Dance has been a long-standing element of K-pop for years. With the exception of some ballads, it’s rare for a song not to have choreography. Idols are expected to perform these songs while expressing the lyrics with their bodies. It’s not an easy feat, especially when most people can only do one thing at a time.

It’s been a couple years since we’ve recognized the importance of dance by including it in our mid-year and year-end reviews. We’ve invited Hridi, Carly, and Cjontai to give their opinions on the routines that stood out best. On a side note: Thanks to BoA, all of the writers had a last minute change to their lists. This will be reflected in the conversation.

Hridi Carly Cjontai
1 BoA
“Good Night”
“Good Night”
2 Dreamcatcher 
“Good Night”
 “Don’t Recall”
3 K.A.R.D
“Don’t Recall”
“Knock Knock”
1 Ten
“Dream in a Dream”
“Don’t Wanna Cry”
“Spring Day”
2 Seventeen
“Don’t Wanna Cry”
“New Face”
“Dream in a Dream”
“Don’t Wanna Cry”


Cjontai: Our lists are different but we clearly agree about two groups in particular: Dreamcatcher and Seventeen. What is it about them that got your attention?

Hridi: Dreamcatcher caught my eye instantly, both visually and musically. I’ve never heard a modern girl group do a K-rock theme, and then they had this sharp intricate choreo to match, which was a double plus to me. I may not like rock music itself as a theme, but for a girl group to do that and make it so innovative was such a treat!

This is also tied with why I chose to put K.A.R.D on my female list. I feel like there is a distinct difference in boy group choreo and girl group choreo. Boy groups tend to incorporate sharp and fast power moves whilst girl groups have more fluid, sexy and girly moves. Even badass girl groups do simple moves and sell that with attitude, but both Dreamcatcher and K.A.R.D differ with that standard.

Boy groups get so much more room to explore different dance styles sometimes with music as well but girl groups are much more limited. It’s not to say that girl groups can’t do power moves – it comes back to the limitations the company and society places on them. Many are put off by aggressive woman so even badass girl groups have to perform a level of acceptable femininity or else they risk failing. Hence, it is very refreshing to see the two companies behind K.A.R.D and Dreamcatcher take that chance and invest in going against the grain. Dreamcatcher also has an aesthetic contrast with masculine genre, feminine outfits and gender-neutral choreo.

This is more for K.A.R.D’s argument rather than Dreamcatcher’s. K.A.R.D’s choreo very rarely features separate movements. Most of the time they are all in tandem with each other. In turn, the girls have the opportunity to do more complex choreo, yet the boys are also doing movements that are more fluid and soft. But since that is more commonly accepted in boy groups (Seventeen, Ten, VIXX, BTS), I don’t think it’s really that innovative to put K.A.R.D in the boy group category. It gives the boys the chance to portray sex appeal in a way that’s more feminine and gives the girls to do the same in a way that’s more masculine. It strikes a balance with fluid feminine movements and masculine sharp moves. In doing so, they react off one another and presents the audience with a cohesive dance.

Carly: I agree with Hridi. Dreamcatcher is a breath of fresh air! A different sound, look, and style altogether in K-pop- a little reminiscent of J-pop for me and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Dreamcatcher have been exploring different concepts and I really liked both “Chase me” and “Good night” for their stories, as well as their dances. I tend to enjoy things as a whole- if I don’t like the song, I find it hard to like the dance, so when something catches my eye (or ear) and has great choreography as well, I’m sold. I’m with Hridi on the bad-ass, gender-neutral, sharp choreography too.

I love K.A.R.D, but due to their style differences and possibly height, I’ve always felt they were a little out of sync in their dancing. Occasionally it looks slightly messy even when it shouldn’t be. I don’t think that’s because they’re bad dancers, I think it’s because they move differently, and I don’t think it’s a gender thing, as the Jiwoo and Somin don’t always move in sync with each other, nor do BM and J-Seph. I do like their relatively gender neutral choreography too, and look forward to seeing more of this.

Seventeen have really matured and came up with a strong, multi-faceted dance. I loved the mix of movements- where they contrasted the single movements against the frozen backdrop of the group. I felt it portrayed the desired emotion well and complemented the song. The choreography was fast paced but they nailed it, and having that many members so in sync is pretty special. At the same time, they highlighted the members with Woozi‘s solo section, Vernon & Joshua‘s great pair work, and The8‘s flip.The smooth, subtle moves at the start perfectly match the song, and I like the blend of group and solo, the tunnel of members arms, and the falling movements which match the emotional tone of the song. I also like the intersecting lines — clean and simple, but visually effective. The staggered knee drops towards the end of the song are very dramatic, as are the walking and freezing scenes. It does lose a few marks in my book for the first part of the chorus being a bit weird. It doesn’t seem to fit and I’m not sure how or why they got that jerking mixture of almost gorilla arms. I heard it was choreographed by their performance unit too? If so, that’s pretty special.

