“We’re not just throwing down on the dance floor, it’s in life. That’s how we approach life, that’s the Korean spirit and the Ajumma spirit,” said Lee Ann Kim.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. – An all-female dance crew is showing off their hip-hop dance moves across San Diego while also bringing awareness to Korean culture and challenging the way society views middle-aged women.
Ajumma EXP is made up of women over the age of 35. The majority are Korean.
“The word ‘ajumma’ is intrinsically Korean. It means ‘middle-aged woman,'” said Ajumma EXP founder Lee Ann Kim.
“There are a lot of women in San Diego, as we’re growing older are so accomplished, we’ve done so much. We’re holding up the household, we’re taking care of the kids, we’re taking names , “she laughed. “And yet as we grow older, I think society allows us to become more marginalized and irrelevant.”
“We wanted to reclaim that word, define it as something positive. Ajumma EXP is simply a way for us to celebrate this phase that we’re in right now as middle-aged women, and be proud of that,” she said.
Kim is a former broadcaster turned yoga instructor. She also owns her own production company.
“We’re not just throwing down on the dance floor, it’s in life,” Kim said. “That’s how we approach life, that’s the Korean spirit and the ajumma spirit.”
Their costumes include fanny packs and wigs.
“A typical middle-aged Korean woman, she would have short permed hair,” said Kim.
They also wear colorful visors.
“We’re playing into stereotypes and then flipping it on its head,” Kim said.
Ajumma has flash mobbed places like Zion Market, House of Korea and the Fashion Valley Mall.
“It’s kind of liberating to do something out of your comfort zone,” said group member Dr. Janet Kim.
“Oh my gosh everybody loves it! They bust out their cameras,” said fellow member and attorney Angela Chun. “The reaction is amazing! I think people are shocked.”
“It’s a blast! It takes a lot of work. And ‘Oh my God, Do we have the moves down?’ But in the end it doesn’t matter, “said Dr. Kim.
“We’re older sexy women, still sexy, and we’re part of this community,” Kim said.
“We’re shining this great spotlight on older women, on Asian American women and Korean women,” she added.
Korean culture has exploded in popularity in recent years. From K-pop groups like BTS and BLACKPINK to K-dramas to the Netflix show ‘Squid Game,’ people of all ages are interested in Korean culture.
“My boys because they’re young and have cool haircuts, everyone thinks they’re BTS and automatically really cool,” said Lee Ann Kim.
“It’s finally cool to be Korean,” she added.
But it wasn’t always like this.
“I remember growing up in the 1970s in the Midwest, people didn’t know where Korea was,” Kim said. “They asked me if I was North Korean, ‘Oh you’re Korean, does that mean you speak Chinese?'”
“I’m just glad Koreans are getting more noticed,” said Dr. Kim. “Because we have a lot to offer.”
These women say it finally feels like Korean culture is part of American culture.
Video from the Korean Cultural center of Los Angeles’ YouTube page shows just how mainstream Korean culture now is. In January, thousands of all ages and ethnicities packed Balboa Park to watch a K-pop group perform on Korea Day.
“I was like here it is. I am witnessing this huge 180 degree change of how society views people like me,” said Kim.
“I just stood there and just embraced the moment. We went through so much pain, and so much misunderstanding all those years to be at this moment where people of all ages and all cultures to celebrate who we are … it was overwhelming, “she added.
“I’m so happy we’re living in this era where being Korean is celebrated.”
WATCH: Ajumma EXP celebrates womanhood and Korean culture!
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