It is a scene one might expect to see in Bogota, Havana, or even New York City. But this is Seoul, South Korea, an unexpected locale for a salsa competition. Yet, Latin dance fever has taken over one of Asia's biggest cities and this year's Asia Latin Music & Salsa Festival proves it.
Dancers from all corners of the globe have flocked to Seoul to compete for the $11,000 first prize and refuse to return to their home countries without bringing their best to the stage.
The excitement is palpable, as it always is just before any dance competition. Upbeat Latin tunes echo through a hall of dressing rooms that buzz with giddy conversations in a number of languages. Inside, flamboyantly dressed men ensure that every tassel of their costumes are in place while their female partners apply thick eyeliner and bright lipstick. Nearby, nervous teams rehearse choreographed moves a final time before the show begins.
On a warm spring afternoon, Jin Park, a 32 year old Korean citizen, guides me to our destination on Nodeul-seom, a seemingly unremarkable island smack dab in the middle of Seoul's Han River. Park looks like any other guy his age, donned in cargo pants and a navy hoodie. Those passing him probably suspect he designs software, works for a company, or, perhaps is still even a student. It's not until we reach the far end of the island that Park reveals he is quite different than the rest of his city-dwelling peers. As he takes off his baseball cap and replaces it with a veiled hat, he makes it evident that there is a new subculture emerging in the Korean capital: urban beekeeping.
There's no doubt that cartoons are loved all around the world. Comic books and animated television shows conjure up images of childhood, Saturday mornings, and spent allowances. Yet, there are few places where cartoon culture is as prevalent as Eastern Asia. In Korea, comics are taken to a whole new extreme.