Hridi: I agree with Carly on Seventeen. The only other MV of Seventeen’s I’ve seen was “Mansae” and while it was decent, it didn’t impress me. When “Don’t Wanna Cry” came out, I was pleasantly surprised by the exploration of this new direction.

Seventeen has a great mix of small dance moves that involve one part of the the body and the big moves that use their whole body. The interplay of motion and stillness is well-balanced. I really liked that quite a bit of the dance was on the ground because it’s not something I’ve seen utilized too often in the dances I’ve seen in K-pop thus far. Also, it was the first time I saw tutting in K-pop. The dance really gives you small nuggets of member solos whilst remaining very cohesive as a group. The aerial shot of them walking in the X-formation was visually stunning. I think what really gets me is the way the meaning of the song, the tempo and the dance just coalesce seamlessly.

Cjontai: Dreamcatcher far exceeded my expectations. When I first saw the live stage of “Good Night”, I was amazed. They were so sharp and energetic. I really appreciated that they didn’t hold back a bit in execution. One of the main reasons I think their popularity has exploded is because of their dancing. Their sound is a little too J-pop anime OST for me, but I’m here for the dancing. Anytime a girl group is going this hard, I’m impressed.

On the other hand, you get a much softer image with Seventeen. I truly didn’t see this coming from them, and I love when a group surprises me like this. I didn’t mind the slow beginning because it caught my attention right away. The start of “Don’t Wanna Cry” was aided by these delicate movements which became sharper when necessary and gentle when the beat called for it.

Touching on K.A.R.D, I honestly put them in the female category because I needed a third pick, and the male side was bursting with incredible choreo. I struggled to narrow my male list; whereas, the female search left something to be desired. That’s where K.A.R.D. succeeded in their dance.

The advantage K.A.R.D. has over other groups is being able to mingle female and male energy fluidly through these select moves. Many times, you’ll see the guys flanking the ladies, which is an interesting framing technique. It’s also risky but smart to place a big guy like BM in front for the point dance. When the audience sees them perform that move, the other three members are hidden behind him. As they smoothly move out, you get this dynamic picture that’s eye-catching. The move itself is about as strange as Sistar‘s butt wiggle from “Touch My Body”, yet K.A.R.D. makes this weird dance work.

Did anyone else struggle with their picks? Did you feel one side was better than the other?

Carly: I struggled with the girl groups so much! Aside from Dreamcatcher, nothing really stood out to me!

I find it really hard to divorce aspects of MVs, so while I could categorise dancing to be “good”, I didn’t actually like it unless I thought the song was at least ok. For example, Twice doesn’t necessarily do complex choreography, but they do often have quirky, cute and ultimately effective dances. I don’t really like “Signal”, so I went for “Knock Knock”. Even knowing that I’m doing it, the distaste for songs I don’t like is so strong it transfers over to my view of the dances.

Hridi: For boy group dances, the choices are in abundance since they get more flexible freedom with dances. For girl groups, it’s a struggle finding dances that can be held at the same standard as the ones for boy groups.

Cjontai: I disagree a little with that. Although I’ve been impressed with the risks that VIXX, BTS, and Seventeen took, there were also a lot of male dances that relied heavily on the typical fan service moves, like body rolls and pelvic thrusts. In fact, the biggest factor for my male list was their lean towards contemporary dance.

VIXX had done dramatic routines before, but “Shangri-La” was gentler while still having impact. Same goes for BTS’ “Spring Day”, in which the entire group engages in this delicate movement. I liked “Not Today”, but “Spring Day” won because BTS tried something most might assume is beyond their capabilities. Their execution of that choreo made me love them more.

Hridi: Oooo, I didn’t think of it like that. Now that you mention it, a lot of male group do rely heavily on fan service moves. Perhaps I didn’t see it because I’ve been accustomed to see moves like that as “sharp” since they’re packaged that way.

Carly, I found your choice of Psy to be very interesting. It prompted me to revisit his MV and really look at it as critically I did for the other groups.

Carly: “New Face” may seem like an odd choice because it isn’t particularly complex and meaningful or artsy, but when I consider its goals, the high energy and the catchy nature of how it’s all put together, I just thought it was fantastic. I hadn’t realised until this discussion that I judged dances to some extent not just on the moves but how well they matched. I did a little more thinking on it and decided in my opinion, a good MV identifies and targets their audience, sets a clear purpose or theme, has a consistent structure in their MV visuals and dance, has the lyrics and language use which match, and all aspects of this are intertwined. I said before that I did find it difficult to like arguably good dances based on other factors- I think upon reflection, that to some extent, these ties to audience, purpose and theme, and lyrics are something I expect for dances to push them out of “good dance” and into “great dance”, at least emotionally.

