How to become a kpop backup dancer
I Went to South Korea to Become A K-Pop Idol Backup Dancer
All images courtesy of the author.
It all started with Hoya.
If you’ve ever been involved in K-Pop fandom, you’ll know the saying, “You don’t choose your bias, your bias chooses you.”
In simpler terms, all fans experience attraction to particular members of K-pop bands. For me, Hoya of INFINITE was the one. He had been dancing since he was young, even dropping out of high school in South Korea in order to pursue his dream of becoming a singer. The sacrifice he made to chase his dreams inspired me to do the same, and perhaps this was why he meant so much to me.
This was in 2012. At the time, I was 19 and delusional. I was also confused about what to do after completing my A Levels. My classmates and friends were entering university, many of them with majors that matched their A level results. A common sentiment expressed was that their majors were not super interesting, but they were doing it because it might be “helpful” in the future.
As for me, the only thing I knew for sure was that I loved dancing, K-Pop, and bubble tea. I would do almost anything to just pursue my dream and get closer to those god-like idols. Hence my decision to become a background dancer—because I would be working in a close environment with idols; I would get to know them personally, which is basically every fangirl’s dream.
I was sure only that I did not want to be stuck in a competitive studying environment. I wanted to land a job that would get the majority of K-Pop fans jealous (ie. idol managers, makeup and hair stylists, music producers, background dancers, etc).
All along, I’ve been what we call a ‘guai kia’, and this was probably the only time I went against my parents’ wishes.
Like many other Asian parents, mine would have preferred that I become a lawyer, doctor, businessman, or something along those lines. ‘Entertainer’ or ‘musician’ would never have crossed their minds.
So when I first told them of my plan, they thought I was out of my mind. I did not know the language, and there was literally no one that I knew in Korea.
For a while, there was no peace at home. Yet I believed that I needed to do what I wanted to do. In the K-Pop industry, the younger you step into the industry, the higher the chance of you succeeding. This was also a case where the more my parents didn’t allow it, the more I wanted to do it.
And so I made a choice that many of my friends and family members could not understand. I left the sunny island, Singapore. Every time I recall that moment, I always wonder where my courage came from.
I did not speak of also wanting to become a background dancer; I said only that I wanted to go to South Korea for my university studies.
When I arrived in South Korea in August 2012, I began my basic Korean language studies. During that year and a half, I went for dance classes, and this was when I found out that I literally sucked at it.
In Korea, the education system is completely different. Over there, different schools cater to different needs, and the performing arts is actually a very popular choice of study. Some begin as early as 13, and often, kids start to get serious about dancing at around 16 or so. The students whom I attended the same dance class with were younger yet way more skilful. These kids knew the basics of hip hop (bounce, isolation, wave etc), while I knew nothing.
Having only joined my school’s dance club as a CCA when I first entered secondary school, I never really underwent the ‘training’ system. I was alright but not good.
Every time we finished learning a choreography, the instructors would allow us to take videos of ourselves. Monitoring my own videos, I noticed how I was always the one lacking in power and emotions. Instead of giving me the confidence, it began to drain my morale, and I did not know how to practise to improve my skills.
I knew that I shouldn’t have been comparing myself to the other girls who danced professionally, yet I couldn’t help myself. This was even though I knew that while I was at school, they were also dancing and building up their skills.
By the end of my Korean language studies, I had gone for 3 different background dancer auditions. I failed them all.
For quite a while, my lowered self esteem put me off my dream, making me wonder if I would really ever to make it as a dancer. At the same time, I had started my first year in university, and the only thought I had was to blend into Korean university life and make friends. I joined my school’s street dance club and it opened my eyes to a whole new level of dancing. With my busy schedule, I also lacked the time to chase after K-Pop idols; it forced me to focus more on school and socialising.
Out of the new batch of freshies that joined the street dance club, only a few had previous dance backgrounds, so we just started from the basics. It was tough, but by the end of the year, I could already feel myself improving. We organised freestyle dance battles, and it was during those moments that I truly let myself listen to the music and let my body take over my mind. I was happy and since I lived in the dormitory, I could easily access the student union building where our practice room was.
