In K-pop’s packed 2023 dance scene, viral challenges loomed large, athleticism reached new heights, and creativity (both homage and innovation-focused) abounded. Janine and Siena discuss 2023’s dominant trends and their top choreographies of the year.

Janine: Before we begin, I have to acknowledge the strength of the category. It was painful to whittle down my list. I considered including viral-ty as a factor because there were so many dance challenges that crossed major geographic lines. I ended up choosing routines I think were both memorable and technically admirable. 

“Super Shy” is one of these dances. NewJeans’ performance director and choreographer, Kim Eunju and Black Q, have created an accessible, impressive routine by understanding the spaces where it is performed. A large portion of promotions are seen on phones and K-pop performances have adapted to the dimensions. “Super Shy” takes this approach to its limits. The vertical performance space of each dancer is used to fill a frame. The formations allow each member to be the head of a procession of back-up dancers: perfect for fancams and adaptable to mega stages. The key points are large movements that can be adapted for beginners trying a challenge.

I like how NewJeans leans into their youth energy. The jumps remind me of skipping before developing into the more challenging waacking-influenced sequences. Waacking initially blew up on Soul Train in the 1970s. The movements on the higher levels make the best use of the front view of the dance line. Capitalising on the attention brought by famous Korean waackers like Lip J, Waackxxxy, and Prince Wizzard was a savvy choice.

We’ve got a nice mix of picks between us but we both ranked “Super Shy” third. What led you to putting them in the middle of your list, Siena?

Siena: Firstly, I completely agree with you on this year’s intimidating wealth of dance choices. I also relied on a combination of creative choreography and technical prowess to create my list. I was additionally drawn to dances with little-to-no filler, where wow moments could be found not only in choruses and dance breaks, but also sprinkled throughout verses, bridges, and transition sections. 

“Super Shy” is a great example of that for all your outlined reasons. A distinctive style combined with brilliant blocking make for a choreography with no lulls. I especially love how “Super Shy” plays with the classic K-pop dance concept of a ‘point move.’ “Super Shy” is essentially made up of repetitions of a mere handful of key choreographic combinations, with the now iconic chorus section chief among them. What the dance does so brilliantly is using creative formations and slight variations to make each repeat of movements unique. The result is a choreography that feels effortless yet innovative. 

Our other shared pick, Jeon Somi’s “Fast Forward,” also excels at radiating ease and creativity simultaneously. Essentially, it’s a dance that’s doing a lot of baseline things really, really well. That includes, just like “Super Shy,” drawing from on-trend dance influences (to my untrained eye, tutting and voguing), pre-packaging itself for viral challenges with a mixture of accessible and impressively technical moves, and playing to its dancer’s strengths through an emphasis on extension and grace. 

Indeed, it bears repeating that the execution for “Fast Forward” is one of its greatest assets. The dance is full of awkward traps where a slight bad angle or lack of confidence could spell disaster. Somi breezes through all the potential pitfalls, and her YGX accompanying dancers (among them choreographer Babyzoo) are equally fabulous. That excellence combined with the pure serotonin fun of “Fast Forward” is what landed it as #2 on my list. What made it your fifth pick?

Janine: Where I think “Super Shy” is a testament to how simplicity can be used to capture interest, the choreography for “Fast Forward” differentiates itself with its complexity. 

“Fast Forward” has many interlocking gestures where an error can be noticed quickly. The choreography eschews high energy, full body movements and instead focuses on the dancer’s hands and facial expressions. Many of the key moves point to specific lyrics and need to be hit just so. It’s a high-stakes game that Somi plays excellently. I have enjoyed watching idols complete the challenge with a simmering competitiveness – the cogs sometimes visibly turning when trying to keep up with the speed of the choreography. 

I put “Fast Forward” fifth because I felt that while the routine is technically challenging, it is somewhat limited. Formations, lifts, floor and footwork are cut to allow Somi’s dexterity and star power to shine. Speaking of solo star power, you have Jungkook’s “Standing Next To You” on your list, a release I was also tempted to include. What drew you to the golden maknae’s foray into funk pop?

Siena: “Standing Next to You” is one of my favorite performance songs of 2023. It’s a good song period, but it blooms into something extra special when it’s presented on stage or video. The choreography is a huge part of that. The dance’s retro style emphasizes the song’s throwback glamour. That means “Standing Next to You” occasionally verges on being over-referential, which is why it’s my #4 pick. Still, the overall effect is so much fun that such sins can be forgiven. 

Two things really elevate the dance for me. The first is stellar execution. Jungkook’s magnetism is at a blinding peak. He performs the dance’s classic but often lightning-speed moves with both the ferocious hunger of a rising (solo) star and the nonchalant confidence of an industry veteran…which, of course, is exactly what he is. His crew of backup dancers are equally mesmerizing, interpreting every move in their own distinct ways.

The second key aspect of “Standing Next to You” is how wonderfully the dance is tailored to accommodate live singing without sacrificing choreographic intensity, from giving Jungkook manageable but impactful moves to enliven mic stand segments, to strategically placing dedicated dance breaks around moments that require more vocal concentration. I think this approach is why every live performance I’ve seen of the track is so fabulous. By providing equal and complimentary space for Jungkook to flaunt his vocal and dance skills, “Standing Next to You” becomes an ideal showcase for his formidable star power, with no compromises.

