub of long registration queues of dancers from all over South Korea and some from even farther away.
All have descended from regular day jobs for this dance respite. The camp has grown so much as to attract both professionals and participants from Singapore, Thailand, Australia and the United States. For three days and nights, the revelers dance socially, take technical classes, compete in solo, partner and team competitions, and take every opportunity to wear vintage ’20s to ’50s garb.
Not so much a movement, culture or even district, Gwangjang is South Korea’s first ever market, now renowned for street food as well as street style – of the vintage era. Located in Jongno-gu, this is where style-finders flock for vintage clothing that’s comparable to the best op shops and thrift stores of Manhattan and Melbourne. Any serious swing dancer or even a garden-variety hipster worth his fedora would make a beeline for the selection of both original vintage and vintage reproductions found here.
Elsewhere, stylish enclaves like Insadong and Samcheongdong also offer boutiques that stock carefully selected vintage wear along with locally made designer and high-street labels. Everything comes full circle and today, it seems vintage is gold in Seoul.
With a central location that combines big city glitz and centuries-old heritage, Fraser Place Namdaemun, Seoul is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for convenience, comfort and a touch of culture.
It is said that life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by every moment that takes your breath away. The scenic panorama afforded by Fraser Place Namdaemun is perhaps a reflection of that expression. Overlooking Seoul’s historic Namdaemun Gate and the city’s shimmering skyline, the property’s prime location makes waking up or relaxing with your favourite tipple a delightful experience.
The 252-unit serviced residence has all the comforts of home, with personalised housekeeping services, 24-hour gym and sauna facilities. When you need to get down to business, meeting and convention facilities – complete with free Wi-Fi and essential business equipment – are at your disposal. Its meeting facilities can accommodate up to 80 people, while its two boardrooms have a capacity of up to 10 persons.
Step out of Fraser Place Namdaemun, and you are right in the heart of Seoul. It is centrally located within the business district where embassies, MNCs and top Korean corporations, such as Richwood Pharmaceutical and Heungkuk Life Insurance, reside. To boot, popular shopping and entertainment districts are nearby.
The residence is conveniently located beside Namdaemun Market, one of the oldest markets in South Korea and your round-theclock bargain haven. Ten minutes away at Myeongdong, you get your pick of everything stylish among myriad fashionable department stores, irresistible street food and other good dining options.
Travelling by train is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get around in Seoul. With City Hall Square and Seodaemum stations a stone’s throw away, you are seamlessly connected to wherever you want to go in this vibrant city.