Dance Diary: SF9 ‘Good Guy’

By Nadine Kam I

On Jan. 30, 2020, I took on chorus choreography for SF9’s “Good Guy” during my weekly K-pop dance class. Even when it looks fairly easy and doable, it never is because of the speed of these songs.

In this video, I wanted to show more of the process and the false starts as we make our first few attempts at the dance at 100 percent speed. We generally start at 50 percent, and move up to 75 percent before taking on this challenge.

I wanted to show this because the bane of one of my former hiphop and heels—and perhaps every—dance teacher is encouraging new students to try a class. People who have watched my videos—no matter how sloppy we look—nevertheless are intimidated and tell me they don’t think they could ever do the moves shown.

I tell them I am just as uncoordinated as they believe they are, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Because I always love a challenge, I see it more as fun than intimidating.

What may have boosted my attempts from the beginning was that I didn’t listen to K-pop at all, and wasn’t even sure what K-pop dance was. I approached these classes more as fitness than dance classes. I think that if I started with the idea that I wanted to master dance, I may never have started, because I think people always assume that one must start dance at an early age and toil for years to gain proficiency. I’ve found that’s not true at all. One can start at any age and mastery comes with effort and discipline, not any prescribed length of time.

At the time, I just wanted to move, I hate exercise, and this seemed more like learning an artform than a rote workout. Even so, it didn’t take long for me to really get into it and want to improve, so that’s when I went from a single class to nine a week in many styles to gain more technical skill: ballet, hiphop, heels, Afro-Caribbean, jazz, modern, body mechanics, etc.

Yes, of course, during my first year of trying to learn to dance (I enter my second year at the end of this month, February 2020) I stepped off the floor during the filming. No one wants to be looked at and judged. But one thing dance has given me is some fearlessness. Of course beginners are going to make mistakes, but it isn’t the end of the world, and even though I am not particularly gifted, so what? I am learning every day and it allows me to enjoy dance performances with a whole new level of understanding.

Dance diary: Playing catch-up with Pentagon, Twice and EXO

By Nadine Kam I

It’s funny how we lose motivation so quickly after the new year. Last year I wanted to post my dance videos to track my progress over time. I had some catching up to do, as this thought occurred to me after I had already built up a 6-month backlog of videos.

Well, now I find myself 10 months behind, so I will probably try to bunch them up. These dances are from March 9 and 16, 2019, Pentagon’s “Naughty Boy,” Twice’s “Yes or Yes” and EXO’s “Love Shot.”

At any rate, this is a good time to talk about my journey to date. When I started, I didn’t know what I was getting into. A friend wanted to learn to dance, and it sounded like fun so I said OK to K-pop dance. I didn’t even like K-pop. I was the only anti in class and I couldn’t understand why women my age were gushing over young boys. Whenever the teacher asked for requests for favorite songs or groups, I said I didn’t know any and that I was just there for exercise. This was in late February 2018, but by the end of April I was hooked.

A switch came in May when we did EXO-CBX’s “Blooming Days.” It’s a really difficult dance and at the time I didn’t want to be recorded on videos, but even without seeing how I looked, I never felt good about it, so I knew I had to go back for some remedial technique, having never danced in my life. Also, prior to starting K-pop dance, I was living a sedentary life for 30 years, but I wanted to lose some weight and become stronger as I thought about issues associated with aging, since I am no spring chicken and want to remain ambulatory in my old age.

I also had regrets about never having taken dance classes when I was a child, the result being I was never a good mover, and never had the coordination one develops when making those brain-to-limb neural connections in childhood.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries along the way. I once thought that dance is a purely physical activity, but I have learned the physical part is the easiest. I believe that dance is 1 part physicality, 1 part musicality and 1 part mental strength.

The hardest part is mental, not only remembering the moves—which I have extreme difficulty doing—but also having the focus and confidence to get out there in the first place. You really have to believe you can do it. I struggle with the mental challenge of dance, and it’s not something that instructors—who are typically natural movers and naturally gregarious—can help me with. I feel like what I need is a good sports coach.

