Let’s talk dance

By Nadine Kam I

If you read my origin story, you’d know that my interest in K-pop started with dance. After being a couch potato for most of my life, I started feeling weighed down, so when a couple of friends suggested taking a K-pop dance class and I said OK.

This was in February 2017. It was like entering an alternate universe where they spoke a foreign language and grownup women were positively giddy about their favorite groups and singers. When my own friends said all of American music sucks compared to K-pop and told me of their plans to move to Korea and marry a K-pop star, I just thought they were crazy and delusional.

EXO dances are challenging because they are very sharp with dozens of details in just a few seconds. Learned a few seconds of “Call Me Baby” up to the point I stopped, on Dec. 13, 2018. Finished up to the music video ending the second week.

I didn’t know any of the groups or their songs, so when ever it was my turn to share which song I wanted to dance to, I was a blank. I would just say “I don’t care, I don’t know anything about Kpop. I’m just here for exercise.”

To make a long story short, I became a super fan of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun four months after his suicide, and that was the start of my spiraling into the cult of K-pop.

And about the dance. As can be expected for someone new to the world of movement, I sucked. I continued flopping around for about three months until deciding I had to go back to the basics. So from one class I moved on to about eight a week, halting K-pop in June and instead taking up more foundational classes of beginner ballet, hip-hop, jazz, modern, Afro-Caribbean and heels dancing.

Then three months ago, with the addition of a new teacher Sarah Replogle to the lineup of Star Fitness Hawaii, I returned to K-pop dance and since I’ve been videoing the dances since that time, thought I’d share my journey here, because it’s been eye-opening.

I probably assumed from the start that dancing was purely a physical pursuit, but it’s also a mental challenge that I haven’t quite figured out. At first I blamed poor memory for my inability to deal with choreography, until I realized that isn’t the entire reason because most of the dances are so quick that if you rely on memory alone you would be left behind. The moves have to be ingrained in the body so that it flows in the same way as singing a song, where I don’t have to pause to remember a lyric. I just always know the next line without stressing or thinking about it, so I can sing while doing anything, yes, even dancing. If I could only get the moves right.

I also relate the experience to my learning to play the drums. I have great rhythm from being a singer, but my drum teacher had me learn by reading notes. Again, in reading notes there’s that pause to make sense of it before the information is relayed from brain to limbs, and I had trouble with that type of momentary synapse lapse. It was only after quitting lessons, ditching the song sheets and playing with other musicians that it came together naturally and my skills rapidly improved.

I’m hoping for a similar miracle with dance because teachers haven’t been able to help me with that mind-body-visual connection. They can’t understand my difficulties because dance teachers tend to be naturals, who started at an early age and never had difficulty moving. So how can they be expected to understand the trials of a non mover?

It’s not easy, but I’m hoping anyone interested in dance can identify and share any tips and advice or commiserate.

I will try posting a couple of my videos each week until I’m all caught up. So first up is about 8 seconds of EXO’s “Call Me Baby,” all we could learn in an hour because EXO delivers so many moves, like 8 or 9 just in the first 4 seconds!

We spent two weeks on this only to get to the end of their music video clip as shown, about 12 seconds. I never filmed the second week because I didn’t have the confidence to keep up.

Watch the fifth position plié, pelvic thrust and chest thrust. Fun to do!

But the move that really got my attention in this dance was the one that puts Xiumin (in baseball jacket) in the center toward the end of the segment.

The song is about a guy who’s a bit full of himself in asking a girl to “call me baby” and “don’t wait too long” before he simply moves on, and the move is particularly rude and aggressive.

It starts with a ballet fifth position plié that results in that diamond shape in the legs, followed by a pelvic thrust, followed by a chest thrust. It cracked me up doing it. Do try this at home and see how that feels! It is so rude, but pretty damn cool!

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