Dance is one of the hallmarks of K-pop, with almost every song (but ballads!) having some sort of choreography. Due to this, there are often so many dances to watch. While we’re only at the halfway mark of the year, it’s easy to see that the dance category is still as strong as ever, with the myriad of strong candidates.

In this Mid-year Review, Kaitlin, Pat, and Qing take a look back in the year’s dances so far.

Pat: It looks like we all have Seventeen at the top! Shall we make this easy on ourselves and just explain some of what we like? I, for one, love all the intricate details that went into the dance, and how each movement counts — each leads to another and no movement is wasted. There is also a variety of movements that make it interesting to watch, such as the way the somewhat barrel turns come just at the pre-chorus. This moment matches the shift in pacing before the dance becomes calm once again with the beat of the song. Altogether, it all flows and looks effortless. What about y’all?

Kaitlin: I’ve always loved Seventeen’s choreography. It’s consistently clever, dynamic and clean, despite them having 13 members, which never ceases to amaze me. But what really pushed “Home” to the top of my favorites of the year so far is that it tells a story. It builds from a slow introduction to the restless energy of pre-chorus with those turns to the sweet, satisfying chorus. I got chills the first time DK led the “opening the door” point dance. It was so cinematic the way the instrumentation dropped out, leaving me breathless to see what came next. The small pause in which the members lift their heads upward before the final chorus had a similar effect. It’s such a small movement that breathed so much emotion into that moment.

Qing: The story that “Home” tells is especially poignant because it’s the story of Seventeen’s artistic growth. Like the MV, which recreates past sets alluding to their history, and juxtaposes them against images of the future (symbolized by tall buildings and blue skies), the choreography is a mix of old and new. But even familiar elements take on new meaning here. The diamond formation that “Home” opens with, seen in the choreography for “Adore U” and “Pretty U”, is a nod towards the group themselves (their logo is a diamond), and also their fanclub, Carats. The key message, “I’m your home”, is one directed towards the members and their fans.

The point moves of door-opening and making a roof draw from the lyrics, but the dance is also incredibly responsive to the musical progression of the song. I could dwell on the details: the shoulder shimmy near the start that matches the warping synths, and how the acrobatic turns mirror the build-up, only to give way to simple footwork that’s true to the pared-down pre-chorus. But ultimately, put together, the vulnerability and warmth that radiate from the performance are immediate. Seventeen dance with assured, quiet confidence that doesn’t just tell us they’ve grown, but shows it.

Pat: I’m not a Carat nor do I keep up with Seventeen, so when I first saw “Home,” I was surprised at this growth Qing mentions. It’s so vastly different from “Adore U” and “Clap” but still so them. I definitely think the choreography is one of the reasons I keep going back to “Home” — the steady confidence in their sound, their fanbase, and their abilities as performers to keep us invested in what is a more restrained sound from the normally upbeat group.

We all have different choices at number two. Personally, my reasoning for Loona’s “Butterfly” is almost the same as why I have Seventeen at number one. Minus the more emotional components of Seventeen, Loona also make use of their large number well. There are different formations which allow a set of members to shine. The members make use of their formations to allow various leveling throughout the song — my favorite being in the second chorus where they line up in three rows. It’s very reminiscent to a movement in “Hi High,” one that was my favorite set of movements in the group’s otherwise average-choreographic debut.

I also love it when there is plenty of variation — and Loona gives me different choreography for every single chorus. There are also smooth transitions to various choreographic sequences, and the groups use their domino effect well. Another aspect is the femininity in their movements and the strength the members give it. All in all, “Butterfly” is a dance that I always come back to.

Qing: Jus2’s “Focus on Me” placed second for similar strengths: careful tailoring of the choreography to the number of members, variations in formations, and smooth transitions.

The choreography provides JB and Yugyeom with different ways of interacting: chain reactions, mirroring, and dancing in sync. The backup dancers are also engaged meaningfully to shadow the pair’s movements, boost visual impact of key moves (such as the focusing gesture) and create height gradients.

The crew also make use of the entire space they have, playing around with different focal points other than stage centre. The result is very dynamic, but thanks to the alternating pace of movements and smooth transitions, the dance remains dominated by a laid-back vibe.

Kaitlin: TXT’s interactions and dynamic use of formations is why the choreography for “Crown” is my number two pick. The five-member rookies start and end the dance on the floor, but in between, they use so many different levels. They crouch, kneel and squat, as well as leap and create a human throne to lift leader Soobin into the air.