And then, at the end of year 2, I saw the recruitment notice from one of the dance teams that I had auditioned for years ago.
Maybe because it felt like my last chance, or maybe I wanted to know how much I had improved during the past 2 years. Eventually, I ended up applying for the audition because who knew what could happen?
Surprisingly, I passed.
I was 22 and halfway through my undergraduate studies. If I were to really commit to this, it would mean taking a term break, which I could not afford to do so.
As part of my student visa, there was a lot of restrictions basically stating that if I were to take a semester off, the university would contact the immigration office to revoke my student visa. I would then have to leave and enter Korea using a tourist visa, before applying for the student visa all over again if I wanted to continue my studies. Not to mention, I would also have to explain to my parents what I had been up to.
Still, I did not want to give up this rare opportunity that had been given to me.
Perhaps it was the way I was brought up, or perhaps I was content with where I had finally gotten to in life. I questioned whether I really needed this. Since I wasn’t that into K-Pop anymore, I didn’t see myself ‘needing’ to become a background dancer. I thought that if things didn’t work out, hey, at least I still had a university degree.
It was my winter holidays when I decided to go for practice anyway. When I got there, it was nothing like I expected.
Including me, there were 5 girls who had passed the audition. I still vividly remember being the oldest, with the youngest being only 18. Was I stressed? Definitely.
The first thing we were told to do after entering the dance studio was to clean it up. So we took the broom and vacuum cleaner, and went to work making sure the place was spotless before the remaining ‘sunbaes’ (seniors in Korean) arrived.
I then spent the next 8 to 9 hours learning a choreography over and over again with only water breaks in between. When they finally said we could go, I almost burst into tears on the train home. It was definitely not what I had expected.
All this time, the background dancers that I had followed on Instagram appeared so happy and close to each other. Compared to the repetitive instructions and scoldings I received, the team that I had imagined joining seemed like a lot more fun.
Call me naive, but this was what I thought—that we would be dancing happily and making wonderful memories with one another.
But because of how physically and mentally challenging it was, I felt the urge to just quit. I was hungry and tired, and when my roommates asked me where I had been the entire day, I could not help but let the tears fall.
Since young, I’ve not been someone with the best health. I used to have asthma, and had several fainting episodes in primary and secondary school, and then in JC. It was embarrassing, but with my weak stamina I would not function well if I didn’t have my 7 hours of sleep daily. I felt that at this rate, my love for dancing would literally kill me.
Being alone in this foreign country made this worse. Sure, I had the friends I made there, but nothing compares to the love you feel in a family. Without the support and encouragement, it was hard having to go through this alone.
Korean culture is also very hierarchical, and I felt this clearly in my team of background dancers, unlike back in my university’s dance team where it was a very family-like atmosphere.
It was not easy deciding if I still wanted to do this, but I felt that it would be a waste if I were to just let go of what was basically the reason why I left Singapore. Many idols wannabes would also think that it was a super rare opportunity to make it into the team.
I plucked up my courage and went for practice the next day. It felt even worse since I was not able to rest well the day before, and we were also told to bring our heels; they were going to judge the way we walked in them.
Halfway through a break, one of the ‘unnies’ (older sister in Korean) came over to tell another girl and I that we had to lose 5kg. I was not even surprised. As a K-Pop fangirl, I had heard so many stories of idol trainees being told to lose weight. I was 163cm tall and weighed 51kg. I believed I was ‘decent’ for someone of my height.
It got me thinking: if the people sharing the same stage as idols have to go through something like this, how much worse is it for the idols themselves? Once again, we were not given meal breaks, and I thought to myself that I would lose the 5kg in no time.
At the end of the day, I felt weak and sick of what I had to endure. Instead of feeling the joy and delight I used to feel whenever I danced, I felt abused and disappointed.
Before I finally snuggled under my warm blankets that night, I texted the person in charge and told her that I could not go through the training anymore; I had decided to leave the team on a good note. She agreed.
This experience opened my eyes to the realities of Korean idol culture, and how the industry works. For those who wonder if I regret my decision, I would say both yes and no at the same time. I had tried simply because I thought that the background dance scene would not be as bad as those of the K-Pop idol trainees.
