South Korean soldiers change boots for ballet slippers

South Korean soldiers deployed near the border with the North take ballet lessons as part of their training.

PAJU, SOUTH KOREA (Reuters) - Every week, soldiers in Paju change into ballet slippers and get ready for class.

It's a welcome distraction from their military service near South Korea's heavily armed border with the North. The two countries are still technically in a state of war.

"There's a lot of tension here since we're the unit on the frontline, which makes me feel anxious at times. However, through ballet I'm able to stay calm and find balance as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers. So, I think I'll keep practising, even after the military service," said 23-year-old South Korean soldier, Sergeant Kim Joo Hyeok.

The soldiers say it helps with flexibility and strengthens the muscles.

Teacher Lee Hyang Jo, who dances with the Korean National Ballet, says it's a rewarding job.

"Being a soldier is quite tough, so I wasn't sure I could actually help them, but now I'm glad to be here and I feel worthwhile whenever I see them smiling more and enjoying ballet as they learn it little by little."

The soldiers are staging a ballet at the end of this year and hope to top last year's performance of part of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.