Although K-pop is one of the few styles that requires no dance experience to get started, to improve my lines and form, I added on ballet, modern, jazz, hiphop, heels, some African-Caribbean and body mechanics, everything employed by K-pop choreographers. I did all that for the next six months and came out of it ready for the camera by February 2019. Well, imperfect of course, but I wanted to track any improvement over time.

Even though I’m still not very good, I am enjoying the journey, and I both see and feel some improvement. I have a long way to go, but along the way, I hope I can inspire others to get up and move. Don’t let the fear of learning something new stop you from getting started. You may surprise yourself. I know I did.

Dance diary: Red Velvet ‘Russian Roulette’

By Nadine Kam I

Did Red Velvet’s “Russian Roulette” twice, once back on March 2 through Star Fitness, and the second time May 11 with Hawaii Dance Bomb at Paradise Park. I went there because I had a feeling she would be teaching BTS “Boy With Luv,” but I was wrong. She had already done it in an earlier class. Oh well. I’m not especially fond of girl songs, and you can kind of see it in my bored expression in the first video.

I often talk about dance as being a mental a game. We don’t even realize how many mental blocks we have until we start something new like this, that puts the focus on our bodies. There are the initial body hangups, and for non-dancers, the embarrassment of being looked at and most certainly, judged. It’s a lot to overcome. It took about 2 months until I decided I could be filmed, and once I looked at said film, I went underground for another three or four months until I happened to take classes from a teacher who would not allow us to escape the scrutiny. Her rationale was that if we were to ever dance in public, we had to grow accustomed to eyeballs, activity around us, cameras and other distractions that could faze us.

As much as I hated looking at those early videos, I did see where I needed a lot of improvement, including amping up the energy level. In dance, if you are giving 100 percent, you look like you’re walking through a park, so you really have to put in 200 percent energy to look like you’re dancing.

Beyond the physical limitations of being a non-dancer, there was more mental difficulties. Dancing requires acting and I am a terrible actress. If I don’t like something, I can’t pretend I do. And I found I really dislike cutesy girl K-pop dances. I just don’t like to project cute because I happen to be short, and all my life “short” has been associated with “cute,” and I have fought that image since I was 5 years old. I always wanted to be perceived as strong and tough, especially in my field of journalism.

Well, K-pop generally sees women two ways, cute or sexy, and when it comes to the sexy dances, it’s hard to project because I don’t view myself as sexy either! So it’s really hard to get into those characters. When we’re doing cute dances, I watch the videos and everyone is smiling and acting cute, and I’m the only one with bitch face.

Luckily, there’s a new generation of girls fighting both images to project strength and sass, so that works for me. For that reason I enjoy doing the boy dances, but when you look at cover dances, most of the dancers tend to pick the girl dances because they look good solo. The boy dances are made to be performed in a group with a lot of formations, so can be weird to dance alone, though I saw one guy do “Fake Love” solo.

Overcoming mental blocks is harder than learning choreography, and there’s definitely something about movement that doesn’t click with me in the same way that it was difficult for me to learn how to play the drums via lessons. It was only when I quit lessons and got off sheet music and started playing with other musicians after a year that it clicked and I was able to play. I am waiting for such a breakthrough with dance.

Meanwhile, there is interesting research going on regarding dancing and the brain, and how it is the one activity that is proving to stave off mental decline and manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

You can read more about dance and brain here:

https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/dancing-and-brain

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201805/the-powerful-psychological-benefits-dance

Dance Diary: Chung Ha ‘Gotta Go’

By Nadine Kam l

Skipped ahead to March 14, 2019, because I wanted to post this in honor of Xiumin, who danced a bit of Chung Ha’s “Gotta Go” as part of girl group dance medley to entertain fans during his “Xiuweetime” fanmeet May 4, prior to his May 7 departure for the South Korean military.

We danced this during beginner K-pop dance class. The video with Xiumin is followed by another segment featuring more of the dance.

This dance called for bringing out a little sexy, which is not really me. So this is part of the psychology of dance that I always talk about. It really calls for acting and embracing certain feelings, emotions and characteristics that one may not possess.