Perhaps if I were younger and did not have the commitment to my studies, there might be a chance that I would just stay to train my ass off, just like how many young Koreans would. In Singapore, the judgment of others and importance of completing my formal education would never allow me to make it happen.
On the other hand, I did not regret leaving the team because I eventually realised that turning my hobby into a career was a mistake. I had tried and it did not suit me.
I also realised: the attention I could receive on stage with K-Pop idols would be only temporary. What would I be left with after that?
I remained in contact with one of the girls on that same dance team. A month later, she told me she had left as well because she couldn’t take the strenuous practice. She also shared that another girl had arrived after I left, only to leave two days later.
Sometimes, I still look up at the team’s group Instagram account, and the only familiar face I spot is that of the youngest girl. She was only a high school graduate at the time, and had mentioned that she did not have plans to further her studies in either dancing or other majors. Maybe that was why she stayed; she too needed to survive in this harsh society.
Earlier this year in February, I completed my Bachelors degree in Media and Communication and International Studies. Just a month ago, I also performed at my university’s annual event as an alumni, where I gave one of my best performances of my 12 years of dancing.
Looking at the weekly K-Pop music shows and seeing the background dancers now and then, I still think about what might have happened had I persevered.
Yet quickly enough, the thoughts of going through the horrible things I had experienced would resurface. After all, the rigid and repetitive system of the team isn’t easy for anyone to accommodate.
Across my years in university, I had also discovered an interest in writing, leading me to pursue a path in other things that are also related to K-Pop. Call me superstitious, but as a Libra, I still feel the need to balance what I like with what I can do. I find peace when I stumble on the right amount on each scale.
And so I now know, sticking with dancing as a hobby was definitely the better choice.
Have your own crazy story to share? Drop us a note at [email protected]
How to be a K-Pop dancer: Your 7-step guide
All K-Pop groups have their own distinct, sleek choreographies that go well with their catchy songs. It’s one of the key features that makes the song memorable to fans.
Gulf News tabloid! wanted to get a taste of the dancing skills that South Korean acts pull off so breathtakingly. Along with more than a dozen other participants, we attended a K-Pop dance class at the fourth annual K-Pop Academy hosted by the Korean Cultural Center in Abu Dhabi, where we were taught the dance routine to now-disbanded K-Pop boy band Wanna One’s song ‘Kangaroo’ by professional trainers KyungJin Roh and GyoengA Lee.Dance Instructor from Left to Right, kyung jin Roh and GyeongA Lee, during The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
If you’re a fan of the global cultural phenomenon and love dancing, here’s a quick guide that might encourage you to take up a K-Pop dance class or even prepare you to become a K-Pop dancer:
1. Join a K-Pop dance classDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
Whether you want to pursue a career as a K-Pop dancer, sharpen your dancing skills or you simply love Korean pop, sign up to a dance class. The hands-on experience will give you an idea of how K-Pop idols train together and what it’s really like to learn from a professional K-Pop dancer. Roh, one of our dance trainers, is exclusive to Korean entertainment agency Starship Entertainment and has shared the stage with groups such as BlackPink, Winner, AOA and iKon as a backup dancer.
Aside from the K-Pop Academy, there aren’t many such dance classes held in the UAE. An alternative would be watching dance tutorials from YouTubers like Brian and Ellen, imlisarhee, and RPM Dance Crew and many more to help break down the moves easily. There are also mirrored dance practice videos of K-Pop groups’ performances and as well as fancams of a specific member performing on stage on YouTube.
2. Learn the song and basic dance movesDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
There’s so much to learn in so little time. So, if you’re a slow learner, try to find out the name of the K-Pop song and watch the live performances or dance practice videos of the stars on their official YouTube channels beforehand.
If you prefer to learn during class, that’s fine too. The instructor will simply teach you the moves step-by-step that even a beginner can follow. Either way, you’re good to go!
3. Stay in syncDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
K-Pop choreographies are often complex, energetic and fast-paced, but, most importantly, it comes with precise synchronisation that K-Pop artists achieve through endless repetition and practice. At the K-Pop Academy, it was, of course, less intense and had a more flexible approach. Though, it really educates you on just how much effort K-Pop acts put into their craft and to be one. So, it’s important to stay in synch with your teammates and to pay attention to every movement.
