SDSU offers first K-pop dance theory/practice class in the U.S.

School of Music and Dance Associate Professor Chuyun Oh plans to expand knowledge of the unique art form.

April 5, 2023
Chuyun Oh invited to lecture at Seoul National University, courtesy of Chuyun Oh.
Chuyun Oh invited to lecture at Seoul National University, courtesy of Chuyun Oh.

K-pop is a world-wide cultural sensation. Now San Diego State University will offer a first-of-its-kind class focused on the art form. 

Launching in Fall 2023, the class, created and taught by Chuyun Oh, associate professor in the School of Music and Dance, will offer students the opportunity to observe how cultures use dance as a form of communication and expression. 

Oh focused her PhD research on K-pop, and is an internationally known scholar on the subject. She’s looking forward to offering students her perspective and knowledge.

“I was thinking if there is a need, why not offer it? Right? We value the classics, or the canon, but our society changes rapidly, especially with social media. So I think I'm just offering a class that students are already looking for,” Oh said.

In the class, students will learn about the evolution of K-pop since the 1980s, then will shift focus toward the K-pop fandom and its application on social media today. Oh noted that K-pop is composed of not just music but of its fandom, dancing, fashion, and makeup as well.

Thanks to the SDSU Research Foundation and a PSFA grant, Oh published K-pop Dance: Fandoming Yourself on Social Media in 2022. Based on five years of ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, choreography, and participation-observation with 40 amateur and professional K-pop dancers in New York, California, and Seoul, the book traces the evolution of K-pop dance from the 1980s to the 2020s and explains its distinctive feature called ‘gestural point choreography,’ front-driven, two-dimensional, decorative and charming movements of the upper body and face, as an example of what the author theorizes as ‘social media dance.’ The book became an Amazon new release best-seller and is one of the only academic resources published on this topic. Oh plans to use it as the textbook to guide the class.

Oh’s K-pop dance class will preview during the California State University Summer Art Program, and she plans to invite some instructors, choreographers, and dancers from the summer program to the fall class at SDSU. Using case studies, students will learn how to use social media, maintain a balance between being a creator and their academic studies, navigate a career, and have an opportunity to design their own creative portfolio.

“I'm happy to create a channel where students can build a network with people in the industry, get hands-on experience before graduation, and be more prepared to be a leader beyond the San Diego region after graduating,” Oh said.

Marlene Baldonado will be Oh’s teaching assistant at the CSU Summer Arts Program and plans to take SDSU’s K-pop class during the fall. Marlene has been a lover of K-pop since middle school and is excited to help bring this class to the states. 

“One of the things I'm most looking forward to is the community I feel we'll be able to build in this class.” Baldonado said. “People come from different dance backgrounds–you don't necessarily have to be a dancer to take this class. Also, it will be interesting to learn more about dance and grow as an individual with others, really sharing ideas and your own perspectives.”

According to Baldonado, students will be able to learn more about why dance is seen as an art, the technicality behind it, and how certain movements can convey certain stories.

Oh is hopeful that her class will contribute to SDSU’s vision for equity, equality and diversity.

“I'm very honored to be able to offer the class for the first time in a university–it's a big deal,” Oh said. “It makes a very positive statement in terms of diversity. I think another reason is that K-pop has been a symbol of youth activism, including ethnic minority and LGBTQ-plus communities. So I think it is also creating a platform where students better identify or see themselves through the official courses subject.”

This class will be a general education course (Dance 383), and there are no pre-requisites, so any students who are interested in dance, K-pop, or South Korean culture are welcome. The class will count toward arts, humanities, and diversity credits and no physical activity will be required.

For more information, contact Chuyun Oh at [email protected]

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