You have to will yourself to be sexy, strong, cute, whatever the dance calls for. Sometimes I’m really resistant, which makes it hard to perform well. I really hate cute dances because that’s so not me. I think of myself as a strong person and my preference is for strong male dances. When we do cute dances, everyone is always smiling, and I’m the only one who looks really grouchy and serious. I just cannot smile. So these dances really call for a strong will to overcome one’s prejudices and predilections, and embrace the choreography presented.

👁 🎧 The official music video:

Dance diary: Black Pink’s ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’

On Feb. 2, 2019, we danced the chorus of Black Pink’s “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” during our beginner K-pop dance class. As I’m still catching up on the past after starting this dance blog, the timing is good in light of the quartet’s debut yesterday, April 12, at the Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif.

I’m happy about their reception in this country because back in September I said on Facebook that Black Pink is likely to be the next K-pop breakthrough act in America. Why? I said so because of racism in this country. It’s been the case in entertainment since the 1920s that this country has been willing to support only one major Asian-American star at a time because some non-Asians think we all look alike. So whenever an Asian role comes up, the chosen one typically gets cast over and over again, from Anna May Wong to Bruce Lee, Nancy Kwan up until today’s Margaret Cho and her successor Awkwafina.

In K-pop world, the band of the moment in this country is BTS, but because they’re men, there is room for an act people can recognize apart from that group of seven Koreans, that is, a group of women.

Black Pink is certainly deserving, and at that moment were arguably the hottest girl band in South Korea, prior to the arrival of Itzy.

👁 🎧 Black Pink’s music video

At any rate, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” is a really catchy song, and so is the dance created by American choreographer Kyle Hanagami, who is based in L.A.

Usually in class, we just dance in a line, but on this day we tried the moving formation. It was really fun, but Black Pink tends to be sexy and I am so not.

Dance calls for a lot of acting, but I grew up without movement, so it feels like an awkward lie.

Around this time I started thinking that there is so much more to dance than people realize. Non-dancers think of it as merely a physical act, but there’s a lot of psychology behind it, and just as there are sports psychologists who help athletes perform better, I feel as if I need a dance psychologist.

When I mention this to my dance instructors, they don’t really understand. They are instructors likely because they moved naturally and started dance lessons in early childhood, so they’re not likely to understand the trials of someone starting as an adult.

I would go as far as saying dance is 40 percent physical, and 60 percent mental, just because I am not a great mover, but can certainly follow along and pick up the choreography. Making it look good is still a problem, but my mental blocks are even harder to overcome.

Dance Diary: IU’s ‘BbiBbi’

By Nadine Kam I

On Jan. 19, 2019, in our beginner K-pop class, we danced part of IU’s “BbiBbi.” It’s a cute, lazy-looking dance that actually sends a serious warning to gossips and haters.

Her greeting, “Hello stup-I-D,” refers to the anonymous trolls hiding behind made-up IDs to leave hateful messages for their targets online.

In her gestures in the dance she draws a line that should not be crossed and wards off haters with a yellow card, referring to warnings used in soccer games.

I really like the strength she shows in singing this song. Korean entertainers are subject to a lot of scrutiny and nasty criticism for everything from the way they dress to the smallest of so-called infractions that veer from the mean.

They are constantly apologizing for any behavior that results in criticism, so it’s nice to see IU stand up for herself, because Korean society is particularly hard on women they expect to conform to a strict code of feminine behavior and appearance. Through this song, she shows she’s no one’s easy target.

👁  IU’s music video

👁  IU’s dance practice

Dance diary: 8 secs of SHINee’s ‘Lucifer’

By Nadine Kam I

On a previous dance post I talked about SHINee’s “Everybody” and the robotic, mechanical movements of dubstep.

On Jan. 13, we revisited SHINee, but this time going back to the year 2010 and “Lucifer” choreography incorporating tutting, stylized hand movements associated with the rendering of human figures in ancient, hence the “King Tut” reference.

Our limbs don’t naturally form those poses, so the gestures require a lot of mind-body coordination, and it’s difficult to perform them cleanly and clearly at the high speed of K-pop dance. I continue to be amazed by how fast the moves are when performing them vs. simply watching, when they seem like they have all the time in the world to make those moves.

