Welcome to the second segment of Talent in K-pop! In this segment, I will be looking at idol dancers.

With the compartmentalization of talent that has become a standard in K-pop today, an idol within a group need not be the whole package. Members are not expected to excel in all aspects; instead, they are assigned specific roles such as main vocalist, dancer, rapper, or visual. Out of all of these elements (barring visual, which has less to do with talent and more to do with plastic, starvation, and makeup), I would argue that after singing, dancing is the next most essential skill an idol can have.

After all, (sadly) isn’t K-pop these days meant more to be seen rather than to be heard? Keeping that in mind, who do I judge to be the most talented idol dancers in K-pop?

Idol Girl Group 

Winner: Miss A

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFXGC34iF2I&w=560&h=315]

Let me give you a little bit of history about this group. Prior to official debut, Jia and Fei  were members of a five-membered group, JYP Sisters (coined by the press as the ‘Chinese Wonder Girls‘) along with Wonder Girls’ Hyelim, and two other Chinese members (Xiao fei and Sarah). In 2009, the five of them promoted extensively in China, appearing in variety shows as well as giving performances that mainly showcased a variety of dances including (but not limited to):

It’s a little-known fact that JYP Sisters was actually the pre-debut (temporary) name for Miss A. In 2010, the group went through a series of member changes (Hyelim left for the Wonder Girls, Xiao fei and Sarah were dropped, and Suzy was added in)  and was set to officially debut as a three-membered group.

Last-minute addition Min had been a trainee under JYP for eight years prior to debut. When she was 13 years old, she formed a dance team with SNSD‘s Hyoyeon (some say the two are still best friends) called Little Winners, and they trained and performed together in dance showcases for about a year. Min was then sent to Manhattan for six years under JYP USA, where she teamed up with American producer Lil Jon as his protege to make a solo debut in America, which never ended up happening. On an episode of Oh! My School, Min has revealed that in 2008, frustrated by the fact that her debut kept getting pushed back, she ran away back to Korea (not even her family or JYP knew her whereabouts during that time) and worked several jobs for a period of 18 months. At some point shortly afterward, Min, Secret‘s Ji-eun, and Sistar‘s Hyorin were supposed to debut as a trio under JYP, but the project ended up being scrapped. Finally, in 2010, Min was added on as the fourth member of Miss A.

Dance-wise, Miss A does have a weak link, which is the ‘face’ of the group, Suzy. While the other three members practically grew up around intensive dance practice and performances, I suspect that Suzy did not do so until a later age, which would explain why her movements are not as natural. Still, this is not to say she is a bad dancer by any means. Her dancing is clean and she’s technically able to keep up, but she does lack that extra fire the the other three members bring to the stage. I have to say though, that dance spark aside, she is able to bring stable vocals to their performances, which makes her the only designated ‘face’ of a group in K-pop that I think is actually useful in the talent department.

Runner Up:

Idol Guy Group 

Winner: Infinite

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzWN3DfecLU&w=560&h=315]

Infinite has been garnering a lot of well-deserved love and attention from fans and colleagues alike ever since their first win on M!Countdown this past September. Like B2ST, this group is a dark horse that gave us great material from the start, even though they were not popular from the get-go (I blame it on what I term as the ‘crowding effect’, caused by a large number of members wearing matching or identical outfits). Personally, I think the Infinite and SNSD initial debut stages were as close to debut perfection as you can get. Unlike SNSD, however, their material and performance effort on stage has only improved over time (I’m not dissing SNSD, but I do think that while they improved in some ways, they majorly regressed in others).

Be Mine is also totally my jam right now.

Anyway… back to describing their dance ability. Infinite is hands down the cleanest dance group in K-pop.  Their impressive precision has even earned them the label of a group with 99.99% synchronization among Korean and Japanese netizens. In response to interview questions about how they practice to achieve their results, members say that they shoot videos during practice and check their synchronization by going back and stopping the video every one second to analyze their body angles and correct for gaps.

Also, lets not forget this:

Runners Up:

  • B2ST (so close!!)
  • SHINee
  • Teen Top — I admit, there’s something disconcertingly flail-like about their movements (it comes with the fact that they are still going through their puberty growth spurt), but I have to give these boys credit for trying really hard. Young isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although cheating on noonas in clubs is)… it gives the boys a head start in idol experience before they start growing into their bodies and becoming… men?! Wow okay… I can’t even begin to picture it in my head. Anyway… I also think that they have some of the most interesting choreography out of all the groups (okay, the crapping clapping was kind of strange but it got my attention), so props to whoever choreographs their dances.

