Joining A K-pop Dance Group In Korea
Dance and K-pop are two things that I love. Ever since I started dancing at 13, I’ve never stopped, and my passion for the music genre is still going strong almost 2 decades later. Because of how much I enjoy both, I always dreamt about becoming a dancer for K-pop groups when I was younger, practicing in front of my mirror and learning choreography from YouTube for fun.
While the idea of pursuing it professionally sounds elusive and farfetched to some, I did go all the way out to chase my dreams… in Korea. Read on as I share what the experience was like, and lessons learnt along the way.
Why I decided to move to Korea and join a K-pop dance group
Me on a “red carpet” during my uni dance team anniversary event
Sure, it is more common to find people dreaming about becoming a K-pop idol because of all the glitz and glam. However, that didn’t appeal to me one bit. Rather, I was more interested in becoming a professional dancer because of my passion for it. In a way, I would get to perform on stage and still receive some spotlight without being overwhelmed with rabid fans and followers – the best of both worlds in my books.
Inspired by former INFINITE member, Hoya, a powerful dancer with amazing freestyling skills, I was charmed by his smooth dance movements and strength control. He gave me the motivation to give dancing a shot because deep down, I wish I could perform with him on stage one day too.
My inspiration for my dance dreams
Prior to entering university in Korea, I was attending Korean language classes which ended at 1PM daily. Since I had so much free time, the YOLO mindset got the better of me. I thought that since I was already living in Korea, I might as well take advantage of the auditions that occurred frequently and work on my dream.
As such, I decided to embark on this “secret mission” of mine since I didn’t tell anyone about it. For some reason back then, I wasn’t comfortable sharing this with people, fearing judgement that I only wanted to be a dancer to get close to K-pop idols.
What I did to prepare for the audition
Group photo with my dance mates from university before an external dance showcase
As a K-pop fan who had been watching live performances for some time, I began to follow a few dancers who worked with the same K-pop groups in music videos and concerts on socials. That was when I learnt how some of them were from dance teams formed solely for working as choreographers and dancers for the K-pop groups.
Among the many dance groups I followed on Instagram, one team caught my eye. They included a Japanese dancer, suggesting that they were open to accepting members who were non-Korean ‒ someone like me.
Since the only way to become part of the dance group was to pass an audition, I began to keep a lookout for the notice. They didn’t hold auditions on a regular basis, so I never knew when I would get my chance to try out.
It was only months later when the dance group finally uploaded an audition notice on their Instagram. I was excited, yet also incredibly nervous. I finally got the chance to see the dancers whom I admired IRL and probably even attend the same training as them, that was if I passed.
My excitement was akin to seeing snow for the first time ‒ curious and hopeful. Not only did I think that passing the audition would change my fate, but I also wanted to prove to myself that my skills were substantial.
During that time, I was taking dance classes twice a week and using the choreography that I learnt, I decided to film my audition piece. Making use of the minimal space I had in my room, I practiced over and over again, occasionally even knocking my foot into the corner of the bed. Ouch.
With a whole gameplan in mind, I mustered up the courage and made my way to the audition when the time arrived, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Failing the audition and trying again
Well, it turned out that I wasn’t good enough to impress the team and I failed the audition. While that didn’t deter me from trying again, it was my admission to university which kept me busy.
In the end, I hit pause for a whole 2 years to focus on my university’s dance team that I joined instead. I met many people of similar interests and was involved in both internal and external performances. In a way, I was expanding my knowledge about dance genres and exploring the underground dance scenes first.
The number of talented dancers out there soon made me realise that I still lacked in many areas and I ended up switching to another dance academy. This time, I took classes from a choreographer who focused on hard training, with the hopes to improve my skills. With so many things on my plate, it was impossible to even think of auditioning again and risk rejection.
For the next 2 years from 2013 to 2015, there were many audition chances but I let them slip by. Truth be told, I didn’t try out either because I found my drive to become a dancer was not as strong as before. It was only during my winter holidays when I chanced upon another audition notice by the same dance group that reignited my inner passions.
