K-Pop fans are diverse, creative and dedicated. Their love is well-documented on social media and is seen through fan-run projects. Whether it’s trending hashtags on Twitter locally or securing a star for their favourite artists on Dubai’s Walk of Fame, avid listeners in the UAE promote Korean pop acts and celebrate the global phenomenon in any way they can.
All this came to the fore last Thursday, as Canadian University Dubai held its very first K-Pop dance competition. I was so honoured to be invited to attend and be part of the judging panel.
The sound of cheering and K-Pop’s hyper-produced earworms echoed down the halls of the institute as I entered the front door.
Predominantly occupied by students, the event was filled by a number of excited fans and attendees. Though the small auditorium didn’t have enough seats for everyone, students were seen gathered around a big TV screen that live-streamed the event at the centre of the building.
Eight soloists and nine groups in colour-coordinated attire took to the stage to showcase K-Pop’s impeccably choreographed dance routines from the industry’s popular soloists and artists, including NCT Dream, Red Velvet, TXT, Jeon Somi, Mamamoo, Chungha, ITZY and more. More than 50 gifted participants wowed the crowd, with some even leaving quite an impression.
Nate K, a preteen contestant, stole the spotlight for his remarkable performance of K-Pop boy group Seventeen’s ‘Don’t Wanna Cry’. Jared’s dance cover of ‘Lie’ by BTS’ Jimin was also a crowd-pleaser mainly for his intricate and expressive movements. There were also groups that brought their A-game like District 9 and Felicity that got the crowd cheering for their in synch, powerful performances to Stray Kids’s ‘Miroh’ and NCT 127’s ‘Cherry Bomb’, respectively.
Critiquing wasn’t a simple task, considering all the young contestants managed to pull off the choreographies in their own way and to the best of their abilities.
Before the winners were announced, Prism, a Dubai-based BTS cover group, took to the stage as the final guest performers, bringing an energetic performance of the septet’s hit song ‘Mic Drop’ featuring Steve Aoki. The auditorium soon filled with the prominent group’s fan chants, proving that BTS’ popularity is unquestionably present in the UAE.
All the contestants didn’t leave empty-handed. The winners were rewarded with prizes while the remaining young participants received certificates for their hard work.
Apart from the live performances, quizzes and random play dance challenges, the student-run event was much more than a competition. It was a celebration of the love for K-Pop that transcends age, gender, culture and language, and showed that the cultural phenomenon truly catapulted listener’s growing interest in the UAE.
Overall, it was memorable and a special experience for all, including myself. K-Pop still exists on the periphery of the local scene and is no doubt making its mark.