Members of the army’s 25th Division are taught ballet each week by a ballerina from the Korean National Ballet, including steps from  Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

It’s hard to imagine a job more stressful than guarding a border with North Korea. But at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea, but 15 male ballet students, groaning as they strained to do the splits, have found a creative way to manage their tension: ballet lessons.

Once a week, a group of South Korean soldiers trade army boots for ballet shoes in a class intended to ease the stress of guarding the world’s most heavily fortified border. “There’s a lot of tension here since we live in the unit on the front line, which makes me feel insecure at times,” says Kim Joo-hyeok, a 23-year-old sergeant doing his nearly two years of military service that is mandatory for South Korean men. “But through ballet, I am able to stay calm and find balance as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers,” said Kim, who is learning ballet for a second year and plans to continue when he is discharged from the army.

A ballerina from the Korean National Ballet leads the classes. Soldier Kim Joo-hyeok, 23, describes the activity as a way to “stay calm and find balance, as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers.” Last week, on July 13, Reuters photographer Kim-Hong Ji captured Kim and his fellow soldiers during training, at home in their barracks and in the classes, as they deploy the grace and discipline of classical dance in order to learn balance and teamwork.

Most of the students at a recent session were first-timers. But ballet toughens you up too, said Lieutenant Colonel Heo Tae-sun.

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