Janine, your fourth pick shifts us back to groups from soloists. What landed Stray Kids’ “S-Class” on your list?

Janine: “S-Class” is similar to “Standing Next to You” in two ways: they are both designed to showcase the performers’ strengths and both are unafraid to reference. “S-Class” was described during its promotion as a mash-up of many genres. The dance routine takes Stray Kids’ penchant for stacking Easter eggs to the next level. There are the obvious allusions to previous works, like how the explosive precision and dynamic power of the point choreography is reminiscent of “God’s Menu” and “Maniac”. The dance breaks heavily draw from hip-hop traditions that also influence 3Racha’s songwriting and production style. The effect is controlled chaos designed to show off Stray Kids’ unique skill set.

There are stand-out moments for each member. Hyunjin’s sections taking advantage of his sinuous lines and Lee Know’s spinning kick are the most obvious solo killing points, but everyone has an opportunity to shine. The routine is a smorgasbord of climatic moments and Stray Kids’ flavour is in every section. 

Oneus’ “Baila Conmigo” was an interesting choice, what stood out to you about this routine?

Siena: “Baila Conmigo” just edged out one of my mid-year picks, Dreamcatcher’s “Bon Voyage” for fifth place. Both dances impressed me for the same reasons: uniqueness and musicality. “Baila Conmigo” has a very eclectic mix of choreographic elements, sharpness mixed with fluidity, and tons of level work from the floor to the ceiling, and these combine into something unlike anything else I’ve seen in K-pop dance this year. I also really enjoy how the dance compliments the song’s smoothly rhythmic style without pulling any of the typical, often verging-on-caricature, moves associated with a Latin-influenced comeback. 

One downside of “Baila Conmigo” is that it’s hard to find an uncompromised video of it; the dance practice is played for laughs, and a mid-comeback injury suffered by Xion meant that he spent many stages in a sling, performing extremely admirably but obviously minus full arm choreography. The best options I’ve found are a ‘full-focus’ Studio Choom video, and one brave surviving fancam from Music Core! The Music Core live video in particular highlights what I think is ultimately the dance’s greatest strength, which is that its grab-bag of styles and consistent musicality makes it compellingly unpredictable but never disorganized. 

Like “Baila Conmigo,” your second place pick is a dance that hits all its beats; what drew you to Le Sserafim’s “Eve, Psyche, and The Bluebeard’s Wife”?

Janine: “Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s Wife” has been another popular challenge but that’s not the reason it’s on my list. Rather, the athleticism of the full performance kind of blows my mind so I had to include it. 

Le Sserafim have a reputation for being good at exercise, and they are working out for the full 3:48 minutes of this routine. Dancers need precision and core strength to maintain the sharpness of the poses; coordination and strength to pull off the “I’m a mess” legwork, and their group formations never stop moving. 

The song is like a step class and I’m amazed they’re still going by the time they hit the Michael Jackson anti-gravity lean in the bridge. I watch “Fast Forward” challenges to see if anyone misses a gesture but I watch “Eve, Psyche, and the Bluebeard’s Wife” performance videos to see if any of the members become visibly tired

NCT 127’s “Ay-Yo” is your top pick. I thought it was an incredible showcase of NCT’s dance capabilities, what made it your favorite?

Siena:  The sprawl that is NCT have done a phenomenal job crafting a hyper-distinctive dance style over the years, including fluctuations between units. For 127, their choreography is usually smooth but with bursts of speed, full of swagger, and brilliantly treads the line between awkward and cool..which of course only makes it more cool. “Ay-Yo” is one of my favorite dances they’ve ever done. It excels at all the aforementioned elements, and it also thoughtfully plays to individual members’ strengths, whether that’s Mark’s fancy footwork, Taeyong’s angles, or Jungwoo’s fluidity

Playful yet intimidating, showcasing teamwork and solo skill, and just so stylish, “Ay-Yo” landed at the top of my list, and it marks yet another high point for NCT’s dancing excellence. 

Speaking of dancing kings, you chose Seventeen’s “Super” at your #1 pick. What made it your favorite dance of 2023?

Janine: Seventeen’s juggernaut homage to The Journey to the West was outstanding in more ways than one. Full of cultural references and bravado, “Super” is constructed for grand performances. Like so many of our choices, it is made to show off the performers’ unique strengths: with Seventeen, those strengths are abundant. 

Synchronisation, fluidity, sharpness, and intense energy are all trademarks of Seventeen’s dance style and those elements are pushed into overdrive. The use of back-up dancers in this kind of mega-crew format is also masterfully done. 

The visual impact of the formations as they ripple and evolve is a technical marvel. It needs so much expertise to coordinate and stage, in a way that doesn’t just look like a crowd doing the wave. I’ve watched countless performance videos of “Super” and I am impressed every time. They set out to prove themselves and they succeeded. 

That’s a wrap on 2023! Readers: what are you hoping to see from K-pop dance in 2024? Let us know in the comments. 

(Instagram[1[[2][3][4], New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]. Image via Ador, HYBE.)