While you may have not heard of Eshe, you probably have seen her or Navah perform through YouTube videos. Her Shake Shop performance series combined different sets of bands and her bellydancing troupe together to combine visual and audio into a different kind of live experience.
She’s lived in South Korea and soon she will be leaving Seoul and returning back to Canada. Shake Shop will also be ending its run, but it has made a lasting impact. Even though Eshe isn’t a musician, she is an artist and one that’s worth introducing for everything she’s done while in South Korea.
Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Eshe! I’m a Canadian bellydancer and have been living in Seoul for the past seven years. I run my own dance studio in Seoul called Dream Dance Studio and direct my own bellydance troupe called Navah. I used to be the dancer for a great Korean folk / world music band called Orgeltanz and have also worked with lots of other amazing Korean acts.
In February 2013, I started a concert series called Shake Shop that mixes bellydance with Seoul indie music. The 19th edition of Shake Shop will take place on Saturday, January 24 and will see me and Navah collaborating with No. 1 Korean, Ynot? and Sugar, Come Again at Club Freebird 2 in Hongdae. The Shake Shop shows are always a lot of fun, so to any Seoul readers out there – please come! I’ll be moving back to Canada this spring so the January 24 concert will sadly be the second last Shake Shop. The final one will take place on February 14, and we’ll be announcing the lineup for it very soon.
How did you start bellydancing?
I used to live in Japan and saw an advertisement in a magazine for a free bellydance class in Tokyo. It sounded like something interesting to try. I went to a small apartment in Shibuya with lots of hippie wall drapings, incense burning and a wild teacher and fell in love.
How did you end up in South Korea?
I’d been living in Asia for almost five years. I wanted to stay in Asia but experience somewhere new. My friends told me the bellydance scene in Korea was great and I knew I already loved the food so I decided to give Seoul a try. It was a great decision to make!
Was there a specific reason you decided to start Navah?
I’ve always been blessed with super dedicated, kind, hard-working students. I felt they deserved to show off their efforts and share their art and beauty with the world. Navah’s first performance was in the summer of 2008. We organized a small afternoon charity show in Itaewon. All the dancers had a great time, so I kept booking more shows for them. To date, Navah have done over 180 performances all over South Korea. I’m really proud of everything all my students – past and present – have done.
How did you connect with Orgeltanz to perform with them?
In early 2008, I was sleuthing for bands and found a poster advertising a “world music” band called Orgeltanz. At that time, it was pretty rare in Seoul. I found a YouTube video and loved their whimsical, sweet style. I sent them an email and they invited me to catch them play at Badabie in Hongdae. We went out for dinner afterwards and everyone was really nervous. My Korean was non-existent at the time, so they nominated guitarist Shoonguli, who spoke the best English in the band, to do all the talking.
It was far from a great first meeting, but we all agreed to meet again in the studio and see if there was anything there. Like a lot of bands, they weren’t sure if bellydance “fit” with their style. At practice, I was spinning around, trying to make eye contact with the different members, but no one was looking at me.
After I finished the first song, everyone was silent. It was awful. I started panicking and was thinking of how to escape. But suddenly our then bassist, Byung Moon, blurted out “This is the best day of my music life!” and everyone laughed and relaxed and we went on to the next song. Right after our first practice we walked around Hongdae trying to book gigs.
I’m so grateful to Orgeltanz for taking a chance on me and I have so many great memories from working together with them. During the two years I was with the band, we performed in so many different environments doing everything from busking on the street in Insa-dong to playing at large-scale festivals like the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival and the Grand Mint Festival. And we were featured in the Korean editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar too, which was very cool. They also named a song after me on their 2008 “From the Cradle to the Grave” album, “Dancing Eshe.” I was really sad when the band parted ways in 2010 because of everyone’s lives changing due to work and family obligations.
Working with other bands like Cocore, The Plastic Day, and Apollo 18, what are the challenges to interpret their music into a dance performance?
Those three bands in particular are some of my dearest friends in South Korea. Cocore was challenging at first because they were the very first band with whom I did a non-traditional collaboration. We performed together at a tribute show for Han Dae Soo’s “Give Me Water” during Seoul’s Festival Bo:m in 2008. And after that we teamed up for a few more performances too.
The Plastic Day have always been, and will always be, my favorite Korean band. They were always wild and crazy and played with passion, talent and the mindset that every show was important. I worked with them at 2009’s Love Camp Festival. We were on really late at night and the entrance fee for the event was either flowers or candles. When I got on stage, the audience started throwing roses, which was really sweet. They still had thorns, though. I was a bit relieved when their supply diminished, but everyone just jumped onstage, gathered the roses up again and jumped back to throw them once more. I laughed, soaked in the love and kept dancing.
