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South Korean Soldiers Take Ballet Lessons to Relieve Stress

Guarding the border with North Korea is a very stressful job for the South Korean soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, but they recently found a very unconventional way to unwind – taking ballet lessons.

Once a week, the young soldiers of the Koran army’s army’s 25th Division switch their heavy army boots for ballet shoes and take part in a ballet class intended to relieve some of the stress of guarding the world’s most heavily fortified border. Under the guidance of Lee Hyang-jo, a ballerina at the Korean National Ballet who started teaching at the base a year ago, the young soldiers struggle to do splits pirouettes and other ballet moves, as a way of relaxing.

Photo: YouTube/Reuters screengrab

“Being in the army itself can be difficult, so I wasn’t sure what kind of help I can be here,” Lee Hyang-jo told Reuters. “But as the soldiers learn ballet little by little, they laugh more and have a great time and seeing that makes me think that coming here is worthwhile.”

South Korea is still technically in a state of war with the North, so the stress of guarding the border between the two countries can take a heavy toll on the soldiers. “There’s a lot of tension here since we live in the unit on the front line, which makes me feel insecure at times,” said Kim Joo-hyeok, a 23-year-old sergeant doing his mandatory two years of military service. “But through ballet, I am able to stay calm and find balance as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers.”

 

Lieutenant Colonel Heo Tae-sun adds that ballet, although seemingly unusual for soldiers, is a good way to toughen up. “Ballet requires a great amount of physical strength and is very good for strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility, and correcting posture,” he said.

Last year, the soldiers staged an impressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but plan to do an even more impressive job this year.

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