For a moment, I hesitated because there was an age prerequisite, between 20 to 26 years old, and I was near the end of the range. Yet, as someone who hates having regrets in life, I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity which might’ve been a last shot at something I still had some desire for. The next thing I knew, I was heading back into the audition location at the same dance studio yet again.
Similar to my previous attempt, I was told to fill out particulars like my name, age, weight, height and dance experience. There was even a small section where I could write down any messages for the dance group. With nothing to lose, I penned down how I had been following them for a long time and concluded by drawing a small heart.
After submitting the piece of paper, I went to the corner of the waiting room to warm up, noticing how there were about 7 other girls in total.
Most of them came with thick makeup that gave off a badass vibe and it made me wonder if I should have come prepared like them too. Since none of us knew each other, it was absolute silence except for the occasional squeaks from our sneakers when we went over our dance steps in separate corners of the room.
Soon enough, they called our names one by one before telling us to head to another dance studio. It was only after a few girls before my name was called.
With each step towards my judgement, I went through my introduction speech over my head repeatedly, fearing that I would mess up even before they saw my dance. If anything, I was even more nervous than my first audition despite going through this before.
Just like clockwork, my arms and legs went through every step and move of my choreography with ease, and to my relief, my 1 minute of the audition was over. I gave my best, didn’t mess up my steps and was ready to accept my fate no matter what it was.
After everyone was done with their audition, the leader of the dance group came and thanked us for coming before sharing that she would inform us of the results via text. A sense of deja vu that probably only I had experienced washed over me.
The very next day, the text came. But this time, it was good news – I made it to the team.
The very first word that came to my mind was a vulgarity that can’t be written here, because I was overwhelmed by emotions. The result was definitely unexpected since I was already rejected once, and soon enough, I fantasised about how I might finally get to stand on the same stage as K-pop idols.
The highs and lows of being in a Korean dance crew
Another external dance performance with my friends
TBH, I was taken aback by how they wanted me to begin training straight away. In a normal job circumstance, there’s usually something called the notice period. But as someone who was given this rare opportunity, I was in no position to complain.
By the time I arrived on my first day, I recognised 4 other girls from the audition. Unlike the stiff and tense atmosphere I experienced a day ago, they were all bubbly and excited ‒ eliminating any awkwardness among us.
After brief introductions and pleasantries, one of the dancers from the group arrived and told us to start with cleaning the studio since we were the maknae (aka youngest in Korean) in the team. Having lived in Korea for 4 years then, I was familiar with the hierarchy system but I didn’t expect it to be that serious.
From sweeping the floor to cleaning the mirrors, we did everything as told before the leader came and gathered us around.
She explained how the dance group works and gave us the phone numbers of the dancers in the group, instructing us to introduce ourselves as the latest additions by texting each individual existing member ‒ a situation you probably wouldn’t see in Singapore – or any other dance groups for that matter.
Later, she also analysed our body types and told me that I would have to lose 5kg if I wanted to perform on stage. As someone who weighed 53kg and had a height of 163cm ‒ which is considered a rather healthy BMI ‒ I was baffled at the further lengths I had to take to fit into their beauty standards.
While coming across as offensive, I also knew that her intention was for us to look as “perfect” as the artists performing on stage.
Finally getting down to business, we began by warming up before the other dancers came in and taught us choreography. I tried my best to remember the steps but I was just too overwhelmed by the speed that the rest of the girls and I were learning the dance.
It was only hours later before we were given a water break, where another bomb was dropped on us: the choreography we were learning was actually for a scheduled performance happening in 3 days time. To “fight” for the only spot available among us 5, we would have to go through an audition. Again.
Seeing how I wasn’t fast enough to catch the steps fully, I didn’t expect any positive outcome and the spot eventually went to another girl.
As if able to read our thoughts through the exhaustive training, the leader explained that while we might be in the team, it doesn’t guarantee us a spot on stage unless we proved ourselves. It could take a few months or a year but during that duration, we also wouldn’t be paid a single cent.
For a moment, I felt like one of those K-pop idol trainees with an uncertain future, and my image of becoming a dancer seemed to be nothing like I had imagined.
