UW Korean Drumming and Dancing Club
Cultural Ties that Bind
|Debby Tewes is Asian
Writer in the Milwaukee area
were in the club.
It is not a big club at all as you may expect. It doesn't have any regular annual event. The members would have to
look for the events for themselves and perform there. They are sometimes asked to perform for certain events.
However, such cases do not happen so often. The money they receive for the performances goes into the
equipment maintenance such as replacing worn-out drums, and buying new clothes, and so on. And yet the
practice time is relatively demanding; they meet two days every week, two hours each. Since I was there to hang
out, I could not be critical enough to even think about the reason that they do it against all odds.
In fact, the Korean Drumming and Dance Club itself is not just a music club. It serves purposes far beyond. It
actually serves as a social club as well; the members share study information and gather socially within the group,
and they annually hold membership training.
To students, it has this dual functionality of being a social club and a Drumming and Dancing Club. In such
environment, my interest shifted from the social part to the drumming itself gradually. It was natural to some extent,
since the people I know graduated as the time went, and they were replaced by some people I did not know.
I was fascinated by the drums' dynamic beats that pound my heart, and the rhythm that poured into my ears. As my
interest in this particular part of Korean tradition grew, there was an incident that transformed my frustration to a
genuine understanding of American people.
It was initiated by an outdoor practice. It was one bright Sunday morning, and I was practicing with other members
for the next performance in the church community. The weather was so appealing that we decided to practice
outside. So, there we sat down at the field where the Memorial Library fountain is. Soon, a group of people
happened to become an instantaneous audience. I was not surprised that they gathered, but I was surprised that
almost everyone who stopped to listen to us stayed all the way until we finish our practice. One of them, who
probably is a journalist, even took photographs of us practicing.
The true enlightenment happened at the performance. I had not had a stage experience before, so I was curious
on how Americans would enjoy Korean traditional music. At first, I could not see the audience since I was so
nervous. As I found my inner peace, I took a peek. Surprisingly, I saw the audience really enjoying our music; some
were even nodding and tapping their feet.
I was surprised and I realized that although they may not know about our culture, they may not necessarily dislike
our culture. Also, it was surprising to realize that music can be a medium that holds cultural values and also be a
medium for friendship; like chanson, the music by the Beatles, Classics like Mozart's, etc. After that moment, my
"frustration" was gone.
Without this club we call “Ulssu,” I might never get away from such frustration. Also, I am honored to be a part of a
group that promotes recognition of Korea in this country, because Korea and Koreans are so unrecognized.
Through Ulssu, our various audiences may have a better interest in Korea, or in Asia as whole. Here is the speech
by the Ulssu president that I would like to share:
“…When I came here, I realized that Korea and Koreans are so unrecognized in this country. I felt that I have to
promote my country so that people know better about my country, and how dynamic our culture is. So, here I am
with my members. We might not be the very best performing group, but I think that by being here, we are
privileged far than any other drumming group in Korea; we are able to show you what Korean culture is, and share
Even now, I still have to go through the 20 or so questions about my country from time to time. However, I do not
feel the frustration anymore. Instead, I feel some sort of obligation that I need to promote my country better, and
properly. To me, this obligation signifies the transformation that I went through; it was like a journey. I picked it up
along the sideways from the road I was driving through, the way of my life. (I used the word “journey” both
metaphorically and literally as well, since I lived in three different states in the U.S). There is a line that goes “Life is
a journey, and so is one’s identity,” in some magazine a few years ago. I think this is exactly right. If one could
accept what he (or she) finds as it is and lives with that, it would make life much easier for all. I hope that one day,
with proper, and better understanding of each other, “we” may view each other without barriers that hold us back
from seeing one for who he/she is.
Hyuka Jang is a student at UW-Madison. He wrote this story as a project for an Asian American Studies Program
course taught by Asst. Prof. Jan Miyasaki.
Note from Ulssu website:
Ulssu was founded in 1998. We are considered to be the one of the most active Korean student organizations that contribute to the
diversity and multiculturalism in UW-Madison.
We gather twice a week to practicing at Lathrop and have been performing inside and outside of campus for many years. We have
successfully performed in many different places that advocates multiculturalism and diversity, and earned many positive credits. Some
of places we have performed include: Multicultural Fairs, UW-Korean Night, NIKABA Expo & Festival, Hanmadang Taekwondo
Tournament in Chicago, Korean Adoptees Meeting and High School (for International Festival week), and Annual Performance.
We are a non-profit student organization; therefore, our group is run with donations and membership fees. We have our
organization’s bank account in UW credit which is handled by President and Vice President. This finances our equipment,
costume, transportation and practicing space.
There are no requirements to become a member of Ulssu. Anyone who is interested in learning about the Korean culture by
playing Poongmul is welcome. However, to maintain the membership, coming to practice held twice per week is mandatory.
Every year our organization recruits new members during KUSA, Korean Undergraduate Student Association, Kick-off meetings
and separate inquiries via email or in person is also welcome.
To join the club, donate, or request performance, contact: email@example.com or phone (608) 514-3773.
|Outdoor Practice of the Korean Drumming Club in
2007 (the writer is not in the picture)
After the club practice, the writer is the second person from
|Members of the club, the writer is at the right
corner. Halloween Social 2007
By Hyuka Jang
I say, "I am Korean"
I still remember the day when I met my first American
roommate. He seemed pretty excited about his first
dormitory life, and his excitement was poured upon me on
the day we met. His very first question was about my
country of origin. That was the first time I was asked the
question about my origin. The actual question went
something like this: “Where are you from? Wait! Let me
guess. Are you Chinese?” Well, eventually I had to tell him
that I am Korean, or more specifically, that I am a citizen of
the Republic of South Korea. Since then, I was asked the
same question -- or 20 related ones -- from time to time.
Later I got smart about it, and gave preemptive answers. How did I
feel about it? I found it funny at first. But, soon I realized how my
country is unrecognized. That sense of frustration about people
not familiar with my country dominated me until I got into the
There is an English word called “serendipity.” It refers to a
moment when someone finds something that wasn’t expected to
be found. If I were to recall my moment of transformation,
“serendipity” would be the perfect word to describe it.
The Korean Drummning & Dancing Club (Ulssu)
I was asked by a few of my friends to join the Korean Drumming
and Dancing Club with them. Back then, I was not a big fan of
traditional drumming or dancing. I said 'yes' simply because they