Dance Diary: Tackling BTS’s ‘On’ choreography

By Nadine Kam I

For a student dancer, watching the choreography of BTS’s “On” Kinetic Manifesto Film was really intimidating to behold, but the more I watched the video, the more I wanted to try it because it looked so dynamic and fun.

I talked about the young choreographer from Hawaii, Sienna Lalau in my last post, as well as my wish that she would consider what their bodies go through and how much these dances hurt. And I’m not talking about me. There are videos that show the chronic pain Jimin lives with, that has his doctor feeling sorry for him.

👁 Learn to dance like BTS in the privacy of your home:

It didn’t help that I watched a tutorial by cover dancer Brian Li, and you can see how he feels so tired midway through, just walking through the steps, and doing little dancing at 100 percent capacity. If he was tired, I was afraid of what I would feel. I already hurt a lot after dancing “Black Swan,” which seemed easier, but because of their wide stance and back flexing, it was actually more taxing on back and thigh muscles. Even so, in a recent video I posted, you could see I look like I’m putting only 25 percent of the effort they put in. In dance, to look like you’re exerting energy, you really have to push yourself 300 percent (as if there’s more than 100 percent effort, but you know what I mean.)

Midway through class I was seeing stars. The only other time that happened to me was when I was in in a bootcamp fitness class led by Egan Inoue, a jiu jitsu champion and mixed martial artist. Well I wanted to know what causes that phenomenon and TheNakedScientists website had two explanations both revolving around the eyes (since I didn’t bash my head) as follows:

“If you stand up too quickly you can have what’s called a “postural drop” in blood pressure. Blood comes up from your legs into your heart to get pumped around the body. When you stand up, and before your heart compensates, the return of blood drops slightly which causes the perfusion pressure to drop briefly. That causes a momentary reduction in perfusion of your retina. That slightly reduces the supply of oxygen and sugar to the retina from the blood, which causes the retina to start to fire off abnormal signals, which we experience as “sparkly” light signals; the brain is fooled into thinking you’re seeing light when it’s not there.

“Now, conversely, when you bash your head, what’s probably going on there is that because the brain is bobbing around inside your head in a fluid – the cerebrospinal fluid – and has a very soft, blancmange-like consistency, if you have a sudden interruption of movement to your head – so you hit your head very hard against the wall or pavement for instance – the brain cannons into the inside surface of your skull; it then can rebound and hit the back of your skull as well. And if you irritate the part of the brain that decodes what you’re seeing – the visual cortex which is right at the back of your head – then it’s possible that, in the same way that irritating the nerve cells in the retina by not having enough blood flow makes them fire abnormal signals which you see as stars.”

To avoid pain, this time I prepared by doing a lot of plies and tendus throughout the week and I bought a foam roller to stretch out my back muscles. I may not move that well, but at least two years into this I have learned to look at a dance and analyze its difficulty level and understand the kind of physicality it demands.

So what you see here is the class alone, the class side by side with BTS, and lastly, me juxtaposed with Jimin. Keep in mind I am old enough to be his mom!

You can see how clear their movements are in the turning and placement of palms and fingers, the definitive angles of their knees, the precise head turns, etc. There are so many little details that are overlooked by viewers looking at the big picture. The level changes is something we missed that adds to the visual flow of their dance.

Also, I appreciate the hours of practice it takes for them to move in unison, especially when considering individual stylistic differences. I’m always amused that Jimin is so extra that he has a tendency to make the line look out of sync, so he has to rein it in when dancing in a line. Otherwise, it’s OK in a live performance but really noticeable in their videos.

We shoot these videos of our classes after only 45 minutes of learning the choreography and practicing the whole routine a couple of times, so I end up flailing around and lurching from one move to the next. It would take so much more practice to get their sharp moves, especially considering the fast pace of the dance, which doesn’t leave much time to finish a move.

Like most of BTS’s dances, this one was super fun and I would definitely want to try it again. I am hoping our teacher will teach the dance break, which looks even more energetic and difficult! In that, maybe I can understand why Jimin dances through the pain. For certain people, there’s a strong desire to push limits—not for fame, glory or money—but just to know the full extent of our capabilities. You never know until you try, right?

Finally, as a student dancer, I always feel I need an external edge to boost my confidence level in class, and costume is a big part of that.

My hiphop teacher said that when she was a student she did it by tying a flannel shirt around her waist or hips to raise her awareness of the body parts and where she should be moving. She also said she wears a bold red lipstick to make her feel more sexy and powerful.

Usually I wear yoga pants, but this time I was looking for something looser in a color to match the mood of the song. When I started dancing I didn’t want to stand out in any way, so I wore the shabbiest clothes possible, but then for a year I felt bad about myself every time I saw myself in the mirror, and was a blow to my confidence level so I started dressing better, and in that gained the confidence to finally be in the class videos. I wasn’t dancing much better, but felt better about my appearance to the point where I don’t even care if my pot belly shows. Whatevs!

Dance Diary: BTS ‘Black Swan’

By Nadine Kam I

I wanted to dance BTS’s “Black Swan” choreography ever since they debuted it in the United States on James Corden’s “Late Late Show” on Jan. 28.

After putting in my request at our beginner K-pop dance class, I finally had the opportunity to learn the last chorus during a Hawaii Dance Bomb class on Feb. 10. I was hoping we could get to the end of the song but unfortunately we couldn’t. I was hoping for a follow-up class, but that looks unlikely.

We took so much time to learn just a brief segment that we ran out of time to record the dance as a class as usual. Afterward I wanted to film a reaction to the video with one of my friends in the class, and when we finished we decided to give the dance one more try and see how much of it we could remember. It’s funny how so much is forgotten the minute we walk out the door, and after no more than a half hour we struggled to remember which parts came next.

👁 We tried a little bit of the last chorus at the end of this vid:

Anyway, because BTS performed the dance barefoot, I went barefoot the whole class—which was pretty typical every time I took a modern or contemporary dance class—and continued to dance it barefoot on the concrete outside.

I was afraid it might be painful but because it is more of a modern dance piece there were no jumps that might have caused pain. A few weeks ago I tried to learn Dawn’s “Money” by myself, and even on a wood floor it became painful because of all the jumps he does.

👁 BTS “Black Swan”

Just watching the dance ahead of time, I knew it would be painful in other ways, such as trying to match their wide and low stance. The flexing of their backs made me realize it was an area I had to work on because my back is too stiff to get the arch and flow of their swanlike stretches. I spent about three days trying to stretch and flex my back without the help of an exercise ball, which I really should get. I also kept up my plies and tendus, adding squats, just to prepare for a few minutes of dance! Even though classes are an hour long, about 15 minutes is spent in warmup and socializing, and much of the time we are walking through the moves. We are only dancing at 100 percent for about 10 to 15 minutes.

This dancer outlines differences between major Korean entertainment company dance styles. I favor sexy SM style and Big Hit (BTS) style, but this explains why I feel so tired and hurt so much every time after dancing BTS! Turn on subtitles.

Yet … a day after class my muscles were aching, from my core to back of my thighs. I mean, BTS puts a lot of rigor into the dance but I hadn’t felt pain after a dance class in a long time so I thought I had done enough prep. That just shows how grueling BTS choreography continues to be. I haven’t hurt for a long time after many of the other boy dances that call for a lot of powerful and rapid movements. When I look at the video of myself, I see I’m putting in a quarter of the energy BTS puts into their performances.
I know the millions-strong ARMY already respects and admires BTS, but if they tried their dances they would respect them even more.