When I finally headed home at 10PM, I realised that I had been dancing for about 8 hours without a single meal break. If that was going to happen for the rest of the days in the dance group, then perhaps that 5KG I was told to lose wouldn’t be an issue after all.
Why I decided to leave
As I was recovering from gastritis from not having a proper meal, my mood inevitably took a hit. When I woke up the next day, I began to doubt my decision of joining the dance group for a second day. While I did want to become a dancer, I was severely put off by the harsh training system.
If I were to stay and undergo the rigorous training, I wasn’t sure if my body would be able to hold up to be honest. For a moment, I wanted to call it quits but at the same time, it seemed as if I was giving up too easily. Eventually, I decided to give it another shot, hoping that things might be better.
I was sorely mistaken. Training continued with minimal water breaks and intense footwork I couldn’t keep up with.
The voices in my head were telling me that I deserved better and I could always dance in a better environment. On the other hand, I struggled with how I didn’t dislike the people in the team and was more than willing to learn from them. By the time I got back home that night, exhausted and stressed, I decided to pull the plug and decided to withdraw from the dance group.
Mustering up the courage, I texted the leader and told her I was sorry but also thankful for the opportunity and the things I learnt although it was only for a short period of time. As if similar to those time-freezing moments seen in K-dramas, I felt reality around me pause when I hit the “send” button.
To some, it might appear that I made a rash decision but I thought about how it would affect me and other aspects of my life in the long run.
Since the training was happening during my winter holidays, I was able to commit to the long training hours then. However, once the new semester began, I couldn’t say for sure if I could juggle both dance and studies. At the same time, I was on a student visa which didn’t allow work related to showbiz. Technically I would be working illegally if I ever made it on stage ‒ a chance at getting deported if caught.
About a month later, I contacted one of the girls in the dance group that I was closer to, thinking that she was still in the team. To my surprise, she had also left and shared that only the youngest of the 5 of us had stayed. I was taken aback because I imagined the others persevering on but I guess they couldn’t take it too.
Knowing this somewhat reassured me that it wasn’t only me who found the training tough. At the same time, I developed a newfound respect for those who manage to pull through and make it on stage year after year.
Lessons learned from the whole experience
Chilling before a performance with friends
Eventually, I came to terms with myself that although I might not fit the bill to become a working dancer, I could still enjoy dancing in my own ways, such as attending dance classes and having random jamming sessions with friends. Dance is what I enjoy and it shouldn’t be something that I dread when I wake up everyday. If asked, I would say that I don’t regret my decision in leaving the dance group one bit.
In fact, I am proud of myself for making an effort to step outside of my comfort zone and really pursue my dream. I tried, made it to the team and managed to get a slight taste of what working as a professional dancer would be like.
At the same time, if anyone were to ask about becoming a dancer in Korea, I would still say to go for it ‒ but only if you’re clear about your goals.
As this incident took place years ago, I am sure the dance industry in Korea has changed significantly. The dance group that I was part of no longer exists and I notice many dancers are now working as freelancers instead. It is definitely a better strategy because you won’t be restricted by a hierarchy system and you get better control of your schedule and earnings.
Plus, for those who keep up with Korea’s survival programs, you would notice how shows like “Street Woman Fighter” places a positive light on the dancers in Korea. They are receiving the proper respect and treatment they deserve, and no longer just “backups” for singers. Also, the show raised awareness about the dance community and its behind-the-scenes that the public didn’t know of before.
Dreams are meant to be chased, but you also need to know when to rip the bandaid off, especially if it is affecting you negatively. Who knows, but perhaps there is a bigger picture ahead when things don’t work out the way you imagined.
Accepting My Fate And Enjoying Dance Through Many Other Avenues
From time to time, I do get that slight tinge of envy when I see the dancers I follow on Instagram post photos after a successful promotion for a certain K-pop group. Yet, those thoughts would be brushed away quickly after recalling my personal experience.
For now, I’m good with just supporting the dancers I know in Korea and I’ll keep on dancing to my own happiness at the side.
All images courtesy of the writer.