Congratulations to A.C.E.’s Kim Byeongkwan, who became host of Arirang’s “Pops in Seoul,” a K-pop music and news program on Jan. 6, taking over for Stray Kids’ Felix Lee (Lee Yong Bok), who had held the position since last July, but is leaving on a world tour with his group.
Byeongkwan should do well because he has such an outgoing personality and as the main dancer for A.C.E, he’ll be able to keep up the K-pop dance lessons that became so popular when Samuel Kim and Felix were hosts.
I’ve been seeing a lot more of Byeongkwan lately, after having wondered how well he was doing after finishing in fourth place on the K-pop survival show “Mixnine.” The show was to create a debut group out of the top nine finishers from either a girls- or boys-only team, but the debut never happened. He was really talented but one can only follow so many people, and because I arrived at “Mixnine,” going backward in time after having watched YG “Treasure Box,” I continued following the YG participants, Choi Hyun Suk, Lee Byoung Gon and Kim Jun Kyu.
I was reminded how outrageous Byeongkwan can be when he and A.C.E’s Wow released a cover music video of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” last month, which is so awesome.
I’m really going to miss Felix’s Aussie accent, but looking forward to what Byeongkwan will show us in the months ahead.
👁 A comparison of Byeongkwan and Felix’s dance lessons:
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.
I wanted to dance to Taemin’s “Move” for a long time and tried to learn the choreography on my own at home.
This is where memory fails me, coz I actually made it through the entire song, but in dancing it could never remember the order of the segments. Just like working out at home, people don’t usually push themselves as much as when risking humiliation in front of other people in a class. So at home I just didn’t do the number of repetitions that would drill the movements in brain and body.
I feel like this is a dance that could be done in its entirety if given three class sessions or so, but I didn’t like the way the segments were chopped when we did this on March 2, instead of staying true to the choreography. It kind of messed me up because the flow of movement was lost.
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.
In beginner K-pop dance class, we did BTS back-to-back on Feb. 16 and 23, “Dope” and “Not Today” on the respective dates.
Their dances are always energetic and fun. For that reason, more people tend to show up whenever BTS is being taught. That’s how I ended up not appearing in my own video for “Dope,” because I didn’t check to see whether I was in the frame when I positioned myself. Usually the class is small so I stand in my usual spot, but this time I had to go to the far end. So I don’t know how I did. Even when it looks bad, the videos are a good tool for knowing what you did wrong, what you could do better, etc.
As much as I hated to be in class videos a year ago, by now I feel a little more comfortable and around this time started dressing up more for classes, knowing the teachers always want to have videos as part of resume building and to have something to share on social media.
The timing was good to post these in light of my recent post about BTS being a force for good in this world, using their platform to speak about societal issues and deliver hope to their ilpo, or give-up generation, a name given to the current generation of Korean youths who have given up on their dreams due to intense competition for higher education, a high unemployment rate. Without employment, one also gives up hope for marriage, children and home ownership, and with so much sacrificed, it’s a generation that has given up on having a better life than preceding generations.
These are the issues raised in “Dope,” as well as the anti-establishment “Not Today,” that includes lyrics: “A day may come when we lose / But it is not today / Today we fight!” pushing back against corporate and government corruption.
I really enjoy dancing their choreography because it’s fun, and while there are those highly stylized movements that are a signature of K-pop, there are not as much as other groups so you can enjoy more of the song’s vibe without worrying about a hundred small details!
We spent an hour learning BTS’s “Idol” during our beginner K-pop dance class at Star Fitness Hawaii on Feb. 9, 2019. It is the most high-energy dance we’d done so far, and after dancing it at 100 percent about five times, we wanted to collapse.
Now I understand why I’ve seen BTS also collapse on the floor after performing nearly 4 minutes of this choreography. When I saw it happen I was wondering why they would be so exhausted after one dance because they often perform several of their dances in succession during live shows.
I have to admit it scared me to see them, especially Taehyung, breathing so hard when they are so young.
After doing this dance, I now know why. We only learned about 40 seconds, so would have only done 2-1/2 minutes of the dance at 100 percent and it is way more exhausting than we make it look. The song is nearly 4 minutes and they are dancing that whole time. It’s all the jumps that make it so exhausting.
BTS choreography is actually much easier than most K-pop dances. It’s not that they can’t do sharp moves, but they sacrifice detail for high energy that is exciting for people to watch and more engaging during a live performance. It also makes it much more fun to dance. An EXO dance, for instance, is so intricate that it’s hard for me, as a beginner, to escape into the mood or feeling of the song. Every second is spent thinking about the small technical details that make it more stressful than fun.
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.
April 8 is Jonghyun’s birthday and I was hoping that one of my K-pop dance teachers would be able to teach me how to dance his “Hallelujah” in recognition of the occasion.
Alas, one teacher left the studio, and another doesn’t feel as comfortable dancing to male songs as female, so as I catch up on updating our past practices, the next one to pop up was SHINee’s “Ring Ding Dong” from Feb. 2, 2019.
It was a little bit of serendipity to come up with SHINee, though at the same time it’s probably my least favorite song of their catalog.
As always with SHINee, there are sharp hand movements used in combination with precise leg movements that bring the knees together and out. It takes a lot of coordination, and none of us are doing particularly well at getting all the movements in.
I hope I will be able to dance “Hallelujah” to mark his birthday next year … and make it look good.
👁 🎧 Here’s a look at “Hallelujah,” which he wrote about a beautiful woman, but for me might was well be about him.
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.
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.