`Hip Hop Skool' Fosters Vitality of Youngsters

Article excerpt

As you carefully step down the shaky spiral staircase, a spacious wall is covered in metallic graffiti, spelling out the skool logo. Adjacent to the flashy art is a glass door, and through it, you see a large dancing area with three mirrored walls and a line of turntables. Gangster rap is blasting out of speakers constantly, while persons decked out in baggies and helmets are spinning on their heads.

As soon as you walk in, the atmosphere is already different from most``Hakwon,'' or private learning institutions. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and most importantly, everybody is there by choice. People not even signed up for any program are free to come in any time to practice.

Sometimes you can't tell when a class is going on, as there is always dancing, music, and some kind of guidance going on and chiefly because all the persons present during the lessons are not exactly members of the skool.

While the actual ``students'' are having their lesson, the spectators sit on the provided benches at the edge of the dance floor and watch carefully to absorb everything, and at the end of class, shyly approach instructors who of course cannot refuse.

The liberal policy is refreshing and symbolic of the skool's general atmosphere. ``Hip hop is everything and anything,'' this is Hip Hop Skool's philosophy.

``The Hip Hop Skool is not a school, and it's not a hak-won," Kim Dong-won states firmly. "It is a gathering place for those interested in about learning the true art of hip hop, and being able to enjoy it."

Kim, 32, is the founder and representative of Hip Hop Skool, located in Taehangno, the first of its kind in Korea. Many similar institutions exist in the the United States and Japan, where hip hop culture flourishes.

According to Kim, hip hop is much misunderstood in Korea. This is because the style and fashion of hip hop, such as baggy pants and big shirts, was imported before hip hop itself. Break dancing, graffiti art, rapping, DJ-ing, should have all come before the clothes so that it could be properly understood, but instead, hip hop is thought of by the older generation as'vulgar' and harmful to the younger generation.

It is not surprising that a 40-year-old businessman will snicker and tsk tsk at a teen decked out in baggy pants and hair streaked yellow. This same teen will be even more harshly judged as a ``Nallari''or "Yangachi,'' meaning ruffians, by adults if he also happens to break dance and DJ in clubs. And because he has no place to display his graffiti art, he will most likely vandalize a public subway station or office building. So thus, the notorious reputation of hip hop has taken root in Korea.

Against this backdrop, Hip Hop Skool is deemed as a safe haven for hip hop fanatics to practice their dancing, art, and DJ-ing in a place where they are understood and most importantly, allowed to express themselves.

Kim conceived the skool as he came to realize that illegal vandalizing and dancing existed in public streets because there was no other place for hip hop lovers to do so. So he thought, why not put together a positive outlet, a place for the younger generation to dance, rap, graffiti, and DJ on their own without being subjected to the illicit actions and reprimand of adults. This way, the hip hoppers are happy because they can hip hop all they want, and the adults are happy because their children stay out of trouble.

With this radical idea in mind, he launched his plan and was surprisingly met with a lot of support. Kim recalled that people reacted very well to the idea of the skool and were most supportive.

However, despite all this there were a few problems. …