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Arts in the News

Balletic Stress-Relief for South Korean Troops

Once a week, a group of South Korean soldiers near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea take a ballet class intended to help assuage the stress of patrolling the world’s most heavily fortified border. One sergeant, 23-year-old Kim Joo-hyeok, explains: “There’s a lot of tension here since we live in the unit on the front line…but through ballet, I am able to stay calm and find balance as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers.” Kim is in his second year of ballet training and plans to continue even after being discharged from the army. Their teacher, a ballerina at the Korean National Ballet, reports witnessing not only incremental skill improvement among the soldiers, but mood improvement as well. One lieutenant expounds on another long-known benefit of ballet: “Ballet requires a great amount of physical strength and is very good for strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility, and correcting posture.” Relieving stress and providing strength training? Hopefully other countries can see South Korea’s example and perhaps implement ballet programs of their own for the benefit of their soldiers.

Pop Culture Reflects Angry National Mood, Argues Journalist

The cultural products of a society certainly give insight into the zeitgest of an age; LA Times‘ Jeffrey Fleishman argues that our own popular culture today tells a story of anger. Fleishman argues that “visceral and at times frightening narratives are running through our popular culture” as he points to the endless conflict and violence in Game of Thrones, the rage and betrayal in Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and the grim turn of even our superheroes–“once the extensions of our better selves”–in films like Batman v Superman. Much of our cultural vexation, Fleishman explains, stems from the insecurities of white working and middle classes threatened by Wall Street, globalization, technology, and changing demographics. Presidential campaigns, national tragedies, and world events feed racial tensions and identity politics. “The canon of art is to make sense of seminal times, to pull insight from extremity and find universal meaning in uproar,” argues Fleishman, acknowledging that our anger today is amplified by social media. As mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and disasters cover our newspapers and TV screens, our art can, in effect, tell us a great deal about how we are handling these times of turmoil and tragedy.

Though each of us likes to think we have our own unique taste in music, a new study shows that most musical preferences are “heavily informed by a long-standing tradition of Western music that has permeated [the] brain.” This new finding, courtesy of neuroscientists at MIT and Brandeis, goes against what has previously been believed about minds being hardwired to enjoy so-called “consonant” chords. By testing 100 individuals from a remote Amazonian tribe with little exposure to Western music, they discovered no predilection for consonant chords; these results, they believe, reveal that the assumed consonant/dissonant binary is actually more culturally than biologically based. One of the researchers, Josh McDermott, explains: “There’s often a tendency to assume that structures that are important in Western music are just important, period. Our results provide a pretty strong cautionary note of one example where that is pretty clearly not the case.” In the future, McDermott and colleagues postulate, it is entirely possible that the strict binary between consonance and dissonance may blur, or even disappear. Their research certainly makes us rethink one of the most common assumptions about what music is and should sound like.

New York City Officials Announce Massive Investment in Arts & Culture 

Big Apple officials announced this week that the city will devote $64 million to upgrades at arts and culture organizations. The recipients of money include 68 museums, theaters, and gardens across the five boroughs–funding, among other things, a new $12 million education center at the Queens Botanical Garden and a $4 million expansion of the dance studios at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Manhattan. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer put the city’s investment in perspective, saying: “No other city in this entire country can claim that level of investment and reinvestment into culture and the arts.” The magnitude of the investment, of course, is tied to the value city officials see in the arts: “The arts and culture does something that virtually nothing else can do–it takes a city as broad and diverse as ours and makes it whole,” explained Van Bramer, who is also the chair of the cultural affairs committee. This money will certainly help ensure that New York City remains a cultural hub for residents and visitors alike, bringing the community together to celebrate art in its many forms.

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