Jung ah Choi (alias Jem) is a Korean dancer First artist at the English National Ballet. Jem was interviewed by Rasmus Meldgaard Harboe.
Rasmus for WDCD: Thank you for doing this, Jem. Let’s begin with a big question: how has dancing changed your life?
Jem: Dancing has changed my life in every way possible. It’s how I meet people, it’s my social circle and how I perceive the world. If I wasn’t a dancer, I would be a completely different person.
Rasmus: How did you start dancing?
Jem: I started at gymnastics when I was five, but I wasn’t very good, so I moved on to ballet. To begin with, I found ballet quite awkward. Not as free as gymnastics, where you get to run around with a ribbon. It felt much more restricted—but I loved the classical music more than anything. I still do. My mum used to play for me when I was a kid.
Rasmus: You’re dancing with English National Ballet here in London, but you were actually born in South Korea. How did you end up in Britain?
Jem: My mum wanted me to go to The Royal Ballet School in London. I couldn’t audition until I was eleven, so when I was nine, I went to boarding school in London. They taught a bit of dancing there. Today there are many foreign people in London—back then I was the only one in my school. I didn’t really speak any English, but I adapted quickly.
Rasmus: Looking back, how has your journey been?
Jem: I’ve been very privileged. I studied in London, and I also got to live in Moscow. Of course, I went through hard times. Every dancer does. Everyone has their own story, and in the ballet world a lot depends on very few people’s opinion on you as a dancer. It doesn’t matter how much of a nice person you are. The normal world values that. So, it’s kind of a love-hate thing. I’m very lucky to have friends who are not dancers to keep me sane.
Rasmus: You’re joining The What Dance Can Do Project to help us bring dancing and music to vulnerable children. What are your plans?
Jem: I have always wanted to work with kids, and I think it would be amazing to put my talent into something else. To bring joy to an audience is a privilege in itself, but working face-to-face with children and help them discover, what they can do—you can’t buy that. It’s an amazing thing. I was supposed to go to Kenya to teach ballet in July. But obviously, with what’s going on at the moment [the coronavirus pandemic], that isn’t happening.
Rasmus: I hope, you’ll be able to travel to Kenya and work with the kids soon. Speaking of the pandemic and the lockdown, what does it mean for your everyday life as a dancer?
Jem: To be honest, I got a very bad injury in beginning of December. It’s a bone fracture in my foot. I wasn’t dancing for two months, but I was supposed to be back in April, doing full on show. At the moment, when I’m doing barre at home, I can feel I’m not ready.
Jem: Yeah, so I take this time to heal myself. It’s my first injury, so I felt really lost to begin with. Normally, I’m so active, even when I have a day off, I love to go outside. All of a sudden, moving is torture. It’s odd, when I have thirteen shows a week, all I want to do is rest—but now, when I suddenly have all this time, I only want to move.
Rasmus: You have been dancing for decades now, through good times and bad. What inspires you to carry on?
Jem: Definitely still the music. Along with a sense of commitment and achievement on day to day basis. It’s a bit like being an athlete but an artist at the same time. You’re always challenging yourself, every minute of the day.