BTS has staked their name and brand on their strong dance skill abilities. As a unit and as individuals, they’ve built a reputation of hip-hop influenced dance pop tracks with strong, hard-hitting choreography executed almost perfectly. In the midst of their latest comeback in promotion of the end of their The Most Beautiful Moment in Life series, let’s talk about BTS and their narrative as a dance group.
Leslie: To start, what do you enjoy about BTS’ dancing and why?
Sarah: For me, the greatest thing about BTS’ dancing is their versatility. Despite being billed as a hip hop group, and having two members who are considered not that good at dancing, they all still manage to look impressive no matter which style or song they’re performing to, from the simplicity of “Just One Day” to their boy band cover of Shinhwa‘s “Perfect Man” to the intensely complicated “Danger,” and now “Fire” as well. Even their new dance to “Save Me” is incredibly different from choreography they’ve done before, and it really shows off their experience as it seems to have been heavily improvised by the members.
Cjontai: The synchronicity of this group is unbelievable. I say that as someone who witnessed it live at KCON two years ago. My friend recorded their performance, and when we watched the playback, we were in awe. They actually do dance that well in reality.
Like Sarah mentioned, it’s incredible that even the supposedly bad dancers keep up enough to not make the group look awful. I appreciate how hard they all work to achieve this. Other groups are forced to water down choreography for the weaker dancers, but BTS makes an effort to excel beyond expectations.
Camiele: I really wasn’t sold on BTS for quite some time. As everyone knows I changed my tune with HYYH. What actually sold me on their dancing was “Dope.” Love it or hate it, the musicality in that song and the way the choreography was wrapped around it was ridiculous. I think that’s what clued me in to their actual “dance group” moniker. Going back in their catalogue, however, what continues to impress me is just how musical their routines are, and again how dedicated each member is to making that choreography pop with both precision and intensity–to the point you feel the dance in your bones.
For me, dance is most effective when you can tell the music has gotten inside the dancer. Executed so well they become the music and let that take over their bodies as opposed to just executing what’s been memorized. I noticed in “Dope” first, but then saw it again when I looked back at the 2014 MAMAs, in which J-hope and Jimin just snatched everyone bald! The music seemed to infect them, and their movements were both powerful and raw.
What I really want to know from everybody is what exactly sets them apart form other so-called dance groups? There are hoards of them nowadays. Is it simply the choreography? Is it individual dancers, what they look like as a group?
For my money, it’s just how clean everything looks. Clean without seeming lifeless. When I watch them dance, I see the love of movement they have, in just the way they smile or even a hint of something in the eye. Smiling, of course, you can stage, but what’s behind the eyes can’t be faked.
I think in a couple of earlier videos of them, I could see Rap Monster in particular counting, making sure he got the moves. Even from the back, where he’s usually placed, I saw it. The dude ain’t a natural dancer. But lately he’s gotten so comfortable with it, so in tune with music, that he’s just doing it. Even when mistakes happen, he’s putting himself in the movement. Professionalism dictates he won’t freak out on stage, but when you see how into it he is, there’s no way he’d even worry about it, as in this performance of “Butterfly.”
Notice how he misses his mark and Jimin pulls him back (about the 3:30 mark). He’s so invested in the choreo and the story he doesn’t even notice, or he notices and doesn’t let it affect him, like I’m sure he would’ve earlier on when he wasn’t as comfortable with dancing.
Sarah: I think it’s a combination of everything that makes up a so-called “dance group.” As you said, Camiele, they’re everywhere, so what is it that makes a dance group good? They have to have interesting choreography. They have to be able to pull it off with energy and enthusiasm. They have to have stage presence. I also think they have to work together well as a group, rather than being a stage full of solo dancers.
BTS fulfills all of these criteria. They have the stage presence and the enthusiasm, as you mentioned in regards to Rap Monster. They also have the talent (in not only J-Hope and Jimin, but most of the rest of the group) and that talent has clearly helped influence the others who may not be natural dancers. Which brings us to working well as a group — they may be able to be mind-blowing solo dancers, but they also can do a stunning group choreography where nothing, not one move, looks out of place.
I’d also like to reiterate how complicated their choreography can be. For the main dance break in “Fire,” they could have used the, admittedly still quite fast, main melody, but no, they decided to match their steps to the insanely fast backing beat. They are clearly not afraid to take risks, and so far it hasn’t failed them.
Cjontai: I also feel like BTS has earned a deep trust with their choreographers, and it’s returned with routines that challenge them. This mutual trust allows the choreographers to push them further with each comeback. After “Fire,” I’m sure BTS will easily attract more names like Keone Madrid. Madrid only sent them a video for the “Fire” choreo, so BTS learned that dance without him physically there. My mind was blown by that fact, which proves my point about the trust factor.
Something else I love is the musicality of their dances. The choreographers incorporated details specific to the lyrics. “Just One Day” had the group clasp their hands according to the line in the chorus about holding hands. In addition to that, the members are positioned to create certain images that only come together when they’re a unit. We saw this in “Run” with their ending pose as a butterfly. Similar imagery was seen again for “Butterfly” during the chorus as the group moves their arms in unison for the illusion of wings flapping. Their routines have as much detail as their music, and this combination is what helps them stand out among other dance groups. Everything is deliberately done.