The smooth precision of the crown key point dance, the “bow and arrow” formation in the hook and the arm-linked “rollercoaster” move in the second chorus are so visually impactful and enhance the musicality and meaning of the song.

While the intricate,  tutting-inspired choreo on a surface level could just seem only to be a vehicle for TXT’s charm, energy, and athleticism, there’s also substance and storytelling behind the moves. When rapper Yeonjun sings about seeing wings spread in front of his eyes, the other four members ripple out behind him to form a flapping wing. Line formations and ripples are so ubiquitous in K-pop, it would seem impossible to do something fresh with them, but “Crown” does it multiple times in one dance.

Precision, youthfulness and fantastic use of levels are something TXT definitely shares with fellow five-member rookie group Itzy.  “Dalla Dalla” is actually my favorite girl group choreography so far this year. What about this dance helped it nab both of your number three spots?

Pat: Full disclosure, TXT was my number four, so I’m really glad you talked about it, Kaitlin. What put Itzy ahead for me was their energy and attitude. The dance matches the song well and was never too busy to the eyes; making it extremely easy to watch due to how clean everything is. The choreographers of “Dalla Dalla” smartly kept the busiest portion of the song to one section — the break after the first chorus. And even during this portion, the body lines are still clean.

Apart from this portion, the dance was consistent throughout allowing the members to be showcased, as a debut should always do. The formations allow the quintet to move around with just the right amount of variation, with the transitions between seamless. There are small amounts of tutting moves throughout the song, most notably in the “I love myself” portion, one of the few details of the song. As a whole, it isn’t the most detailed of dances when compared to several others on the list, nor is it intricate, but Itzy makes up for it with their conviction in each movement.

Qing: “Crown” came really close to making my list for its dynamism and memorable point moves that brought out a childlike but heartwarming story. But “Dalla Dalla” pulled ahead because unlike “Crown”’s choreography, which matches the quick beats so closely that the boys often look like they are doing the Weekly Idol 2x speed dance, it varies the speed and complexity of movements. This allows Itzy to perform with relaxed, quirky confidence.

The combination of sharp moves with fun gestures that exude this confidence is an ultimate homage to iconic girl group dances of the late 2000s — Wonder Girls“So Hot” and 2NE1’s “I Don’t Care” and “I Am the Best” come to mind. But the memorable point moves of the “dalla dalla” line in the chorus are a mix of strange and cute that’s all Itzy. The choreography creates a recognisable yet fresh performance that goes a long way in emphasizing the conceptual direction that Itzy are going for.

Chungha’s “Gotta Go” has an incredibly memorable point move as well. What drew you to the dance, Kaitlin?

Kaitlin: “Gotta Go” came out all the way back at the beginning of January, but the dance’s point choreography has remained one of the most iconic of the year in my opinion. Dozens and dozens of other idols covered the dance or mimicked this move.

But beyond the clock hands point move, the well-rounded choreography strikes an amazing balance of sensual and powerful. None of the body rolls, hip sways or floor moves are cheap, fan service attempts at being sexy.

Yes, the song is still about desire, but Chungha’s moves and performance convey her agency in the song’s scenario. The strong, angled finger gun she throws in the chorus reminded me in the best way of Sunmi’s “Gashina,” which exuded unapologetic female confidence. The moves alternate between delicate moments of vulnerability and regret and impactful moments of swagger in which she stares down the camera with fierce facial expressions.

I’d enjoyed Chungha’s previous flirty, fun tropical house releases but to me, this song and choreography fully showed her potential to be a powerhouse performer on par with other top female soloists in the industry.  

Pat: I am very much on the Chungha as the next top female soloists train. We deserve it, she deserves it, and she’s consistently delivered with solid bops.

That we have such variety in our lists just speaks to the strength of the dances that have been released so far. There’s a great variety of choices that made choosing a top three harder. Seventeen’s “Home” was our unanimous number one pick, but after that, our lists had different artists (with Itzy being the exception). We have the fast-paced and intricate debut of TXT with “Crown,” the strong femininity of Loona’s “Butterfly,” Just2’s dynamic yet laid-back “Focus on Me,” and the powerful and confident sensuality of Chungha’s “Gotta Go.”

Here’s hoping the rest of the year delivers equally strong dances.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6], Images via Big Hit Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, MNH Entertainment, Pledis Entertainment)