In this new series, I plan to go into detail how the simplest and even the most intricate dance sequences in k-pop all follow basic dance structures seen in theatre, films, television, and more.
You’re about to get some backstory about the events I had leading up to this post. If you don’t care about that, especially if you have little to no interest in musical theatre, and wanna skip to the part where you learn something, just know there’s probably someone else who could write a better version of this post, (but I’m all you got, so there) and just scroll down until you see text underneath the gif of BTS.
During the month of January, 2006, this little TV movie by the name of High School Musical aired on the Disney Channel and became a hot topic among schools all over the nation. 9-year-old me hadn’t seen it yet, but decided to watch it the next time it was on. Because everyone else saw it, which meant I had to. Simple elementary school math. Since I was a child, I knew liking the music is vital when liking a music artist, musical/musical film, etc. And the song I liked the absolute most from HSM was “Stick to the Status Quo”.
Why? Because it was my proper introduction to the large group/ensemble number. While ballads focus only on the very few performers singing it, group numbers allow most, if not all, of the cast a chance to shine. Usually they’re upbeat, high energy, pretty much just plain fun. Sometimes they’re not happy songs, but all group numbers of all tones tend to have the same meaning; revolution, make the world a better place, self pride, everything that the characters being confessed to in the song seem to be against. But who cares? A bunch of people are singing and dancing and having fun.
Afterwards I knew I wanted to give theatre a try, and had to wait until high school to do that. When I got there I was a bit bummed to find out the school’s director thought I was a shit actor. But I still wanted to be involved in the department so I did behind the scenes stuff, dabbling in almost everything but primarily set building and lighting. Senior year I finally got to learn how to see a play/musical from a stage director’s point of view. While I’ll probably not make a career out of what I learned from that directing class, I can perhaps use it towards the ongoing obsession that took over my theatre fascination:
It makes sense. Musical theatre has synchronized dance numbers, k-pop practically demands synchronized dance numbers.
“But Miss Guy’s Girl, don’t you have any dance history?” Well, I took classes between ages 6 and 9, (ballet, then tap, then jazz-tap) and I took a dance class senior year so I wouldn’t have to take a real gym class. That’s all the dance experience I have.
“Then how can you possibly take authority to even consider making even one post about dancing, let alone more than one?” Frankly enough, choreography in k-pop follows many of the same structures in musical theatre. You don’t have to be a dancer to notice this, once you start thinking like a stage director, it’s clear as day. Directors don’t need to be good at acting to tell actors what to do. A stage director is like a cinematographer, which is like a photographer, which is like a painter; They create a pieces of art, and in order to make excellent artwork that won’t be dismissed as contemporary, they must not be an imbalanced eye sore and keeping it simple will at least give you a visually satisfying result.
I suppose the only thing an actual dancer can know that I don’t is stability, controlling your breath while singing, spotting, etc. I could try dancing a routine being discussed for further insight, but this chair is just so comfy. My main focus here when examining a dancer comes down to…
I’m sure the proper term is formation changes, but I’ll be calling it blocking for two reasons:
1. Blocking is shorter than Formation Change.
2. Since I’m basing this from my theatre experience, it makes sense to use an actual theatre term.
“What’s blocking?” you ask? It’s not when someone is blocking your bias of precious screentime. (Although you can blame blocking for that, but I digress.) Blocking is basically the pre-planned movements of actors. It’s like a playbook in football. The actor, musical or drama, not only has to memorize countless lines, but must know exactly where he/she is standing/going on the stage.
It would look pretty awkward if the actors made absolutely no movement at all. Film can cheat this by having multiple camera shots and editing, but a good film director will still have his actors walk around to have proper blocking.
In order to get a better understanding of blocking, you’ll need to have the image below memorized.
The left/right is like that because it’s from the actor’s point of view, rather than the audience member’s. The actors are the ones moving, audience members don’t move at all. Why should the actors get confused where right and left is? Upstage is furthest from the audience while downstage is closest. One way to remember that is the closer you are downstage, the more likely you’ll fall down from the stage. (…I’m not sorry.) The wings are offstage, probably called that cause they are the wings while the stage is the rest of the bird. The stage above is proscenium, where the audience is on one side of the room. There are other types of stages, but I’ll save that for another time.
Dance performances are more like one number in a musical with a dozen, more or less. So of course they follow structures not just in performing but in technical theatre too.
I’ll be focusing on everything up to 1:30. Watching the whole thing to see the boys grab their crotches and thrust on the floor is your choice. Anyway, you notice how J-Hope and Jimin are dancing in the same specific area? How they never leave that special? (Or spotlight if that’s what you wanna call it.) And that the floor they’re dancing on has some bright stickers on it? They had to make sure to dance in the lit area, and in order to locate their lit areas before it’s lit, they locate the green/yellow ‘x’ marks which denotes the center of their specials.
So that’s how blocking works when you stay in the same, small area of the stage. But what about actually moving around? Maybe Taeyang can help!
Taeyang’s “Ringa Linga” received lots of attention for its choreography and the fact the dance version was released before the official MV pretty much proves that. The “looks like one take but it actually isn’t” technique, ensemble dancers getting their own screen time, and of course how each performer is constantly moving. So why do I bring up this song when it’s clear the blocking is more advanced than most k-pop dances? Well the video above uses film blocking, not the theatre blocking. In theatre you’re on a stage and your movement choices go by ‘stage left, upstage right, etc’ while performing for one side of the room. Film you can go anywhere because the camera is the audience, and it doesn’t have to sit still. Exo’s “Growl” also uses film blocking. Still puzzled? Let’s look at the song again but this time restricted to theatre blocking;
If you only look at Taeyang (not his dancers, we’re not at that high level yet) and where he’s going, not how he moves his arms and such, you can tell the blocking isn’t too difficult to follow. Despite music show camerawork being a mess as usual, I’ll break it down to you. (I’m only counting one chorus blocking rather than all for a reason I’ll go into more detail in the paragraph after the one below.);
0:00– Center Stage. 0:09– Hard to tell but he seems to be slightly Crossing (moving) Downstage, but it’s pre-song ‘get the audience hyped’ type of blocking so it probably doesn’t count anyway. 0:13– Back to Center (if he did leave in the first place). 0:18– Cross Downstage. 0:20– Back to Center. 0:29– Cross Downstage. 0:31– Back to Center. 0:58– Cross Downstage Right. 1:03– Cross Downstage Center. 1:05– Cross Upstage. 1:08– Back to Center. 1:38 (estimate)- Cross Downstage. 1:52– Back to Center. 2:02– Cross Stage Left. 2:11– Back to Center. 2:48– Cross Downstage. 3:08– Back to Center.
In this performance of “Ringa Linga”, all he does is go back and forth, sometimes move to the side then back, and…that’s it. His back up dancers get to travel the stage more, but they’re not the star of the show here. They’re supposed to let Taeyang get all of the attention. If this were a group where each member is the star, then I would focus on the blocking for every person onstage. And why did I only count the beginning chorus? Because the blocking for the first chorus has him move more clearly down and up stage while during the other choruses he was dancing in the same, lit area, denoting center stage. Sound familiar?
That should cover everything there is to know about basic blocking. You probably never bothered thinking about this till now. And you can’t really use this information in the real-world either. But this is k-pop, where blogs about analyzing dick sizes, (‘Oh, Sehun’ indeed) then any blog is possible. So fondly expect more posts like this in the future.