Which is why, after an hour, we only learned this 8-second bit. I was sad that we didn’t get to do the much easier iconic part of the dance that involves the spreading index fingers and the electric shock move, but I’m always happy to dance SHINee if it helps to keep Jonghyun’s legacy alive.

👁 Watch: The whole MV

From left in both videos, Key, Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun and Minho.

👁 Watch: SHINee’s dance practice

Dance diary: A walk through Black Pink’s ‘As if it’s Your Last’ and BTS Home Party

By Nadine Kam I

Through this dance class, dated Jan. 12, 2019, I wanted to share the process of learning and creating a formation to show that it’s not a scary endeavor at all and to encourage any closet dancer to come out and take a chance on learning something new.

For a year, I’d been inviting some sedentary friends to come keep me company and get some fun exercise, but a little aerobics is one thing and dance is another. Dance tends to make people feel intimidated. And videos are the bane of dance teachers. On the one hand, they love to show their work and accomplishments, partially as a way of enticing people to come out and dance. But when people see the end result, their first thought is, “I can’t do that.”

It’s the same way I feel at the start of each class. Every time I’m shown the K-pop videos, I think, “I can’t do that.” But rather than stopping there, my second thought is, “Oh well, let’s give it a try.”

Each teacher, here Sarah Replogle, is able to break the dances down into bite size chunks, so non-dancers will be surprised how much they can actually do when taking it slowly. K-pop dance is one form in which anyone with no dance background can jump into without risk of injury.

Alas, I used to invite friends to also join me in beginning ballet, modern and jazz classes, but it’s weird to say that even though I’m still a novice in all these forms, I’ve advanced in a year to the point that they could not join me in the same classes, at risk of hurting themselves without a foundation in technique.

The one thing I’ve learned through ballet is that the exercises never end. Even the pros continue to perform the same exercises as we do as beginners to maintain their form and balance, and build strength.

This video shows how slowly we walk through the moves to get to the end.

A slow walk-through of Black Pink’s “As if it’s Your Last” chorus after about 30 minutes of learning the choreography. I don’t care that I’m lagging in this first attempt at a formation.

👁 Watch: Black Pink “As if it’s Your Last”

Around this time, because of all the modern dance I had been doing, I was feeling more confident and when I watched this BTS Home Party dance practice video featuring J-Hope, Jimin and Jungkook, and other of their raw practice videos, I felt like if I were in the same room with them, I would be able to pick up choreography just as quickly as they do with their 10-plus years of dance and stage experience, often putting 11 to 16 hours a day into rehearsals vs. my four or five hours a week. Of course they are far more brilliant in their presentation than I am as a beginner much older than them, but their process is the same and watching them helps me set goals.

I am in no way a natural dancer. I move in strange ways and am totally uncoordinated, but I always felt as if anyone could learn choreography. It’s looking good doing it that’s the problem. It takes a lot of strength and technique to achieve the long, clean lines, posture and balance that Jimin maintains, plus a lot of flexibility to arch and flatten your back.

I didn’t have much of a problem with flexibility when I was taking nine classes a week and stretching daily, but now that I’m down to about four classes weekly, weighted toward the end of the week, I can feel how the body contracts and stiffens in the downtime. I don’t know how I lived 20 years as a couch potato when I feel the difference now after just three days of non-movement. Lol!

Because I never moved since childhood, and had no dance training, all the moves felt unnatural a year ago, but over time, movement grows on you. When I watch casual, personal videos of the K-pop stars, I notice they are always a second away from showing dance moves or dance hand gestures. I’ve noticed the same thing happening to me when I sit down to eat and hear music. Movement is starting to come more naturally as a matter of everyday life.

Anyway, I’ve pretty much done every move BTS does in this dance video, including hitting the floor with the kick in the air, but the longest segment of choreography I can commit to my brain is 1 minute. Dance is a challenge of memory as well as physicality. I am working to build new neural connections. In a way, I guess you could say if your strengths are elsewhere, dance makes you smarter.