Mixing domains

I was at my in-laws’ for dinner last night, after which we watched some Korean TV, including, mostly because it happened to be on, some competitive ballroom dancing. (The show in question was “Shall We Dance,” on MBC-ESPN.) The dancers—who, according to my translating parents, were all high school kids—were pretty damn good. But what was really fun (as it always is with Korean TV) was the music they were dancing to.

I’ve taken enough dance lessons to expect familiar songs in goofy, step-specific cover versions. But this stuff was going a step further—almost deliberately blurring cultural boundaries, just for fun. The jive numbers, far from the retro swing common in the US, were pretty near hip-hop across the board. (Not surprising.) A tango version of the them from “The Godfather”? Why not? The waltz spun to “Memory” from Cats, shoehorned into three-quarter time; the Viennese waltz then crossed the Alps into Italy, with the Brindisi from La Traviata slowed to a Straussian lilt.

It put me in mind of those culinary categories for which the term “fusion” is a little too facile, the ones where the melting pot has been simmering so long that the stew takes on an identity of its own. (Argentinian-Italian food is a good example, actually.) This sort of thing goes on under the hood of music all the time, of course, but it’s fun to occasionally see the engine on the outside, hot-rod style.

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