Apollo 18 are my family. They helped me move into my apartment, they helped me paint my studio, they were the first people I told when my husband and I found out we were going to have a baby, and they were the first visitors that came to see our daughter after she was born. The latter was fitting because Hyunseok from Apollo 18 was actually the first person to announce that I had given birth. My husband was in the process of contacting our family in Canada to tell them about our daughter and noticed that Hyunseok had already posted a message on Facebook telling everyone about her arrival!
I love Hyunseok, Daeinn, and Sangyun from Apollo 18 so much and appreciate that they have a lot of faith in me as an artist. The challenge of working with them is that they are so last minute and because they believe in me so much, they often change setlists or songs at the last minute or just start jamming. So they definitely keep me on my toes!
With all three of the bands mentioned above, and every other band I have worked with, it’s been a privilege and honor to be entrusted with performing to their music.
Was it difficult to open your own dance studio in Seoul?
Yes! I was told I was the first foreigner to ever open a dance studio in Seoul. It was difficult because no one knew the laws for a dance studio, and no one wanted to be the one who approved my application at various offices.
Are there any strong memories during those early days running the studio?
Not from running the studio but from when I was trying to get it open. When I was first doing all of the paperwork and travelling to all of the offices, I was also involved in a large-scale international bellydance production called Bellydance Evolution. I had competed and won a spot in their Korea and Indonesia shows.
We were rehearsing eight hours a day for the show which made getting the paperwork stuff sorted even more challenging. And Apollo 18 was holding their release party for Violet at the same time, so after a marathon day of gathering studio documents and Bellydance Evolution rehearsing I ran to Club Spot to dance with them.
Where did the idea for Shake Shop come from?
In November 2012, I wanted to celebrate the end of my pregnancy, so I contacted Romantiqua, Ninano Nanda and Apollo 18 about collaborating with Navah and me. We had an awesome show and six days later I became a mother. Everyone loved that first show so much that I decided to make more like it and Shake Shop was born. The management at Club Freebird and Club Freebird 2 have been really supportive of the idea and have let us host all of the Shake Shops at their clubs. I’m really thankful to them.
What has been the reaction from bands you have approached to perform?
The reaction has been really positive for the most part. As I mentioned before, some bands aren’t sure if bellydance fits with their style but most of the acts I’ve approached have been really open to the idea of collaborating and are excited about doing something new and different. Kiseok Seo from the hardcore band The Geeks said it was one of the most memorable shows he’s ever played. And when Gun Choi from the punk band Startline walked off stage after our collaboration he asked me, “When can we do it again?” I love that the show is fun to do for both the bands and for all of the bellydancers too.
What was the audience response at the early shows? Has that changed nearly two years later?
Our audiences have always been supportive. Show to show, the audience changes a lot. I often make a point to try and mix genres. I don’t do straight punk or rock or dance or traditional shows. I want bellydance fans to see a punk band for the first time, or electronic fans to see a folk band for the first time. I believe in all of the artists on our bill. Good music is good music, the same goes for a good performer – it doesn’t matter the style or genre.
Do you have a favorite Shake Shop show?
The next Shake Shop is always my favorite. I try to remember to take three good things I did from the last show and three things to change. From that I move forward. I have so much to do for every show, so it’s impossible to spend too much time in reflection. I’m packing up all of my family’s things to ship to Canada right now. It has been such a blessing to stumble upon photos, CDs, notes, posters, magazines articles and other keepsakes from past shows. I’ve been very blessed.
What are your plans when you return to Canada?
I’m going to keep dancing and keep sharing the love. After 12 years abroad, I’m looking forward to spending lots of quality time with my family, eating all my favorite junk foods, and enjoying Canada’s beautiful surroundings.
And on April 26, I’ll be performing at the Raqia Hassan Gala Show at Le Royal Resto & Lounge in Mississauga, Ontario. Raqia Hassan is a bellydance legend so it’s an amazing honor to dance at this show.
What’s your best or lasting memory living in South Korea?
I became a wife and mother while living in South Korea. I met amazing friends who’ll carry me through my darkest and most joyous days. The kindness and love that have filled my days here will be the most lasting memory I have.
You’ve lived in South Korea for a long time, what’s your opinion of the country? How have you seen music change during your life there?
The future for South Korea is so bright as long as all the dreamers, artists and lovers keep fighting. I love Korea with my heart and soul. Leaving has been the hardest choice I’ve ever made.
Anything to say to readers?
Thank you so much for reading! Please keep supporting the wealth of great indie musicians that Korea has to offer. And if you’re going to be in Seoul on January 24 or February 14 please come check out our final Shake Shops!