Dancing in the Street: Choreography in Kpop

TVXQ, Wae (Keep Your Head Down)(screen capture); Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djJb5iSL0Do

Dance is a huge part of mainstream Kpop, and while many recognize the dances popularized by the groups and artists, few know the people behind them: the choreographers. Not only do choreographers impact Kpop through their routines, they also have an impact on fans as well.

The choreography that accompanies many Kpop songs instantly catches the eye. It is one of the first things people notice and associate with Kpop. In a retrospective of Kpop choreography, Jordan Close and Mai Nguyen note the complexity of the dance routine created by Rino Nakasone and Shim Jae Won for SHINee’s “Lucifer”:  “As a whole, the dance includes an impressive amount of detail in movement, level changes and formation changes. In particular, the ‘handcuff dance’ made it big in Korea.”  Nakasone and Shim demonstrate some of the complex moves here in a dance workshop:

Not only does the choreography provide a vehicle for the music, it also emphasizes the meaning of the music.  Nakasone, one of the top choreographers, notes: ” I always consider each artist’s style and strengths, but mainly I just listen to the songs – I want to make the music come alive through choreography.”  Choreographers also have to take into consideration that the performers will be singing as they dance.  Mariel Martin, who has worked with 2NE1, says: ” Different ones sing at different times….There will be parts where one is singing and the other ones will be doing the dancing, one will break off and be singing.”

While non-Korean speaking audiences often encounter the challenges of songs in Korean, dance transcends langauge barriers.  Elaine Low writes that Shaun Evaristo, a major choreographer for YG Entertainment artists, uses a “non-verbal” method. Evaristo says:  “We’re able to understand each other through dance alone. Trust is key.”

Multiple cultural legacies also make Kpop choreography complex.  Evaristo is known for an eclectic style all his own.  Low writes: “It is difficult to properly capture into words Evaristo’s style of dance. More complex than traditional hip-hop, there is a precision, smoothness and intensity to his moves that elude definition. Even he has trouble putting a label on his own technique.”  This can be seen in a clip of Evaristo and Lyle Beniga demonstrating the choreography for Taeyang’s “Where U At:”

Other choreographers, like Martin, create dances with the Korean club scene in mind: “[I] talked to Shaun [Evaristo] about it and he kinda gave me an idea of their cultures and who they are kinda catering to. He told me catchy moves and simple things that are really clear. He told me that in the clubs here people don’t really have any room to dance so things that are more like arm movements, shoulders, moves that are kinda easy so that people can learn and the kids can do [them] in the club even if there is no space around.”

At the same time, Nakasone recognizes the influence of American dancers in her choreography for Kpop acts:  ” I think K-Pop has a lot of elements of how entertainment used to be back in the day, with MJ, Janet Jackson, TLC and MC Hammer. They made us wanna do what they did because it’s so attractive.”  The influence of African American soul choreography can be seen in this clip of Dandy Dan and Baek Koo Young, who has created routines for SM Entertainment artists like Super Junior, SHINee, f(x), and TVXQ, performing the choreography for TVXQ’s “Before You Go:”

The impact of Kpop choreography reaches beyond the artists who perform it and the choreographers who create it.  Choreographers will hold dance workshops so that others can learn the moves.  In addition, fans have formed cover dance teams around the world, learning the choreography and participating in competitions judged by the artists themselves.

Gwyn Elivera is a member of one such dance team, T.S.0.1, the official tribute group of Triple S Phllippines, which is the official Phillippine fanbase of SS501.  Elivera says that she is dedicated to learning the dances:  “When I watch a video and a particular step catches my attention, I’ll immediately learn it. If the steps are interesting enough to perform, I learn it by watching the performances over and over.”  Before a large number of rehearsal videos were available on the Internet, Elivera says: “I had to watch a video closely and do the opposite thing, confusing myself with lefts and rights, but I had to work hard for it, since I know it’ll please our viewers and give pride to our fan club if we perform.”

One of the reasons why Elivera participates in a dance team is that she sees dance as inseparable from Kpop:  “Dance, for me, is what makes KPop, KPop. . . . Whether it’s a cute dance that show group “aegyos” (cute acts) or fierce exhibitions that include somersaults and head spins, a good dance choreography will always catch a fan girl or boy’s attention. . . . KPop alone screams the need for movement and bounce and that’s why dance is important to KPop.”

Performers recognize the importance of the cover dance team.  As a member of T.S.01, Elivera has opened for Kim Hyun Joong’s Hi-Five event as well as competed and won awards for her fan club. Last year, Kpop artists including SHINee, MBLAQ, f(x) and Miss A participated as judges in the K-POP Cover Dance Festival.

Whether you are working out some Kpop choreography in your living room or performinig for other people, it is clear that dance is central to the Kpop experience.


Jordan Close and Mai Nguyen, Best of 2010: K-pop Choreography, asiapacificarts

wanderrgirl, title, fangirldiaries

Elaine Low, Shawn Evaristo: Choreographer to the Stars, mochimag

Movement Lifestyle, Adventures with YG Entertainment

Email Interview with Gwyn Elivera

carolicity, Final Round of ‘K-POP Cover Dance Festival’ To Be Held in Korea on October 3rd, allkpop


TVXQ, Wae (Keep Your Head Down), SM Entertainment

loveablehugableguy, SHINee Lucifer Workshops by Jae Won and Rino at BZU2 2010

Movement Lifestyle, Adventures with YG Entertainment

KillaFlowzProduction, Shaun Evaristo & Lyle Beniga – Where U At & Wedding Dress by Taeyang

reikolovesyou, Before You Go – TVXQ

7 thoughts on “Dancing in the Street: Choreography in Kpop

  1. Love KDrama’s which introduce me to OST songs & Kpop. Its a wonder to watch this kids do dances that came to so natural to my generation of soul dancers back in the day of the 60’s & 70’s. I think the choreography is great & stylized but the dances still are missing the “soul” of the dance for me. African American culture heart beat of our dancing is in

  2. African American culture heart beat of our dancing is in the struggles we have endured in a society that saw us a nothing more than livestock! People around the world seem to forget our singing and dancing had to do with the oppress of slavery and disenfranchisement of equality our people has had to face in America. This is why I say although the dancing in the Kpop vids are great they lack “the struggle, the endurance under oppression, the cry of injustice, the joy of finding how to live under such horrific circumstances & the true soul and essence of a people who sang, dance and shouted hallelujah for freedom to come”!

    1. Thanks for your comment, but I would disagree with defining African American culture solely in terms of oppression and discrimination. It is clear that they inform it, but I think it diminishes African American culture to reduce its creativity and complexity to simply a response to a legacy of slavery. African American culture itself is a combination of other cultures and it also has the ability to spread globally and engage other cultures. Everybody who engages African American culture does not have to engage that struggle. I wrote about this a little bit here and here.

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