Uh, that's work, too

A few days ago I read an oldish article on b-boying (that's breakdancing to ancients like me) in Korea, and it really stuck in my craw, so I thought I'd vent.

This is what bothers me (emphasis added):

At events or clubs in Seoul, Chon regularly spots unknown b-boys taking out experienced pros. “What happens is they practice on the lowdown until they’re up at a level where they can actually come out and shock somebody,” he says. “They practice in the shadow.”

Cho “C4″ Chung-woon of Rivers says through a translator, “We’ve been praised for our technical skills, but that’s because we would practice head spinning all day long. That’s what sets us apart.”

Still, the old “Asian work ethic” explanation is just part of the story. When Koreans first emerged, Americans praised them for their power moves — the highflying crowd-pleasing spins, freezes and gymnastics moves — but criticized the Seoul b-boys for lacking soul. They were thought to be mechanical, unable to rock with the beat, and lacking in “foundation skills,” such as the top-rock and footwork moves that form the historical roots of the dance.

“What the Americans said really influenced them,” says Charlie Shin, Chon’s business partner and a Korean b-boy advocate. “They went back in the lab. It changed them.”

They mastered routines, the choreographed ensemble moves that are essential parts of a showdown. They immersed themselves in the music and the rhythms. They studied the history of b-boying and hip-hop culture. Three members of the Rivers crew — Born, C4 and Red Foot — are now affiliates of Mighty Zulu Kings, a crew whose lineage can be traced back to hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s Bronx River Project dances in the early 1970s. Even their crew name, Rivers, was chosen to capture an aspect of the hip-hop aesthetic.

“You know how rivers flow? Rivers flow swiftly, and that’s also how we move and how we think,” C4 says. “B-boys in other countries do it as a hobby, but to the Korean b-boys, our life is b-boying.”

Yeah, wow! It sure sounds like they abandoned that pesky work ethic there!

What really annoys me about this article (even more than the implication that a work ethic is some kind of racial attribute) is the underlying assumption that creative work is not hard work--that talent cannot be learned or improved upon.

I mean, look at what that story says: The b-boys were able to able to become gymnasts by dint of hard labor. But their b-boying lacked soul--that artistic element that separates real dancers from mere athletes.

How did they get soul? Did they and the Americans all drop groovy acid together until the Koreans' consciousness was expanded and soul could enter? Did they sit around and wait for the Muse of Soul to descend?

Um, no. They worked at it. There's not really any difference between what took these b-boys to the level of acrobats and what took them to the level of world-champion dancers.

The fact that the article can say It Wasn't a Work Ethic! while at the same time pointing out how these guys worked day and night to quite successfully obtain soul just demonstrates how deeply ingrained this whole belief is that the Muse just kind of grants higher-level artistic skills upon this or that lucky individual.

That's bullshit. Do you know why I analyze humor? Because I want my books to be funny. Why do I pick apart dialog? Because I want my books to have good dialog.

Why do I re-work and re-work the openings of my book? Why do I go to the trouble of dumping a third of my copy? Why?

Because I want my books to be good. I want them to operate at a high level. I'm not interested in being a hack.

The article is deeply wrong on another level as well: Without good foundation in acrobatics, the Korean b-boys never would have become good dancers. NEVER. What makes b-boying a distinctive form of dance is its heavy reliance on gymnastics--you can't just wave your arms around prettily and become a champion. Likewise, you can't just ignore the "technicalities" of spelling and grammar, because you think your "higher" literary skills are so fucking awesome.

Good writing, like good dancing, gives the audience an impression of effortlessness. It makes it seem like the story was there all along, simply waiting to be told. But if you're the one doing the writing, it takes a hell of a lot of work.