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North Korea Arrests Teacher, Students for ‘Capitalist’ Dance Moves

FILE - A man and woman carry their bicycle through farm fields in Pyongsong, North Korea.
FILE - A man and woman carry their bicycle through farm fields in Pyongsong, North Korea.

Authorities in North Korea arrested a dance instructor and several of her students after she used foreign media to teach them “capitalist” dance moves, sources in the country told RFA.

In late 2020, North Korea passed the draconian Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, which punishes citizens for a wide variety of offenses, mostly related to watching, keeping or distributing media from capitalist countries, particularly from South Korea and the U.S. The law carries a maximum penalty of death for serious offenders.

The law has also been used to punish drivers for tinting their car windows, students for using South Korean-style speech and slang, and now, dance instructors, for teaching youth to emulate the moves of foreign pop stars.

“The Anti-Socialism Inspection Group caught a dance instructor in her 30s who was teaching foreign-style disco dances to teenage students in Yangji-dong, Pyongsong City,” a resident of the northwestern city of Pyongsong, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA’s Korean Service January 31.

“The Anti-Socialism Inspection Group, a joint operation of the State Security Department and the police, has been intensively cracking down on people for watching South Korean movies and distributing foreign media,” the resident said.

The source said that North Korea authorities tend to be a bit more lenient in enforcing the rules around Seollal, the Lunar New Year holiday that was celebrated Tuesday, the source said. Consequently, residents feel a bit freer to enjoy South Korean movies or listen to foreign songs during this time.

This year, however, the Anti-Socialism Inspection group has been more vigilant in enforcing the thought and culture law, she said.

“At the scene of the crackdown on the dance instructor that day, a USB flash drive containing foreign songs and dance videos had been plugged in, next to the flat screen TV,” the source said.

“Teenage students were learning how to dance by imitating the choreography on screen. The Anti-Socialism Inspection Group seized the flash drive and took the instructor and all of the students to their headquarters,” she said.

News of the arrests quickly traveled beyond the city and the province. A resident of Sinuiju, about 210 kilometers to the northwest, near the border with China, told RFA that someone told him the story two days before Seollal.

“From what I heard over the phone, this woman had majored in choreography at the Pyongsong University of the Arts. A few years back, she was assigned to teach at Okchon high school in Pyongsong,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“But it was difficult to live on just the monthly teacher’s salary of only 3,000 won [60 cents], so she made her actual living by running a private dance academy out of her home,” he said.

Students in middle and high school would attend private lessons twice per week, for one- or two-hour sessions at a cost of about $10 per hour, according to the second source.

“They preferred to learn to dance like they do in South Korea, China and America, rather than in the North Korean style. So, she taught them how,” he said.

Another resident of Pyongsong told RFA that the Anti-Socialism Inspection Group began to be more active in December.

“The granddaughter of a provincial party official was caught with an SD card installed on her smartphone, and it contained South Korean movies. In the investigation, she revealed how and where she bought the SD card,” the third source said on condition of anonymity.

“The rich class usually buy USB flash drives smuggled in by sea from China. In the end, those who have been illegally selling or lending these flash drives and SD cards to teenagers get caught, one after another, including a relative of an official at the prosecutors’ office,” she said.

The relative later confessed whom he had sold the movies and dance videos to, which led the authorities to the dance instructor, the source said.

“Members of the Anti-Socialism Inspection Group hid in plain clothes around the dance instructor’s house for two days. … They saw many students go in and then they raided the house,” the third source said.

Most of the students are children from wealthy families that typically are not subjected to severe punishment for infractions because of their money and power, according to the third source.

“However, since the Central Committee has ordered that those who violate the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act be severely punished regardless of their rank or class, the foreign dance instructor and students caught this time will not be spared from hard labor. Their parents are also likely to be punished by being forced to leave the party,” the source said.