Learning the K-pop moves in a San Francisco dance studio
Korean pop, or K-pop, is a music genre known for its signature techno beats, synchronized dance moves and matching outfits worn by girl and boy bands.
It’s the kind of music that makes you want to dance and sing along. And if you want to learn to dance to K-pop music, you don’t need to go all the way South Korea.
Four years ago I discovered my love for K-pop — and, this summer, I finally sat in on my first K-pop dance class at City Dance Studio in San Francisco.
During the class, Amber Divina, the instructor, stands at the front of the room. He begins counting, bends his knee as though sitting on air, then moves his right knee out and back. He steps out to the right, shoots his hands forward, brings his hands back and steps out to the left.
The twelve students in the studio follow his movements. Everyone speeds up.
The K-pop explosion
Divina has been dancing for over twenty years, but this K-pop class is new. In an interview with 24-Hour K-pop, a local television program, Divina explains that K-pop isn’t much different from American hip-hop.
“A lot of Korean artists, I think they look up to American hip-hop music, and so when they make their music they take that inspiration and make it something better. And along with the hip-hop music comes with a dance,” Divina says.
Now is a good time to be teaching K-pop dance classes in San Francisco. It's still not mainstream, but it's growing in popularity.
And even if you haven’t heard of K-pop, you’ve probably heard at least one K-pop song — the mega-hit "Gangnam Style," which was the first video to reach a billion views.
How I discovered K-pop
The rising popularity of K-pop is part of the globalization of South Korean culture, which began in the late '90s with what’s known as Hallyu, or the “Korean Wave.”
Like a lot of people, the first time I heard K-pop was on Youtube. I was watching an anime cartoon, but then clicked on another video that featured people dressed up as characters from the cartoon. They were dancing to a K-pop song called “This Love,” by Shinhwa.
I instantly fell in love with the song, because it was different from the Taylor Swift and Katy Perry I usually heard.
Not only could they sing, but they could also dance, and their choreography was mesmerizing. All the dance moves were in sync. Though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, it didn’t matter, because the beat made me want to dance and sing along.
Soon I discovered more K-pop, such as the boy band Exo, with their powerful dancing in the song “Overdose.”
Most K-pop groups and solo artists have their own colors and custom glow sticks that their fans wave at concerts or performances.
Some of my friends don’t like K-pop, but I don’t really mind. My younger sister likes K-pop too — sometimes I hear her sing the English parts of “Exo-Monster.”
Back in the dance studio, at Amber Divina’s class, another K-pop fan, Eloisa Herbert, is learning the dance moves for the first time.
As she danced she shot her arms up, as if she were about to fight someone, and went back into a chill pose.
“This type of dance, since K-pop kind of varies, but the specific type that we did at the class today — it made me feel very confident,” Herbert says. “I mean, even though I kind of struggled at first ... as soon as I got all the moves down I became confident.”
Herbert says one of the reasons she loves K-pop is because it’s such a broad genre. It can include R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock or electronic. And it usually involves heavily synchronized choreography.
Herbert doesn’t know Korean, but says language doesn't matter. "You could look up the lyrics if you're really bothered by that,” she says. “You don't need to learn the language. The way it feels or just sounds makes you feel a certain way.”
I didn’t dance this time around, but I’m thinking I might sign up for a beginner’s lesson here at City Dance Studio. Someday, maybe I’ll be able to dance like one of my favorite groups, Twice.
Allison Ajpop-Perez was part of KALW’s SFUSD high school summer internship program in 2017, and is a student at Burton High School.