Saskatchewan·In Your Shoes

Not quite a K-pop star: How I narrowly avoided destroying Mosaic's Korean pavilion

For the first time ever, the Korean pavilion had decided to introduce Korean-pop dance contests to its offerings, and CBC reporter Janani Whitfield decided it would be fun to give it a go and learn about the global K-pop trend.

Regina's annual festival of cultures offers a chance to sample new sights, sounds and experiences

Hojeong Kim and Jiyun Woo demonstrate the art of South Korean pop dancing, otherwise known as K-pop, at Regina's Mosaic festival. (Alex Soloducha/CBC News)

Minutes after walking into the Korean pavilion at Regina's Mosaic festival, I break into a cold sweat.

For the first time ever, the pavilion at the annual multicultural festival had decided to introduce Korean-pop dance contests to its offerings, and I'd decided it would be fun to push myself beyond the limits of Psy's Gangnam Style and try the dance moves perfected by the preternaturally smooth-cheeked boy-men and the sultry young ladies of South Korean pop, known as K-pop.

But as soon as I see the lithe Korean women doing their sexy moves with confidence on the stage, I feel my heartbeat speed up. I'm not, to say the least, a lithe Korean woman with sexy dance moves.

I'm an awkward Indo-Canadian mom in a bulky sweater, who spent most of my morning having my belly poked by a five-year-old daughter as she repeatedly exclaimed, "Squishy!"

But 20-year-old Hojeong Kim greets me with boundless energy, bouncing up to me with two little buns on her head and such a disarming grin that I feel my fears dissolve.  

They may not have practised together in advance, but K-pop followers are so familiar with the moves on dance videos, they're able to jump in and perform together. (CBC News)

She introduces me to "a K-pop expert," her 22-year-old friend Jiyun Woo, and between the pair of them, they assure me I can learn the steps.  

Woo walks me through a dance called "TT," and I attempt to follow along. But I notice it's not just about executing moves, it's about sass. Just as their limbs and torsos contort, so do their facial expressions, with the fluidity of anime — from mock sadness and crying to angry stomping of feet.

It's obvious they're not just polished dancers, but actors as well, working out stories on stage.

Men, women and children alike got on the stage at the Korean pavilion to try a random dance challenge, a mashup of popular K-pop songs and dances. (CBC News)

After a few minutes practising, I join several dancers on stage for a random dance challenge — a mashup of different K-pop songs with people jumping in when they know the choreography.

I hang back as I watch them move in sync with each other seamlessly. It's jaw-dropping, like getting a glimpse of what it must be like to be a backup dancer for a huge pop act like Beyoncé, or — more apt for this crowd — superstar K-pop group and Billboard chart-toppers BTS.

I can't help it — my feet start to move as I try to follow along. I'm doing it, I'm doing it!

The fact that I don't know any of the moves and am pretty sure people may report a sighting of sasquatch at the Korean pavilion feels irrelevant. The lights are flashing and while I'm no K-pop star, I'm surrounded by them, and that feels close enough.

When the TT dance music comes on, Woo pulls me up beside her. We make our sad TT faces together, and then stomp our feet with anger. It's a move that, when I later demonstrate it to my husband, he greets by cocking one eyebrow, then advising, "Don't quit your day job."

Learning to K-pop dance

4 years ago
Duration 1:12
Learning K-pop at Mosaic 1:12

I may still be ridiculous, but Kim and Woo say it's just a matter of practice. When they have Korean Night events through their university, tons of non-Korean people come out and are able to sing, chant and dance along with the music, they tell me.

"If you dance like us every single day for five hours, you'll be expert. You'll be professionals on the stage," Kim assures me.

Just how many hours are we talking, I ask — like, a full-time occupation?

Probably, says Jim.   

"YouTube is life," Kim agrees solemnly, before bursting into laughter.

In that case, it looks like I've got a lot of internet homework to do. I'm sorry, but consider this fair warning — Mosaic and its Korean pavilion may not have seen the last of me yet.


CBC Saskatchewan's weekend team is heading out of the newsroom (and their comfort zones) this summer for our In Your Shoes series. Reporters will be trying a range of activities in Saskatchewan and reporting back. They will be taking nominations and suggestions from readers, so let us know what you want to read about next. Email Alex Soloducha or Janani Whitfield with your ideas!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janani Whitfield works on CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca or on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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