Caught in the vertex | Korean dancers sharpen ‘official cheering tool’

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Korean actor Kim Soo-ro starts the craze on a television program. Four more versions will be revealed during the World Cup, he says. (KBS)

Seoul | We are unable to determine exactly what actions constitute the kkokjijeom, the “vertex dance” consisting of “simple, repetitive rhythmic movements” with which South Koreans will be supporting their side during the World Cup finals. Dancers have assembled across the country, outside the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Mar 1 before a friendly against Angola, to demonstrate its addictive qualities.

As with any certified Korean fad, the dance has its own community on Internet portal Cyworld, the virtual gathering place that has attracted more than a quarter of South Korea’s populace with the potential to buy “acorns” and decorate one’s room with furniture, people and miniature pets. (It’s too complicated to explain further, but see the article in The Age.) The dance’s official site has, as of today, some 112,000 registered members.

Popular Korean TV serial Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the palace), a period 16th-century drama, shows its football spirit. Stories by the Associated Press and National Public Radio have recently spotlighted the “Korean wave.”

Kkokjijeom‘s progenitor is actor Kim Soo-ro, who culled from his memory of a formation dance in college. The dance made its debut on Jan 31 as a comic segment on Korean Broadcasting Service variety show Sang Sang Plus, but devotees have responded with seriousness. It has given supporters a new rallying tool to follow up the nation’s co-hosting of the 2002 finals. The 2002 sensation involved the mass response to songs “Oh, pil-seung Korea” (Oh, victory to Korea) and “Ari-rang” performed by the Yoon Do Hyun Band, vocalized by ever greater numbers as South Korea advanced to the semifinals.

Yet a spokesman for Red Devil, the official supporters’ group, remains ambivalent about the new dance’s cultural signifiers. Some fear exists that, in its coordinated, martial arts–style motions, kkokjijeom might recall images of the Pyongyang mass games featuring a football stadium full of brightly clad and perfectly choreographed gymnasts, and one of the Communist regime’s biggest propaganda tools. Red Devil media director Kim Dong-soo tells the Korea Herald:

To perform the dance properly, there should be minimum two meters’ space around a person, which I think will be impossible to secure during the upcoming mass cheering events, like we did at the Seoul City Plaza back in 2002.

The Red Devil organization does not lack cultural cachet, having been named, as a collective, by the Allianz Life Insurance Company as grand winner of the 2002 Korean of the Year award.

Update: A posting on a South Korean bulletin board clarifies: “The reason it is called the kkokjijeom dance is because the lead person is located at the apex (or summit) of dancers in a pyramid formation.”

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Asian Football Business Review for alerting us to this item.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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