4. Be a team player
K-Pop members sing in unison while switching dance positions in an orderly fashion. Because K-Pop choreographies come with multiple formation changes and high-speed synchronisation, it can only be done by working as a team, which was seen between breaks when trainees were interacting and helping each other out to get the moves right. It’s all about teamwork!
During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:
During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:
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5. Possess some passionDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
If you want to take on K-Pop dancing as a profession and share the stage with your favourite artists, you have to be determined, passionate and hardworking. The Korean music industry is highly competitive and is known for its tough training system. The dance trainers shared that it may be difficult at the start but it’s important not to give up.
6. Practice your movements and monitor your facial expressions
Monitor your moves and check the parts you fall short in. K-Pop’s signature dances have visual cues and gestures that are characteristic to a song. So, your emotions, aura and facial expressions are just as important. The majority of K-Pop songs are in Korean, so it’s essential to understand the meaning and feeling behind the lyrics to be able to control the power of each movement.
To help perfect your moves, film yourself dancing to see the areas you need to work more on. Overall, practicing is the way to go!
7.Have fun During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
The sounds and beats of K-Pop songs are just as infectious as the dance moves. You don’t have to have some serious dancing skills on your first day. Whether you’re new to the phenomenon or a dance pro, just enjoy and move your body to the hypnotising rhythm. If you’re really serious about making it to the K-Pop music scene or becoming a backup dancer, try auditioning.
Hongdae district of Seoul is filled with youngsters dancing to K-Pop covers, and there are tonnes of online videos of talented groups around the world dressed in the band’s signature colour-coordinated clothing and wowing the crowd for carrying out perfectly synchronised dance routines.
You can also spice it up by adding your own touch and freestyle moves, like Korean-based group K-Tigers Zero, known for including a few Taekwondo moves to the choreographies here and there. It’s all about enjoying every moment and just having fun.
Watch the video here:
[Exclusive] One of the S.M. Entertainment is doing an interview exclusively for YesAsia!
Team YesAsia had the opportunity to interview one of the dancers of S.M.Entertainment - Pak Den Mi !
Name: Pak Den Mi | Pak DenMi| Pak Alexander
Birthday: December 20, 1993
Place of birth: Russia
Education: Seoul National University (SNU), faculty: Graduate School of Business
Hobbies/hobbies: dancing, playing the guitar, collecting sneakers, organizing various events at the university But for some interesting questions, we still received an answer.
Question: Where were you born and how did you end up in Korea?
Den Mi: “I was born in Russia. Lived in many places. Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Peter. I also lived in an English language program in Vancouver. The final stop was South Korea, Seoul.”
Question: Why did you decide to connect your life with dancing?
Den Mi: “So far, this is just my hobby, which also brings me income and pleasure. I don't know what's around the corner and I can't say that dancing will take the lead in my life…”
Q: How did you get into SM Entertainment?
Den Mi: “It's a very long story… I want to say a big thank you to my Korean friend who discovered my talent in dancing. He is a dancer himself from CUBE Entertainment. Thanks to his support, I went to the casting in SM. It seems like it was 2013… I didn’t expect that among 250 people, only 20 would pass, of which one was me”
Q: Why did you choose SM Entertainment?
Den Mi: "Because I was in 1MILLION Dance Studio, which you can say is affiliated with SM Entertainment. "
Q: You said you were in Vancouver for an English course. Where else have you been to? And where do you think is better: South Korea or America?
Den Mi: “Initially, my dream was to enter and study in America. Thanks to my parents, I also visited Canada and Boston, and briefly in New York. But due to special circumstances, I could not stay there ... South Korea and America should not be compared, they are completely different countries. They have both pros and cons.”
Question: Was it hard for you to get used to a new country?
Den Mi: “I used to only go to Korea for a visit and not for a long time. The decision to live and study in Seoul came somehow unexpectedly. It's still hard for me to get used to the Korean mentality, even though I'm a Korean myself. And it’s also very hard to live without your favorite cottage cheese ????
Question: Which artist is your role model?
