Skip to main content

Colorado Voices: A Dream Deferred

Email share

It's not always a land of dreams for those immigrating to the United States. From childhood into her college years, Mi Ja Peak was a well-known, traditional Korean dancer in her community. She eventually left her home, Seoul, Korea, to follow the love of her life, Jim Peak, who connected with Mi Ja as an English tutor. Their new life in the United States as parents brought about new responsibilities, taking away time for Mi Ja to continue a life-long passion.

"It was like a dream," said Peak. "It was something I did, but I haven't danced in 45-plus years. I used to practice about 360 days per year, but when I came here, I could not do that."

Colorado VoicesA Dream Deferred

A traditional Korean dancer returns to her art 45 years after coming to the United States.

Peak's daughter, Jen Alexander, recalls seeing photos of her mother performing decades ago in Seoul, prompting questions about a woman that felt hardly familiar.

"Even when I was a little girl, I used to see these beautiful pictures of her in her traditional Korean gowns and her fans," said Alexander. "It was just so interesting looking at those pictures because that wasn't the mother that I knew. This was part of her essence, her being. She laid down that portion of her life to pursue love."

After Peak retired in Fort Collins, she picked up golfing as another hobby, along with several friends, who also emigrated from Seoul, Korea.

"One day, I invited them for lunch," Peak said. "One of the ladies said, 'oh, you have a drum,' and I said I used to play. She says, 'oh we have a drum teacher, Mr. Kim."

Peak connected with Jeong Hun Kim for drum lessons to refresh a rusty part of her past. During those lessons, Kim eventually learned that Peak used to dance.

"He said, 'why don't you teach,' and I said that I forgot all of this," said Peak. "He said just like your drumming, it comes back."

The transition wasn't easy. As Peak started teaching lessons on traditional Korean dancing, participants came and went, dampening her eagerness from time to time. However, four women continuously attended her lessons, keeping her inspiration to renew a dream alive.

"They were so enthusiastic about it just because of their eagerness and willingness," said Peak. "It was really easy for me."

Peak describes traditional Korean dancing as yoga with grace.

"It's similar to ballet," she described. "It moves from head to toes with your arms synchronized in such a way that gives you grace," Peak said.

The women, Ah Young Jung, Ho Jeong Lee, Heykyung Shin, and Ja Kyung Kim, were eventually presented with a surprise request: to perform at Colorado State University's World Unity Fair. Peak hesitated at first.

"How can I dance and teach these ladies? I haven't danced in 45-plus years," she said. "But I saw the potential in these ladies. I agreed."

Peak mixed in different styles and approaches, using both scarf and fan dancing. One day at a time, the group executed a choreographed dance in a matter of weeks. In traditional gowns of deep navy blue, the women, brimming with excitement, arrived at CSU's Lory Student Center on March 1st, 2020, to perform together for the first time.

"When we went out on stage, the feeling I had that night, it was so emotional," recalled Peak.

As the crowd cheered at the end of their performance, Peak glowed with happiness unlike anything she's experienced in recent years.

"It wasn't a destroyed dream," her daughter, Alexander said. "Maybe she had thought that, but it was in hindsight, it was just a dream deferred, it was delayed."

"After all these years, I haven't been happier," Peak said.

Finally, after four decades of hitting pause on a passion that defined her young years, the United States, her new home, became a land of dreams for Mi Ja Peak.

Hannah Tran is an independent producer/filmmaker and a graduate student at CSU’s Journalism and Media Communication Department.

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!