Dancing Queen

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen

Since nuclear weapons, austere living conditions, and lack of human rights often dominate the headlines about North Korea, you probably laughed in disbelief when Dennis Rodman got chummy with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dear leader. Turns out, basketball is not Kim Jong Un’s only shared interest with the West’s dominate power.  He recently formed a much more modest version of the Spice Girls, a 5-member girl pop music group, Moranbong Music Band. Reminiscent of 80s synth-pop, they sing catchy tunes entitled “Let’s Study” and “Our Dear Leader.” 

The lady pop sensation has made it to Beijing.  One of our fellow teachers invited us to dine at a North Korean restaurant. Unaware of North Korea’s love of bubble gum pop, we joked that North Korean food would be rice gruel in tin bowls and the servers would wear gray jumpsuits. We were so wrong. Not only was the food amazing, but stunning North Korean women (who also are the waitresses) put on a vibrant show. The women danced and sang Chinese and American pop songs— including Abba’s “Dancing Queen”—while playing the saxophone, drums, electric violin, cello, harp and the most exciting instrument ever – the KEYTAR!

Unfortunately, we have no photographic evidence of our night with these dancing queens. When birdMAN got out his camera while being served beer and kimchee, the four waitresses breathed audible sighs of anxiety and skittered away from the table. We were, however, allowed to photograph the paintings of the women.

Who are these mystery women festooned in makeup, polyester jump suits, and sequins? They look nothing like the gaunt, plain, austere North Koreans that we would expect emerging from Asia’s last Iron Curtain.  Our friend told us that they work at this restaurant for a few years and then return to North Korea. Their work life is like working on a cruise ship. They do not leave the building without supervision. That is all we know of these North Korean beauties.

We left the restaurant with full stomachs and full hearts.  Now months later, we crave the bibimbap, the sweet rice dumplings, the seared beef, and beer.  We cannot forget those picturesque women’s pensive stares; their small speaking voices that belt out dynamite serenades. Abba tunes synthesized with the electric violin and keytar continue to resonate within us. Who would have known? I have something in common with North Korea’s dear leader: we both love kimchee and pop music.

Chinese word of the blog:  表演  biǎo yǎn
English translation: show, performance