Office Hours With Chuyun Oh, PhD, Leader of K-Pop Studies at San Diego State University
May 8, 2024

From the viral sensation “Gangnam Style” to the chart-topping hits of BTS, Korean popular music, also known as K-pop, has become a global phenomenon. In 2023, the Korea Customs Service announced the export volume of K-pop albums in the first half of the year rose 17.1 percent from 2022 to a record high of $132.93 million. 

Last fall, San Diego State University (SDSU) became the first school in North America to offer courses on K-pop dance theory and history thanks to Chuyun Oh, an associate professor and author of K-pop Dance: Fandoming Yourself on Social Media (Routledge). She also teaches K-pop dance at California State University Summer Arts.  

Dr. Oh began her career as a ballet and modern dancer and completed her PhD in performance studies at the University of Texas, Austin. Dance Teacher chatted with her to learn more about her K-pop course and how popular dance styles can help bridge the gap between traditional dance curriculums and students’ current interests.  

What is your favorite part about teaching K-pop dance theory and practice?

My favorite part of teaching is to see students’ growth. Most of my students are nondance majors. The class is a three-unit course to learn K-pop dance theory and history, but I also allow students to engage in creative activity, such as trying cover dances (imitating the original K-pop music video choreography) or K-pop dance challenges on social media. Throughout the experience, students not only expand their understanding of popular dance and style, previously limited to Western pop dance such as hip hop or jazz, but also learn about the global entertainment business, as K-pop is a commercial form. [Some] of my students are declared dance minors after taking my class.  

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing dance educators today?

I think one of the biggest challenges, especially in higher education, is that it cannot fully catch up with the fast-paced dance industry and society. Our [culture] has become truly global with the internet and social media. Yet, many of our dance programs still rely on styles and philosophies from the 1960s. This is not to diminish the significance of tradition and convention; we need to teach historically important genres such as ballet, modern, postmodern, etc. Simultaneously, we also need to accept newly emerging styles, such as voguing, pole dance, K-pop, and the beautiful legacy of dances outside of Europe and the U.S., so that our programs reflect the diverse student body. 

Another challenge is social media and the rapid rise and visibility of commercial and competitive dance, with the decrease of dance majors at universities. Students have grown up watching influencers who don’t have a dance degree but make an average person’s monthly income with a selfie on Instagram. I understand that sustainability would be the question, but what matters most is to understand how this social circumstance affects our dance majors’ mindset. Dance education no longer persuades students with “art for art’s sake,” because the current generation can face a harsher unemployment rate and higher real estate prices. 

Who have been your role models in dance education?

As a theorist who studies performance activism and ethnic/popular dance, I have followed the footsteps of Dr. Sherril Dodds at Temple University and Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown at The Ohio State University. Dr. Dodds’ scholarship has been about popular dance studies which analyzes representation of dance on film and television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” My scholarship is more driven towards social media because I think it is the latest popular stage. Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown wrote a book about how diversity and social activism matter [in dance pedagogy]. As an ethnic minority scholar myself, I think it is so important to recognize the hidden potential of dance education because I think whenever we are teaching a style, we unconsciously imagine race. [Whether it’s] tango, ballroom dance, K-pop, or hip hop, there are certain ethnic images associated with the technique. So I think K-pop is not just bringing trendy choreography, it is also adding Asian ethnicity to dance education. Asian dance styles have been nearly missing in dance education.  

What is your one unique thing you like to include in your classes?

I always integrate practice and theory. In theory courses, I offer a creative assignment; in studio courses, I assign critical reading and writing assignments. 

What is your advice for today’s dance educators?

Let’s teach materials that our students will need in the future. Our global society changes rapidly. One of the issues that we need to solve together is how to bridge the gap because it is important to teach and carry the traditions, but at the same time, we also need to add newly emerging styles. How can we embrace, or become more curious about, what teenagers are doing these days? And how can we at least find a connection between what’s happening now versus what happened in the 1990s? Maybe inviting some guest artists to teach can fulfill [some of] those gaps.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Sign up for any or all of these newsletters

You have Successfully Subscribed!