1Million Dance Studio offers more than hit choreography to dancers
1Million Dance Studio is one of Korea's most loved dance academies by foreigners, and it aims to reach out even more through various methods ranging from online tutorials and offering help for visa-related problems.
"Its not an exaggeration to say that Korea is leading trends in the dance scene," said Lia Kim, co-CEO of 1Million Dance Studio. "Dance-related content on TikTok is receiving a lot of attention and there's also a lot of people who come to learn dance."
Rising popularity of K-pop worldwide brought attention to choreography, an essential element in the energetic performances of K-pop groups.
Wanting to learn from dancers who actually made the choreography, fans from not only in Korea, but from all over the world gather at the 1Million Dance Studio in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. Some board planes from the United States and Japan just to learn from the studio's star instructors including Lia Kim and Kooyoung Back, who are behind the choreography of singers such as Exo, Twice, Sunmi and BoA.
To discuss 1Million Dance Studio's rising popularity among foreigners and plans to cater to them, the Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with the two co-CEOs of the company, Lia Kim and Timon Youn, at the dance studio on Monday.
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
A. Kim: Before the Covid-19 pandemic, about 75 percent of our students were foreigners. But then they couldn't come to Korea, and we basically had none and mostly just Korean students. But the number of foreign students is rapidly increasing again, and right now over 50 percent of our students are foreigners.
Are there many foreigners who come to Korea just to learn dance?
Kim: There's a lot of people like that. I get a bit embarrassed when saying this, but there's even people who say they came all the way to Korea just to meet Lia Kim. There's also people who say they like certain dance instructors and have been watching their YouTube videos, and came to Korea because they wanted to see the dancers in real life. I'm very grateful for people like them, and it almost feels like I'm living in a dream. There's especially a lot of foreigners who really like our dance style and want to learn it.
Youn: Japanese dancers are very skilled and it used to be incredibly rare for them to come to Korea to learn dance. But now, people from Japan come to Korea to learn dance at not just 1Million Dance Studio, but at other dance academies such as JustJerk Dance Academy. And there's also a lot of people coming from European countries and the Americas too.
What makes K-pop choreography so attractive to foreigners?
Youn: There are dance instructors at 1Million Dance Studio who have very different dance styles. They each dance their own genres and that all comes together and becomes a wonderful hybrid, which I think is what K-pop choreography is. For instance, various genres can be found in Lia's choreography such as popping, locking, hip hop and waacking, and we offer a new vision by combining all those genres that people are already familIar with. Those dance styles are not new, but foreigners look at it as if it's a new and refreshing style.
With a lot of foreigners coming to Korea to learn dance, are there any obstacles they face, and what are some ways to solve those problems?
Kim: It would be best if problems with visas were eased for foreigners who want to become professional dancers or want to learn dance. On top of that, it would be good if the visas allowed them to work at least for the short term. There's a lot of people who attend universities in Korea because they want to come learn dance. Even though they originally intend on coming to learn dance, that [enrolling at a university] makes the visa issuing process much easier, and there's a lot of cases like this.
Youn: Many come through student visas, and even if they get a chance to work as dancers or assistants, there are cases when they don't receive any money. There's no where they can turn to in those cases, and we hope to become a hub that can solve such problems. There are also foreign dance instructors who we've signed contracts with, and we help them get the E-6 visa. But it's still inconvenient to renew them every year. There's a lot of people who want to come to Korea and learn about Korean culture, so it would be best if there were various ways to offer them more opportunities.
1Million Dance Studio has been offering dance tutorial videos on KT's internet TV service since last year and also on the dance studio's application. How has the service been doing?
Kim: We're at the beginning stages of the service so its too early to say how we're doing. But we think its a good start and hope it does well. We're grateful for the enthusiastic people who come to 1Million Dance Studio, but we also understand its not the easiest thing to do. There are people all around the world who want to learn dance from the comfort of their homes, or people who are embarrassed to come to dance studios. We're very passionate about the service because we hope its a good opportunity to teach dance to people like them.
Youn: When people dance at home, they struggle because they don't know if they're following along well. I think the service will grow even more because online services are developing technologies that will use AI [artificial intelligence] and skeleton data to recognize body movements and analyze how accurate the users' moves are.
Among many dance studios in Korea, what makes 1Million Dance Studio stand out from others?
Kim: I think being known to a lot of people through our YouTube is one of the biggest reasons. But we are also working with our dance instructors to create curriculums for people who learn dance for the first time. We try to create an atmosphere that's welcoming of them, compared to curriculums in the past that mostly focused on experienced dancers. I think it's the teacher's role to make students trying dance for the first time not feel embarrassed about not being the best dancers. We have tutorial classes such as the Step By 1M and Learner classes that offer more more options for people to choose from.
BY LEE TAE-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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