Seoul Sisters: Apache Belles perform for U.S. troops, experience culture in South Korea

Jul 23, 2014 by

The Tyler Junior College Apache Belles didn’t spend their spring break on the ski slopes or at the beach. They went to the other side of the planet, where they learned a lot about the world and themselves – and a powerful condition called jet lag.

The Belles traveled to Seoul, South Korea, where they performed for U.S. military service members, shared a cultural exchange with Korean college students, ate many servings of kimchi and Korean barbecue, and experienced the heavily armed DMZ, the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea.

In the months leading up to the trip, the Apache Belles raised funds and prepared more than a dozen dance routines, with styles ranging from their signature high kicks and jump splits to clogging, tap, jazz, contemporary and Broadway.

For the first time, an online crowdfunding campaign was created to gather donations. Apache Belle Gold chapters, TJC alumni and friends gave generously to help defray the Belles’ trip costs.

The Apache Belles and the TJC contingent pose for a group shot with Gyeongju University faculty, students and officials following the Belles’ outdoor performance.

The Apache Belles and the TJC contingent pose for a group shot with Gyeongju University faculty, students and officials following the Belles’ outdoor performance.

On Friday, March 7, the TJC group of more than 70 travelers – including the Belles, alumni, parents, staff and friends – set out for their weeklong adventure on a 14-hour, nonstop flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Incheon International Airport near Seoul.

Upon arrival, even with a 14-hour time difference from Texas and their days and nights completely flipped, the Apache Belles hit the ground running and seemed rejuvenated to spend their first full day at Camp Humphreys, a U.S. Army garrison near Seoul. The Belles conducted a two-hour Belle Babes workshop, in which they taught a dance routine to some of the base children who joined them at that night’s performance for the military families.

Founded in 1950, Camp Humphreys is the busiest U.S. Army airfield in Asia and houses more than 12,000 soldiers, civilian workers and their families. By the year 2016, it will be the largest Army post in Korea and home to more than 30,000 residents.

“We were especially excited to get to spend our first day with the children of our men and women in the U.S. military,” Apache Belles Director Jasilyn Schaefer said. “What an honor it is to give back to these families who sacrifice so much for our freedom.”

With such a far-flung, overseas assignment, the residents of Camp Humphreys don’t get a lot of non-military visitors from the U.S.; so the Belles’ presence was something out of the ordinary.

“It really is humbling to meet these brave men and women, to perform for them and bring them a bit of home,” Schaefer said. “The Apache Belles have performed for U.S. troops all over the world – in Germany, Hawaii and Japan – and it’s one of our greatest privileges. It’s an experience our girls will remember forever.”

Jayda Gray, a freshman Belle from Arlington, couldn’t agree more.

“Aiyanna, the daughter of one of our troops, truly touched my heart,” Gray said. “I instantly connected with her the moment the Belle Babes workshop began. It was a blessing to be at the base and, honestly, the highlight of my whole experience.”

Next, the group spent a day at Gyeongju University, where they met Korean university students, toured the campus and wowed the university community with an outdoor performance. The Gyeongju taekwondo group returned the favor with an impressive demonstration of flying side kicks and board-breaking.

Everywhere they went in South Korea -- even in the demilitarized zone -- the Belles were asked to pose for photos. Here, Kayla Coston, head dance captain, (left) and Madeline Jones promote goodwill and international relations with a DMZ guard.

Everywhere they went in South Korea — even in the demilitarized zone — the Belles were asked to pose for photos. Here, Kayla Coston, head dance captain, (left) and Madeline Jones promote goodwill and international relations with a DMZ guard.

TJC President Dr. Mike Metke and Gyeongju Chancellor Dr. Soonja Lee formally signed an agreement to promote a collaborative exchange between the schools. Gyeongju representatives could visit Tyler as early as this summer.

Following the signing ceremony, the Belles tried on traditional, brightly colored Korean costumes known as hanbok.

Kayla Coston, Apache Belle head dance captain from Keller, said, “We had the opportunity to meet students our age and entertain them with our show while learning about their culture by trying on Korean traditional dresses. A day of learning and performing!”

On Tuesday, March 11, the Belles gave a midday performance in the City Hall Plaza in downtown Seoul, with two Korean cheer teams.

Local media covered the event and the response was so positive, the Belles were invited to perform the next night at halftime of a Korean professional basketball game between the local Seoul SK Knights and the Goyang Orion.

The crowd leapt to its feet after the Belles’ performance of their signature song, “Last Dance.” After the game, the Belles posed for photos with team members and cheerleaders, and the TJC contingent was presented with an autographed basketball.

The TJC group toured several historic sites, including Changdeokgung Palace, which was built in the early 1400s and is registered on the World Cultural Heritage List.

A cultural highlight was a visit to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. At about 2.5 miles wide, the DMZ serves as the buffer zone between North and South Korea and is one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world.

Once allowed through the gate, the group visited Imjingak Park, The Bridge of Freedom, the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station and Unification Village.

“The DMZ was probably my favorite part of our visit to South Korea,” said Devynn Ryan, sophomore Belle from Pearland. “It was interesting to learn the history and understand the true hostility between the two countries. It was something you could never read in a textbook to understand, so it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to see first-hand.”

“Going to South Korea was an experience I will never forget,” said Maria Martin, freshman Belle from Arlington. “I loved learning about their culture and history from living in palaces to the history of North Korea.

“I will cherish the memory of the kind and helpful people we came in contact with. I hope I get the chance to go back.”

Throughout the week, TJC staff transmitted video reports home to Tyler media and kept parents and fans updated by posting photos and video to TJC social media.

For more photos and video coverage of the trip, go to apachemagazine.com/korea.

Elise Mullinix is TJC editorial manager.

 


Comments

comments

Features, Spring/Summer 2014

About the author

Elise Mullinix is Tyler Junior College's Editorial Manager. She can be reached at 903-510-2370 or at emul2@tjc.edu.