In our latest instalment of DANCE || CULTURE, we ponder the long journey of KPOP dance over the past decade to its global recognition! In this article, we sit down for a chat with Yong Yi Wen, a long-time instructor, and a passionate KPOP dancer for almost 10 years, about the debates and discussions surrounding the KPOP dance scene.
The Journey to International Fame
The year is 1999. The band G.O.D has just debuted and seized the K-POP market by storm. Sech-Kies, another popular idol dance group, swept accolades at the end-year awards. It was the beginning of what many regard as the fore-runners of KPOP.
Fast forward to the 2000s, and many new – now considered Old School (link to article) – bands debuted. Familiar names such as Super Junior, Girls Generation, and Big Bang were a part of this then-new generation. They were the second wave, or rather, the harbinger of the Wave that captivated the world’s attention.
Along with their catchy tunes and stunning visuals, one could not deny their unvarying and unique yet easy-to-follow dance moves. From the L-O-V-E sign made popular by SS501’s ‘Love Like This’, to Girls Generation’s ‘Genie’ Tell me your wish leg flick, every music video seemed to have a unique dance move attached to it.
In this golden era of dance meet music, it seemed as though to become a famous idol, you have to be good at executing dance routines with spotless accuracy and uniformness.
Now it is 2018. Most of the Old School idols have gone solo, G.O. D and Sech-Kies are considered legends in the scene. PSY has one of the world’s most viral dance hits and BTS is the first boy group with killer dance moves to have successfully entered what was regarded to be the demise of many KPOP groups – the United States.
The KPOP market is now saturated with many new idols, each competing to be more outstanding than the last…. Indeed, the Korean Wave has finally taken over the world.
Along with this takeover came more complicated dance routines. BTS’s latest song DNA featured heart-pounding choreography by the famous urban dance choreographer Chris Martin, and GOT7 is renowned for the martial arts style of dance which fuses backflips and kicks into their dance routine.
Other groups have begun to venture into experimentation in attempts to capture the audiences’ hearts, but none of the groups drifted far from the main core principle of KPOP dance, and that is to execute all steps accurately as a group and to have a unique dance move special to the particular music.
Debate: Is it Dance or Not?
When the idea of KPOP dance was born in the 2000s, commentators likened the accuracy to military-style training, and harsher critics wondered if the uniform dance style stripped the idols of their personality.
Amidst the debates, dance studios around the world began to offer KPOP dance classes, specially catered to teaching their students how to dance like their favourite idols. Even in Singapore, dance studios started to offer KPOP as a dance class, attracting many KPOP fans to their classes.
This sparked a whole new argument in the dance scene. Many dancers shunned KPOP, perceiving it as a trend in which had no real stand in dance. But almost a decade later, it has blossomed into a full-blown genre of its own. Yong Yi Wen expressed her pride: “I like that they ignored the criticism and continued, which is very commendable.”
Admitting that it was kind of a “marketing strategy”, Yi Wen cited high production of music and receptiveness of the public as main features of how KPOP found its footing in the dance scene. Indeed, with renowned choreographers such as Parris Goebel dipping their toes in the genre, it is hard not to gain global recognition.
Other critics felt that it strips away the individuality and originality often prided by dancers. Certainly, many took issue with the idea of ‘copying’ the steps, and although their thoughts were justified, Yi Wen believes it was just another form of self-expression.
“Through learning KPOP dance, they are able to hone various techniques, and from it gain knowledge about dance.” Yi Wen explained, noting that most choreography (especially those taught in class) limits originality and confines the dancer to a set routine too.
Even then, KPOP was a style that “had no boundaries”. Borrowing from various genres as inspiration, KPOP dancers are not confined to a set form, and they are able to add on or take away from the set choreography performed in the Music Videos. It can even be said to be a popular way of re-introducing older dance styles back into the public’s eye.
From Outcast to Glo-Up
When KPOP dance was first introduced in Singapore around 2008, it was very distant from other dance genres. Not many dancers perceived it to be a form of dance they wanted to join.
Fast forward to 2018, and KPOP dance has its own cover dance crews, dedicated choreographers, and competitions. Even in Co-Curricular Activities (CCA), there are even resident KPOP dance groups.
The scene has grown more accepting of the style, but many still wonder what sets it apart from other dance genres.
Aside from the “point dance”, what other unique points make it different?
“It is more performance based? K-pop has cleaner moves compared to Hip-Hop. It is more of the aura – it’s your expression, plus the styling.
And it is a style that is more forgiving when it comes to technical level.” Yi Wen stated.
But even now, the genre is changing. For one, the level of technical difficulty of KPOP dance is rising, and Yi Wen admits it is stressful even for choreographers to pick up and convey the content to their students as best as they could.
But she remains optimistic about K-POP dance’s future, mentioning that it is an alternate route for dancers to grow in the scene, now that there is less judgment of the style.
Although KPOP is a genre that will still be widely contested for its validity as a dance genre, however, with more competitions and events for K-POP forecasted for the future, it was evident that it was a style here to stay for a long time.
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