Korean Masters Ancient Indian Dance

      June 29, 2012 07:39

      Keum Bee-na

      Keum Bee-na is the first Korean practicing the traditional Indian dance Odissi. Living in the dance's remote home state of Orissa in east India since early 2005, Keum now shares her story in a recently published book.

      Keum's first encounter with Indian dance was Mira Nair's 1996 film "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love," which she saw when she was a university student. "I was mesmerized at first sight, but there was no way to find out what that dance was. I felt a strong urge to go to India no matter what," Keum recalls.

      Odissi is one of eight traditional Indian dances recognized by the Indian government and among the most famous together with Kathak and Bharat Natyam. It consists of rounded, circular movements. "It's erotic but subtle. Many people remember it as a belly dance, but there's no shaking of hips," Keum explains. In fact, the lower body remains almost fixed.

      It was not easy to master. All Keum had was an image of the dance she saw in the film, and she had no idea what it was and where she could learn it. She went to India for the first time in January 2004 for five weeks. In October that year, she left to study at a Buddhist graduate school in Sri Lanka. During her six-month sojourn in Colombo, she learned that the dance she was looking for was from Orissa. She immediately packed her belongings and went there.

      In February 2010, five years after she started learning Odissi, Keum's teacher allowed her to give her official debut performance there. Since then, she has been on stage almost every year in Korea, where she takes refuge from scorching heat of Orissa from April to June. She returns to India in early July.

      "I plan to live in Bhubaneswar and continue to learn about the dance while touring for performances," she said. "I hope to perform in North and South America. There are so many things I want to do. I want to publish books on India and Orissa, and the Indian and Orissa languages."

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