Den Mi: Jabbawockeez boys. When I watch them dance, I want to immediately get up and repeat, of course, it doesn’t always work out perfectly like theirs. But I have something to strive for :)”
Question: How do you think you impressed the judges at the casting?
Den Mi: “I don’t understand myself, there were a lot of guys at the audition better and more worthy than me… But many of my friends think that they were conquered, my snow-white hair ahah”
Question: Tell me about a funny experience while working at S.M. Entertainment
Den Mi: “There is something that I can't stop laughing and wondering about even now. The day after the selection, I came to a private dance lesson. Then I bleached and dyed my hair blonde (this was not done on purpose, I just lost the argument to a friend). So, the teacher kicked me out, saying that only trainee dancers gathered here and that my gym, where idols train, is opposite???? Until I dyed my hair, almost all the workers thought that I was an aspiring idol…”
Question: Do you get recognized on the streets, do you like it?
Den Mi: “I'm not a star to be recognized. But many girls ask for an ID on social networks to chat, of course, I'm pleased.”
Question: What is the hardest thing about being a dancer/choreographer for you?
Den Mi: “As a dancer, nothing is difficult. And as a choreographer - endurance and patience ... "
Question: How much time do you spend dancing?
Den Mi: “My day is divided into two main things: Study and Dance. At the moment I am focused on my studies, so I devote little time to my hobby.”
Question: Have you performed on stage with anyone before?
Den Mi: “SM doesn't often have the support of dancers.. Basically, as you can see, idol groups dance by themselves.
Our task is only to choreograph and teach it.”
Question: How hard is it for you to work?
Den Mi: “At first it was very difficult. This kind of work requires a lot of dedication. Both physically and mentally… I trained from 6 am to 2 am. Now it has become much easier and I am resting more.”
Question: What groups or idols have you worked with?
Den Mi: “I didn't work with many people. Since I am a junior choreographer, I am not allowed to stage dances and teach the “oldies” to dance. So far, I have little experience… Together with the famous choreographer Shaun Evaristo, we taught some young guys to dance, which now many of you know and listen to. to anything?
Den Mi: “My passion, like many dancers, is shoes”
Question: “Can readers ask you personally about your studies, ask about life in South Korea, or just chat?
Den Mi: “I can answer questions about life abroad, universities and leisure. I don’t come here often, but I periodically come and answer everyone https://vk. com/den_me111 «
Question: What are your plans for the future?
Den Mi: “I'm not planning. But I know for sure that I will continue to dance until I reach a certain goal.” Cover k-pop
K-pop idols who were backup dancers before their debut
K-pop fans are familiar with the pre-debut process. Before an idol enters the stage as an artist, many of them go through training to hone their skills. In addition, some of the trainees had experience as backup dancers for other artists. Check out below which idols experienced it before their debut!
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Stray Kids' Lee Minho
Even before becoming a trainee at JYP Entertainment , Lee Minho was a dancer in BTS 's troupe and went on tour with the guys. When the guy ran into J-Hope after his debut in the group, he said he recognized him!
Shownu (MONSTA X)
Shownu is well known for his great dancing skills. However, before becoming the leader of the group, the guy was a backup dancer for Lee Hyori . Even being an ordinary dancer, Shownu was able to capture the attention of many fans due to his great looks and talent.
Kang Daniel received a lot of positive feedback from fans for his incredible dancing skills after appearing on 's 'Produce 101' . When he won first place, fans learned that before that he was a dancer for Cao Lu of FIESTAR and Shihyun of SPICA .
Formerly Eunbi , who became the leader of IZ*ONE , was the dancer for Girl's Day . But on one episode of Amazing Saturday, EunB and Hyori of Girl's Day were guests, where the latter shared that during her backup dance days, EunB always dreamed of becoming a singer.
Ni-Ki was only 11 or 12 years old when he got the chance to become a backup dancer for his favorite band - SHINee . Given that he was offered this position at a fairly young age, it can be said that the guy is incredibly talented when it comes to dancing.
Lay was once offered to replace SHINee's member Jonghyun while he couldn't perform. Everyone knows that the group's choreography is very difficult, so the fact that SM Entertainment chose Lay as their dancer speaks volumes about his incredible talent and skills!
BTS is praised by fans all over the world for their exceptional dancing skills.