With that said, I appreciate how BTS tackles various styles without losing what makes them BTS, especially for slower songs. “Just One Day” remains a favorite for me because it is one of the few dances out there that doesn’t involve aegyo cliches like the ubiquitous gwiyomi dimple move. It was smooth and charming. It reminded me of old school Motown routines.
What is everyone else’s favorite BTS choreography?
Sarah: It’s so difficult to choose a favorite BTS dance. However, “N.O.” still remains very high on my list. I’m a sucker for dramatic dances, and they hit everything we mentioned before with that dance. It’s powerful, hard-hitting hip hop, yet they still connect to the lyrics and meaning of the song. When they say “up to the sky” they actually reach their hands up in unison, and then pull them forcibly down. Similarly, they relay the idea of censorship and not having control by holding their hands over their mouths multiple times in the choreography. Not to mention the bit with the backup dancers at the end is a spectacularly choreographed fight-dance.
Of course, “I Need U,” “Butterfly,” and “Save Me” are all top choices as well, for many of the same reasons. The highlight of most of their dances for me is how they are able to connect to the songs, musically and lyrically, and really give the musical performance that extra special element.
Madi: One thing about BTS to note is, like Cjontai said, it isn’t random motions to go along with a song. They have choreography that links not only the lyrics, but go with the song. And because of this, their moves have a dramatic hint to them, which draws you in. From the powerful jump and punching of rejection in “N.O.,” to J-Hope linking his fingers to signify handholding during his line about holding hands in “Just One Day,” to the chest beating for the “shaking heart” in “Boy in Love,” to the thumbs up at the mention of how women are the best gift in “War on Hormone,” to even Jimin’s choking symbolism in “Save Me” — these little things make more of a connection and pour more emotion not only into the dance, but the song as well.
But what’s great about BTS is that they can take the high intensity of their dances and still be silly with them. See “War on Hormone,” “Just One Day” (all you need to do is watch V the entire time for his reactions to the other members), and “Danger,” just to name a few.
What keeps me interested in the group’s dance is that with every new release, they seem to be one-upping themselves. The dance routine for “I Need U” was intense, then “Dope” trampled on that. With “Run,” they seemed to spread out and test some challenging water with what they can do. Then came “Fire,” and that just topped everything they did. “Save Me” played with new dynamics and having a dance that involves being hyper aware of a person is in relation to the camera and to be at your mark at all times.
Jin and Rap Monster are not noted for their dancing skills, but with each new release since “I Need U,” I’ve seen them improve so much.
But since HYYH, has anyone noticed how most of the members either isolate or don’t look at Jin? It’s something you can only catch in a performance or practice video, almost never in a MV. Pretty sure it has to do with the storyline. At least that’s my take on it.
As for a favorite choreography, “Just One Day” is definitely one of my favorites. After that, it will have to be “Danger.” I think they learned the routine for that in a very short amount of time.
Camiele: Something that has thoroughly impressed me as I’ve begun to watch more and more of their videos is just how much drama is in their dances. Brilliant choreography and even talented dancers mean nothing if those dancers can’t sell the story and narrative behind the concept. I think what’s becoming some of my favorite routines from them are their concept trailers. Particularly I love the trailer Big Hit released in 2013 (the theater in that was simple yet effective — the lighting, the camera angles, and obviously the boys’ ability to make the choreography tell that story), and the shade they threw at MBC for their horrendous camera angles.
Cjontai: I enjoyed Big Hit’s shade towards MBC as well. When I first saw that performance, I was furious with the horrendous camera work. They would’ve never pulled that mess with an artist from a larger company, but BTS was still nugu status at the time. Taking the time to film that choreography themselves was a bold and brilliant move. Any other company would’ve shrugged it off and stayed in their place, but Big Hit knows they are working with a group that absolutely deserves acknowledgement for their dancing talents. They weren’t going to let some network treat BTS like lower class trash simply because they’re from a small company.
Honestly, it’s so hard to choose my favorite dance since each one holds something unique and special to their music. “I Like It” got me into the group because I recognized their teamwork immediately. Then, I watched fan cams for “I Like It Pt. 2” and felt every emotion possible. If I had to choose a current favorite, it would be “Fire” because nobody can tell me their dancing is mediocre after that.
Though there are a lot of groups that have some flashy choreography, even routines that specialize in certain areas or techniques (breaking for the power heads, ostentatious choreography for the artists, overtly sexual for the fan girls), BTS seems to be the only group that manages to fit into almost every niche and still tackles choreography to fit every member of the group.
Beyond that, they’ve managed to convince me that they’re more than just the sum of their parts, more than what they started out as, or at least what I thought them to be: a typical pop group trying to convince everyone of their street cred. What’s more impressive is they’ve managed to create music that they can feel, that choreographers can tailor to their abilities but that still creates an emotional impact. Hats off to them.