Individual Idol Girl Dancer

Winner: BoA

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmWNQiqf8-c&w=560&h=315]

BoA‘s dancing is, quite simply put, phenomenal. I feel legitimately sorry for all the newer K-pop fans that weren’t around to experience the heyday of the true queen of K-pop (Hyori was only able to become big as a soloist after BoA vacated the scene for Japan, the same way that SNSD was only able to make their big break after the Wonder Girls got whisked off to the US. Sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings, but it’s the cold, hard truth. Anyone claiming otherwise probably wasn’t actually around K-pop far back enough to witness it).

To me, nowadays, BoA is more of a J-pop artist than a K-pop artist, and honestly, I prefer it that way because I also enjoy her Japanese material a lot more (and I suspect that she does, too). I don’t know what is up with SM giving their artists great songs (when they are original) while they are in Japan, but playing up the annoying gimmicks once again when they return to Korea.

Because she is already such a seasoned artist, I get the feeling that these days BoA comes off to newer K-pop fans as someone that is really old… but we often forget that she made her debut in Korea when she was only 13 years old! BoA’s current age is only 25, and although she is their senior in the entertainment industry, her physical age is actually younger than Rain, Se7en, Kahi, JungAh, Narsha, JeA, Miryo, Dara, Bom, Lina, 9 of the members of Suju, 4 of the members of DB5K, and Kim Hyun-joong.

Unlike Subi, I have to say that I am actually looking forward to watching her on the big screen for her upcoming Cobu 3D movie, and do not think that she will disappoint… in the dance department. I really cannot say anything about the acting and the plot…. actually, I have a bad feeling about that. But I’m just going to take it at face value (like I did for the Step Up franchise) as a movie whose true value lies in the dancing, and not really anything else. It may just be that only dancers (like myself) will enjoy it, but who knows, maybe all our pessimistic expectations will be proven wrong. Fingers crossed!

Through her work with Cobu, BoA has also become good friends with Tabitha & Napoleon, a fact which I find to be adorable.

Runners Up:

  • Kahi (After School) — Before she was a singer, Kahi had a career as a backup dancer starting around the year 2000 for famous acts such as DJ Doc, Country Kko Kko, JinuSean, 1TYM, Lexy, Chae Yeon, Eun Ji-won, and most notably, BoA (there’s a clear shot of her here). For a while, she was also a dance teacher for Son Dambi and May Doni. After a short stint in 2006 with a Korean-American girl group called S. Blush, Kahi got in contact with the CEO (BoA’s former manager) of the newly formed Pledis Entertainment, who then gave her the chance to hand-pick her own group of girls who eventually became the first generation — and in my opinion, the best generation — of After School. The main element that makes Kahi a standout in the dance department is her charisma. Even though her singing and her rapping can only be described as mediocre (not great, not terrible), when After School is performing, my eyes are always drawn to her. Overall I feel that her dancing never fails to give off an exceptionally mature and professional vibe on stage.
  • Stephanie Chunmoo (CSJH) – world-class ballerina on top of being really good at the sexy-girl-dance (I’m just going to call whatever it is that K-pop girls do with their body wave and gyrating and bend-and-snap movements the sexy-girl-dance since there really isn’t a name for it).
  • Jia, Fei, Min (Miss A) — these girls are a perfect balance between swag and class.
  • Hyoyeon (SNSD)– somehow manages to be both overhyped AND underhyped in terms of dance ability. Here are my two cents. Hyoyeon is definitely a trained dancer. She attended her neighborhood’s small dance school when she was young (where she was taught hip-hop, jazz, and latin), as well as the Winners Dance School (where she learned some popping, locking, and animation styles). I’m also going to go ahead and say that she has the best locking ability out of any of the girls I’ve seen in the K-pop sphere. Her specialty is in these technical styles, but again, it doesn’t mean she’s necessarily limited to them. So what is Hyoyeon’s problem? Her problem is SNSD. Everyone has their personal style of dancing, right? Hyoyeon is in her element when she is going all-out, which unfortunately means that her movements are going to look exaggerated while she is dancing next to less-energetic dancers. Aside from the ITNW period, her skills are also wasted on SNSD’s simple choreography, whose moves look best when done in moderation and with conformity, things that do not mesh well with the natural way that Hyoyeon moves her body. She’s also awkward during dance breaks or during variety shows, where the customary action would be to dance in a feminine manner, but she usually chooses to do some hybrid kind of popping (after all, why waste your skills?) which ends up looking visually garbled, especially when she’s wearing a dress. Put quite simply, Hyoyeon’s dancing style looks out of place unless she’s doing her own dance solo (or dancing with someone like Yunho) at an SM concert. I feel like at this point, Hyoyeon is stuck in a kind of limbo that’s even — dare I say? — making her own dance ability even start to decline. I’m pretty sure she feels it too. I’m not going to say that being in SNSD was absolutely a bad thing for Hyoyeon (after all, she gets to be in the currently reigning girl group of K-pop), but I will say that her main abilities and strengths are wasted and her weaknesses are accentuated by being in SNSD (relegating her to an unpopular status), while she may have been able to showcase more had she been in a group like 2NE1 or Miss A.
  • Minzy (2NE1)– she definitely has a powerful feel to her dancing that you don’t see from girls in K-pop often… but I think she can be a bit messy and repetitive at times.
  • Victoria (f(x)) — trained at the Beijing Dance Academy prior to going to Korea.
  • Sori — she’s a decent dancer overall. HOWEVER. The big issue I have with Sori is that she was marketed for a while as being a good BREAKDANCER… when it simply isn’t true. I admit, there are precious few b-girls in the world as it is, and she certainly may be the only one in K-pop… but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s good. Of course, her company can capitalize on the fact that most of her audience base is only familiar with breakdancing on a superficial level and can be easily impressed with this. What I see, however, is selective camera shots of weak to nonexistant toprock and footwork, as well as heavy reliance on the same flips and freezes over and over again. And what was up with that kicking? She’s supposed to be breakdancing, not doing capoeira! I think Sori does have great potential, but the truth is that a b-girl who is all tricks but no foundation… ain’t a good b-girl at all.
  • HyunA (4Minute), Nicole (KARA) – I’m including these two on the list purely for a point of clarification. I think these girls have charisma, great bodies, and know how to move… but not necessarily how to dance. The opposite would be Suzy, who knows how to dance… but not necessarily how to move. The difference is that HyunA and Nicola are able to convince us that they’re great dancers (even when all they do is booty-shake and body wave) while Suzy fails to (even though she is capable of pulling off more complicated choreography). I think a real dancer needs a bit of both.

