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Dancing to a different beat: North Korea celebrates

Students participate in the 'mass dance' event outside the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium
AFP

Pyongyang (AFP) – Thousands of North Koreans gathered in locations across Pyongyang Monday to dance in celebration of late leader Kim Jong Il.

Men in suits and women in the traditional high-waisted, formless dresses known as hanbok in the South and joseon-ot in the North assembled in formation, squatting patiently until a master of ceremonies gave the command for the party to begin.

Moving smoothly into groups of three concentric circles, they gyrated and kicked in time, clapping in unison to tunes lauding Kim, who died in 2011, including “The General Star Beyond the Clouds” and “We will hold Our General in High Esteem”.

Other numbers included the jaunty “We have Nothing to Envy in the World”, and songs in praise of Kim’s son and successor Kim Jong Un, the third member of the dynasty to rule the nuclear-armed one-party state.

The North Korean calendar is peppered with anniversaries relating to the nation’s history, to Kim’s father, and to his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder.

The late leaders’ dates of birth are known as the Day of the Sun for Kim Il Sung -– April 15 -– and the Day of the Shining Star on February 16 for Kim Jong Il.

The celebratory rituals linked to official events are a way to demonstrate and instil loyalty to the authorities, with the official KCNA news agency saying that Monday’s participants “danced with honour and pride” in upholding Kim Jong Un.

The day marked 25 years since the current Kim’s father was elected chairman of the National Defence Commission.

While not a full public holiday, it is still an occasion for dancing parties, which are held at least eight times a year.

Locations in Pyongyang included the monument to the founding of the Workers’ Party and the train station, and more than 1,000 people performed outside the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium.

Mostly sent from universities -– the male students identifiable by their grey jackets -– or work units, all wore the ubiquitous badges depicting one of both of the late leaders. The women donned a mix of colours, yellows and pinks mixing with pastel blues and greens, often with sequined floral patterns.

Dancing partners are generally classmates or work colleagues, rather than boyfriend-girlfriend –- or the occasional tourist drawn in to take part for a few moments.

“I got a real buzz from it,” said Tom Evans from London, who runs a software company. “You’d never get to experience this anywhere else in the world.”

Asked about the idea of dancing in honour of Kim Jong Il, the 27-year-old first-time visitor said: “I’m here in North Korea and I’ll enjoy the local culture and the local customs as and when they’re thrown at me.”

Other dancing parties took place in provincial capitals, according to KCNA.

None of the participants in Pyongyang were available to speak to AFP, but spectator Vlad Crisan, from Transylvania in Romania, said the spectacle was “something unique” and watching it “very, very interesting”.

Some of the dancers looked happy, he added, “but not all of them”.

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