When Psy redid Brown Eyed Girls‘ “Abracadabra” dance, it didn’t really work that well because they just transplanted the move for recognition. But “New Face” to me harks back a little to his oddball success with “Gangnam Style” because here is a dance where they’ve really thought about what they want, the style of the song, the MV and tied it in well. They’ve found that audience, theme, structure, lyrics connection. I particularly like the references to heart pounding and where he says “Am I hitting on you right now? Honestly yes, yeah yes, oh yes” because it’s so unbelievably, shamelessly tacky… you can just picture his range of greasy characters with a lighthearted, charismatic sleaze, and I think the dance matches that well, not only in that specific place but all along.

In the case of BTS, I would rather have a simple, effective dance that links in well more than a more complex dance like “Not Today” where it just seems to be missing that soul, that connection, that link. “Not Today”, while far from terrible, just didn’t make it over the line. It felt a bit empty with how the repeated running, back up dancers, and Jungkook‘s angsty face tried to make up for a lack of that connection. The general feel I got from BTS was that they sort of took a bit of a break. They didn’t push the narrative; they didn’t push the links between the dance and the other elements. It was “good enough”. I don’t understand why they didn’t do a more relaxed approach with a less complex dance in this one.

Hridi: I chose Ten’s “Dream in a Dream” for similar reasons – the MV has a theme which it does an excellent job of captivating the viewer within seconds. His breathy vocals are perfect for the video because it serves to highlight his effusive and enchanting dance moves. Even though the lyrics don’t have much depth, the instrumentation in the song is very well-matched and feels very cohesive as a whole given the stylistic choices as well. All of Ten’s movements have a purpose because this dance is complex in its minimalism.

Carly: Is it too late to switch my third pick, which was Monsta X‘s “Beautiful” for Ten’s “Dream in a Dream”? When Hridi mentioned that, I totally agreed! I loved Monsta X’s sharp movements in “Beautiful”, and I felt the dance really lifted the track for me which is partially why I picked it. As I previously mentioned, I felt like the dance made up for what I consider to be lost momentum in the song after such a fierce opening rap. I didn’t notice the dance at first, because visually, basically everything is against the dance in the MV and live stage- poor costuming, lighting and camera angles. But the dance practice was smooth & powerful with a lot of subtle moves which look simple, but I bet are anything but! I loved the half group reacting to the other half and the passing backwards of their jackets when they throw them off is so well done that I had to watch it a few times to realise what was happening.

At the same time, “Dream in a Dream” was so well constructed and ethereal in the movements that I can’t help but love it. While that dance style is not one I’m used to, it’s incredibly engaging and Hridi was correct when she said here is a dance that blends perfectly with the purpose, audience and sound of the track. I really admired it, moreso because it’s a different style of dance.

Cjontai: In a somewhat funny turn of events, I’ve had a change of heart for my female list. Sorry, Red Velvet but your labelmate BoA just bumped you off last minute. The dancing queen reigns supreme with her sharp moves and killer choreo. I feel like BoA accomplished what Minzy came close to doing, and what Hyoyeon could’ve done if SM pushed her dancing more. I was just mesmerized and that routine left my jaw on the floor. No regrets in this.

Carly: “Camo” is the same silky sound and excellent, precise dancing as we’ve seen from BoA in the past. I love it as a reminder of some of her older tracks as well as in it’s own right- it’s a bit reminiscent of “Copy and Paste” for me. The thing that made me leave it as number two instead of number one was that while the dance is excellent, the movements don’t always seem to fit the song. There were a few moves in the chorus that I liked, and that looked good, but felt totally out of place. I’ve always felt that SM does BoA a disservice putting out the same MV every time- a few glamour shots and two different dance scenes. “Camo” could have been more than that, but they just didn’t develop the ideas further. As a dancer, BoA is the undisputed queen, but as an MV, “Camo” is not what it could have been- and so it takes second place for me. On the upside, she looks glorious in this!

Hridi: I’m giving BoA my first spot because she is a pioneer, not just for solo performers, but other female dancers in K-pop. She has set the stage for the other entries on my list. Her moves are power and strength and the MV showcased that by putting her front and center in all of the dance shots – it is downright impossible to look away from her. She knows how to grab the viewers attention and keep it. I like that her styling was very crisp and thematic to the song name and nothing over-the-top that would otherwise take attention away from her dancing.

Ten gets my other top spot because it was the first K-pop MV that transported me to a different world. Shangri-La came close but to me, it was a matter of “who did it first”. The harder beat drops in VIXX kept the song from being as mystical as Ten’s.

Cjontai: Thinking ahead, is there anything more you wish to see in K-pop choreography for the rest of 2017?

I’d like to see a continuation of male groups doing contemporary dance. I also want more ladies hitting their moves as hard as Dreamcatcher or BoA.

Hridi: I’m right with you, Cjontai. I’d also like to see some girl groups tackle contemporary as well!

Carly: I want more hard hitting dances, especially from the ladies. Sexy is good, but I want more than that!

Readers, what are your favorite dances in 2017 so far?

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5], Images via Pledis Entertainment, SM Entertainment, Starship Entertainment)