Individual Guy Dancer

Winner: Taeyang (Big Bang)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y1DmEEsU0E&w=560&h=315]

Taeyang‘s dancing has a particular groove and feel that is one-of-a-kind in K-pop. He has a smooth, precise style which can be soft, but also hard-hitting at the right moments. Although vocally he can sometimes be a bit shaky live, his dancing is always on point in the way he connects and carries through his movements, rather than just doing them step by step.

I actually only started paying special attention to Taeyang after he ditched his cornrows for his now trademark faux-hawk (a smart move for a vertically challenged boy) and released his first digital single, Where U At. Interestingly, what got me the most excited about the song before its release wasn’t the fact that it was Taeyang (this was before he got big), but rather that it was rumored that he was working with choreographers Lyle Beniga and Shaun Evaristo, who are big celebrities in the hip-hop dance community. What was even more surprising when the music video came out was that he actually got his two choreographers to be his backdancers (only in the music video, not on shows).

Shaun has continued to choreograph for nearly all of Taeyang‘s dance performance song releases (including Wedding Dress and I Need A Girl), as well as having worked with Big Bang as a whole (my favorite was the Gara Gara Go collaboration with the S**t Kingz… although I was sad to see that Big Bang ended up dumbing down the choreography when it was officially released). His work, as well as the work of Keone Madrid (who worked with Se7en) and Mariel Martin (who worked with 2NE1), has been extensively documented by Kanauru Productions on YouTube.

Runners Up:

Note: I am not providing in-depth critiques like I did for the girl dancers because frankly, the guys in K-pop are far more skilled overall than the girls in terms of dancing. There really isn’t as much to pick apart.

  • Jay Park — the best b-boy in K-pop
  • Rain, Se7en
  • Junsu (JYJ), Yunho (DBSK)
  • Hoya (Infinite) — this boy is a serious triple threat
  • Hyunseung, Kikwang (B2ST)
  • Eunhyuk (Super Junior)
  • Wooyoung, Junho (2PM)
  • Kim Hyun Joong
  • Taemin (SHINee)
  • Seungho, Lee-joon (MBLAQ) — the ballet is funny… but his technique’s actually not too shabby
  • UKwon (Block B)
  • Jang Woo Hyuk (ex-H.O.T., ex-J.T.L)

Honorable Mention (for obvious reasons):

  • Jo Kwon (2AM) — or more specifically, his butt

Fannie’s pick of the most talented dancers in K-pop:

  • Best Idol Girl Group: Miss A
  • Best Idol Guy Group: Infinite
  • Best Individual Girl: BoA
  • Best Individual Guy: Taeyang
  • Honorable Mention: Jo Kwon

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree?

(Nate, Mochi Magazine, dieselhp92, ALittlePrincess66, i4kahi, weilunangeljia, holaitzhelen, ma904, minchannel, aftergeneration, esmre, AmandaFuri, sweetliverty, devilangel31231, 4everKPOPgirl09, stanchyqueen, hiaziry, fanfazzaa, 747579174, SnowprinceAS2, ASPlayLive, TheSoulname, iamcrazy51, sArAh0759, YBManiaOfficial3, tinasuckss, MovementLifestyle)