Korean pop, or K-pop — a genre that embraces a range of Western and Korean influences — was once known only in East Asia and among the Korean diaspora. But these days, K-pop's techno beats and its signature synchronized, tightly choreographed dance moves are familiar the world over. You might know K-pop best from "Gangnam Style," the 2012 monster hit by Psy.
Dancing in the K-pop style is not limited to video trainees and stars, however. In Korean-dominated cities, specialized studios have cropped up to teach all of us how to dance according to K-pop video concepts, be they coquettish, sporty — or in our test case, "manly."
Joined by NPR Code Switch reporter Kat Chow in the Korean capital of Seoul, I gamely gave this a try while 6 1/2 months pregnant. We thought we were going to a beginners' class. You'll see for yourselves how things went down.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Korean pop, or K-pop as it's known, has been huge - all the rage for a long time. It's a dance style, and it takes some serious training. NPR's Elise Hu and Code Switch's Kat Chow found out the hard way.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: If you're not familiar, K-pop is a style of music that typically features techno beats and intensely choreographed music videos. In Seoul, you can go to specialized dance studios that teach the signature, synchronized routines.
We thought we were going to take a beginner's class, but that's not happening.
KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Nope. Apparently it's pretty advanced, which is going to be interesting.
HU: In the manufacturing of this music, each song is assigned a certain dance concept, like playful or sporty or innocent.
What, if anything, is the concept that we're going after today? Instructor Kim Ga-yeon.
KIM GA-YEON: (Speaking Korean).
CHOW: "It's a really manly dance. It's really wild."
HU: Let's do this.
KIM: And five, six, seven, eight.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HU: There's a lot of...
CHOW: There was a lot of, like...
HU: ...There's a lot of, like, hip.
HU: (Laughter) We are making fools of ourselves, but actual K-pop training regimens are not funny. Trainees practice dance routines up to 12 hours a day.
Kat, what do you think?
CHOW: I would definitely give that a thumbs down.
HU: Kat Chow sums up our experience.
CHOW: Because, like, it's not even that I - like, I can't do it physically but mentally too. I just can't. I can't keep up.
HU: K-pop stars are born out of a lot of training, but at least some natural ability is required. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.
MARTIN: You can see Elise giving it her all at K-pop dance class along with all her other adventures at npr.org/elisetries. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.