Last week in our Roundtable we discussed “what makes a good rapper?” The answers agreed on authenticity, flow, and lyricism, but there was also a lot of room for interpretation.
Similarly, dance is a gray area when it comes to what’s “good.” There are so many styles of dance it is hard to quantify — an idol may be a good b-boy but might not have any idea how to dance ballet.
So our question this week is: What makes a dancer good? How do you choose one idol over another solely based on their dancing? And how does an idol earn the title of dancer, anyway?
Lo: PASSION. Passion is what truly makes someone a dancer. It is what transcends style as anyone can feel passion. No matter how basic the choreography, a passionate dancer can find nuances that make them pop on the stage. Conversely, having that “dead inside” look in the eye is a huge sign that someone is not giving it their all, and the second that happens, you are not a dancer; you’re a person who dances. Of course, technical skill is important, but I’d far rather watch a passionate but less skilled dancer than a skilled dancer who is giving nothing of themselves. For these reasons, my favorite dancers are people like Jay Park, Minzy, Sohyun, Chanmi, all of Infinite, and Sergei Polunin. They want to be there, and the audience can feel that.
Andy: I agree with Lo. Passion is important when it comes to my view of a dancer being good or not. You have to feel it, and the only way to feel it is if the dancer feels it too. Dance is an expression of emotions and stories, so shouldn’t the dancers have the same emotions and be able to evoke emotions of a story? Skills are also a requirement, at least for a base assessment. It’s not just the ability to hit the right spot on the right beat. You also have to have the flow and transitions to string all those choreography points together.
Other than that, in the K-pop world, it comes down to whether you prefer smooth or hard-hitting dancers. For example, in the J-Hope vs. Jimin match-up, I prefer J-Hope’s dancing. His amazing flexibility, charisma, and joy when he dances makes him better, in my opinion. Something about him just draws your attention.
Most dancers get their title as dancers simply because that’s what they were trained to do. Whether it was through academies/schools or on the street, they trained to dance even before becoming idols (such as Lee Joon being trained in ballet). Those members are usually easy to spot, because they fit the depictions of what makes a dancer good.
Cjontai: I agree that passion is necessary for any creative art, but I can’t gloss over the technical aspects either. Things like musicality and the ability to pull off complicated choreography capture my attention. One doesn’t need to master all fields of dance, but a great dancer should be able to execute routines cleanly.
I love J-Hope’s style of dancing because he is so fluid in his movements. He knows how to feel out the rhythm and hits his moves with great confidence. The way he fearlessly battled against other professional dancers in American Hustle Life showed his true skills. I’m thankful that he is allowed to shine more in the latest BTS routines.
For the ladies, my heart belongs to Sunmi and Minzy. Those two are like fire and ice. Sunmi has a very sleek, clean style while Minzy is ardently wild. Watching Minzy unleash everything during one of 2NE1‘s live streaming performances made my jaw drop. If there is ever a Korean remake of Flashdance, I nominate her as a candidate for the lead role.
Hania: My eyes are immediately drawn towards dancers who hit moves with precision and strength, particularly those who excel at the hip-hop genre. But like others have mentioned, dancers need to be passionate in order for their dance to be convincing and memorable. The lead dancer needs to stand out from the other fairly-skilled and highly coordinated members in their group, captivating the audience with their skill and passion.
Like Cjontai, I’m also a huge fan of J-Hope. His freestyling is creative and fluid, and his flexibility is unbelievable. You can see just how much he loves to dance, and he also knows how to have fun with dancing and not take himself too seriously.
B.A.P‘s Jongup is also close to my heart, for similar reasons. The concentration on his face is evident as he strives to hit every move with great strength, adding to his performance with his b-boying skills as well.
Finally, Exo‘s Lay is another favourite of mine. He’s very technically trained, but his freestyling still blows me away and proves that he can do more than just memorise choreography. Lay balances being fluid but also extremely hard-hitting in his movements, which makes for an incredible performance.
Leslie: I don’t think there’s one singular thing that makes a great dancer. Rather, I find that great dancers have found the perfect balance of technique and style. They don’t look like they’re memorizing choreography. It never looks off the rack on them, so to speak, because they tailor it to their personal style in the details of each movement, but they also know how to rein in their style so that it’s still the same dance.
That’s why the main dancers in groups stand out so much. Their passion, the basis for both technique and style, has translated into more than just energy and charisma but into something that is their own, even if the choreography isn’t.
Joyce: Going along with what everyone has said, something that appeals to me a lot is the ability to freestyle on the spot. I find it incredibly attractive when a dancer can immediately groove to whatever music is turned on. It says a lot about their skill, passion, and basically, the effortless and non-formulaic ease with which they start moving their bodies is a marker of a great dancer for me.
Morgan: I agree with Joyce, freestyle is a great marker of dancing ability. I remember watching the old variety shows, such as X-man, which always included a dance breakdown; You really got to see who the dancers were and who weren’t. A good dancer flows with the music, with no awkward pauses and missed steps.
I also agree with what has been said where there is no singular aspect that makes a dancer better than another; it is more a combination of multiple things to find a balance. I think it is important that a dancer creates their own identity through dance; someone whose style is immediately identified with their name, like Minzy is associated with powerful popping and Taemin is associated with precision. I thought it was interesting when Yunho, Taemin and Eunhyuk all were guest performers on Boa’s “Only One” release; the differences between each of their styles were highlighted, but ultimately I didn’t find one performance better than any other. On a slight tangent, wouldn’t it be interesting if idols started to choreograph their own routines, as an offset of developing their own styles of dance. We already have composers, so why not choreographers?
Cjontai: We had that with Kahi during her After School days. She choreographed “Bang” for the group, which is a rarity in K-pop. B.A.P’s Zelo also contributes to his group’s choreography. Si-woo and Maru of C-Clown assisted with the choreography for their recent set of promotions as well. We hardly hear about it because for some odd reason there is greater emphasis placed on a group’s ability to compose or produce their songs versus how well they put on a show. There should definitely be more credit given when they choreograph their own routines. Performance is an art.
Lindsay: Speaking of idol choreographers, let’s not forget VIXX‘s talented leader, N. He choreographed the dance for their single “G.R.8.U,” as well as choreographing several of their B-sides for concerts. He’s one of those cases in which talent is controlled and tempered; he doesn’t often unleash his full potential charisma wise, but he has more understanding of dance and actual talent than many of the more showy dancers.
Camiele: As everyone’s pointed out here, passion is a huge part of what makes a dancer who he/she is. However, passion isn’t what gets you to do a pirouette or an L-kick. Passion doesn’t teach you how to manage difficult choreography. What passion does is breed a fire in you that pushes you to learn more and more about your craft. I’ve said this about singers: certain people are what happens when technique and form meet passion. They’ve got an ability to interpret, adapt and improvise. Their technique and constant drive to do better and push further is what makes them good. And even if it is just in one area, some people push that as far as they can, incorporate what they learn from the world, and add it to their vocabulary. Anyone can learn choreography and replicate it. But a dancer takes that choreography and makes it part of who they are.
Further, a dancer takes music, the organic matter of sound, and digests it, integrates it into their DNA and becomes those sound waves that pulse around them and force their bodies to move. It’s the reason why I’ll always consider Yunho one of the best dancers of the idols because you can see it in the way he moves and in his face how much a part of his soul music is. I’ve seen some brilliant technicians in the K-pop world, but I’ve seen only a few dancers. Technique makes you good. Passion makes you fearless. But the marriage of the two makes one great.