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Members of Zen1th, a Dubai-based K-Pop dance cover group created two years ago, at the K-Market at Dubai Festival Plaza Jebel Ali. Image Credit: Angel Tesorero, Senior Reporter

Dubai: It was the weekend and a group of teens livened up a pop-up market at a relatively new mall in Dubai with catchy tunes, slick choreography and spirited performances. Wearing preppy shirts, skirts and jeans — and sporting colourful hair — they did dance covers of K-Pop hits, including Cheers by SVT, Black Mamba by Aespa, Love Dive by Ive and My Treasure by Treasure.

The teens are members of Zen1th (spelt with number 1, instead of i), a Dubai-based K-Pop dance cover group created two years ago, whose members range between 14 to 18 years old. They are all Filipinos but they come from different social backgrounds and are studying at different schools. They banded together because of their love for Korean pop culture, which has influenced their lives ever since they were in grade school.

Korean wave

Most members of the group were born and raised in the UAE, but they also grew up in a tight-knit Filipino community and it is understandable for the uninitiated to be confounded how young people like them are hyped-up with K-pop, with lyrics they may or may not fully understand.

But for the fans of Korean pop or K-pop, it is more than just a music genre. “The catchy sounds and well-choreographed dance routines translate to breaking language and cultural barriers,” Jamaica Perez, 17, co-leader and one of the founders of Zen1th, told Gulf News.

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“We can still identify with our Filipino culture but Hallyu or Korean Wave defies stereotypes and transcends culture that is why it has attracted global fans,” added the Filipina teen, who plans to take up medicine in college.

For Perez and her group, they draw inspiration from the different styles and aesthetics of K-pop. “It has the ability to unite all aspects of music, art and dance under one stage,” she noted, adding: “The music itself is produced to a very high standard and listening to the music, dancing together and perfecting the choreography bring us so much fun.”

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Members of Zen1th, a Dubai-based K-Pop dance cover group created two years ago, performing at the K-Market at Dubai Festival Plaza.

Synchrony and community

Dancing together is at the core of K-Pop and there is a strong focus on visual elements and colourful production. Sarah Basug, 18, co-leader of Zen1th, explained: “In K-Pop, concept and execution are important — the performance is as important as the music and you have to put attention to aesthetics and style. Groups, which can go up to 20 members, should also move in synchrony.”

Learning K-pop choreographies and practicing how to dance in flawless synchronicity has inevitably helped Zen1th to grow and become a cohesive group. They started out with only six members — Jam, Sarah, Ian, Faith, Denise and Mia — in 2020 but now have 13 active members.

“K-Pop has high standards — it wants to achieve perfection — and this is the biggest influence of K-Pop in our lives,” said Zen1th members. As a K-Pop dance cover group, they replicate the choreography and performance of the idols (as K-Pop stars are called) with careful attention to detail. They also lip-sync the Korean lyrics and wear flashy costumes when performing.

“Listening to K-Pop music, practicing the choreography and dancing together has brought us so much fun and camaraderie,” they added.

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Korean food stall at the K-Market at Dubai Festival Plaza

To reach the summit

“We named our group Zen1th because our aim is to reach the highest point that we could be. We also spelt it with the number 1, instead of i, to symbolise our oneness,” they said while showing their hand-signal, which is flashing their thumb and index fingers to form the letter Z with left over right hand.

The group has previously performed at the Korean Pavilion during Expo 2020 Dubai last year under the invitation of Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). They also performed recently at K-Blaze (Korean Street Food Contest & Dance Party) in Dubai.

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Members of Zen1th, a Dubai-based K-Pop dance cover group created two years ago, performing at the K-Market at Dubai Festival Plaza.

Basug, who is also planning on studying medicine in college, said her group is just one of the many K-Pop dance cover groups in the UAE. She said: “We are a fast-growing community and thanks to social media, we are assured that we can only grow bigger in the years to come.” Community experience

Genevieve Colaco

Meanwhile, Genevieve Colaco, regional general manager, marketing and customer experience, at Al-Futtaim Malls, said: “We have seen a rapidly growing community in Dubai of those who immerse themselves in Korean culture — from music to food, TV dramas and fashion.

She noted: “Twitter insights have shown that global conversations on the platform related to K-Pop increased by 16 per cent in 2021, while a Spotify regional study unveiled the UAE as one of the top 3 MENA countries listening to the genre. With this clear desire to experience the rich culture of Korea and Al-Futtaim Malls’ ongoing commitment to offer new, dynamic customer experiences, Festival Plaza is pleased to welcome its customers to the K-Market which gives our visitors a unique experience catering to their interests.”

K-Market will end on September 4 at Festival Plaza in Jebel Ali. There are food stalls offering staple Korean food, including tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), gimbap (rice rolls), kimchi (fermented side dish), corndogs, bubble tea and more. There are also skin care products, cosmetics, novelty items, and, of course, performances by K-Pop dance groups.