This is the second part of a mini-series on talented foreign dancers who have been recruited by K-pop agencies to choreograph dances for their groups. See Part 1 about Bailey Sok.
Ronnie Chen is a Singaporean dancer who is rather well established in the Singapore dance scene after his recent comeback from a hiatus. He has choreographed for popular K-pop group Tomorrow X Together, also known as TXT, a boy group under HYBE - the South Korean entertainment agency behind the globally successful boy band BTS.
Via Bandwagon Asia
Ronnie started as a dancer, but began to take up full-time choreographing and coaching at a studio in 2011 as part of his first full-time job. He took a gap year in 2017 and continued freelancing in 2020. He subsequently went on to teach dance to students in schools, being a coach for co-curricular activities.
Ronnie has had previous experience in choreographing for dance films and competitions, in addition to being a studio instructor. One of his 2019 projects, a choreography for SGD in the Open Division at World Supremacy Battlegrounds (WSB) Singapore, won 3rd place.
Video URL: https://youtu.be/1diUUTS8jyI
Ronnie thought it was a spam email at first
He received the first email from HYBE sometime in June or July of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He recalled that during that time, Singapore was still in lockdown from the pandemic. The local arts community was badly affected, with mass gatherings and dance classes put on hold.
The email he received from HYBE had requested for him to contact their representative through WhatsApp, something which he thought was rather strange and informal. However, he decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a legitimate offer.
HYBE decided to contact him because of a dance video that he had filmed and uploaded 10 years ago
Back in 2010-2011, Ronnie had choreographed and uploaded a video featuring a dance performance with the accompanying song Showgirl by Blue Robinson. It was the video that convinced HYBE that they wanted to hire him to do the choreography for Tomorrow X Together’s upcoming title track.
Video URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFc04IruRSo
He hadn’t expected that a video that was posted so long ago would be the one that eventually landed him a job offer for such a large project.
Ronnie accepted the offer and began discussions with the HYBE team on what was expected of the choreography.
He was one of two Singaporeans involved in creating the choreography for songs on Tomorrow X Together’s 2020 album Blue Hour
Ronnie choreographed parts of the dance for Blue Hour, the 2020 title track single released by Tomorrow X Together from their album of the same name.
Interestingly enough, he was not the only Singaporean choreographer involved in preparing the dance for songs on the album. Another fellow Singaporean dancer, Alif Aircho (who will be featured in the third part of Dancers Spotlight), was also contacted by HYBE to choreograph another song in the album.
Some local Singaporean K-pop fans, especially fans of Tomorrow X Together, were elated and proud to find out that Singaporean dancers had been involved in creating the choreography for their favorite group, with a post on the r/kpopthoughts subreddit reaching 118 upvotes.
The commenters were excited to learn that dancers from a small country like Singapore had been noticed and scouted by a large entertainment agency like HYBE, to produce work for a K-pop group that had an international audience and following.
Choreographing for K-pop was a different experience
Ronnie had to do a lot of research for this project since it was his first time choreographing for the K-pop industry, and also his first time creating a dance that would be showcased on such a large scale. He watched many of the group’s dance videos and live performances to get an idea of the scale of the performance and the level of difficulty of the dance which would be expected.
The local restrictions on travel and studio rentals imposed by the pandemic also threw a spanner in the works. The pandemic had disrupted international travel, and so Ronnie had to do the job remotely as he couldn’t travel to Korea.
He recalled how he started out filming the choreography in his living room while wearing his pajamas, before managing to rent a studio at short notice once lockdown restrictions were lifted in Singapore.
The process of creating the choreography took place on a rather small scale for him, in comparison to the larger reach of the eventual product. He created most of the choreography in a small rented studio with a few dancers.
The format of a K-pop performance was also different from regular dance choreographies. Ronnie had to keep in mind that the K-pop artists would be singing live and dancing at the same time. He also had to account for many formation changes and to make sure to give each member of the group a position in the center of the formation to highlight them when they were singing their parts in the song.
Ronnie acknowledged that the process was made easier because HYBE had a clear idea of what they wanted from the choreography. He was sent the song with loosely translated lyrics and worked on the dance from there.
One of his proudest moments of the entire experience was choreographing the dance for the jacket switch, which is a dance break that occurs at the final part of the song. It was a tricky move to execute since it had to take place live.
Ronnie did his best to film a video explaining how it would be executed. At first, he was worried about the message not being delivered enough to the HYBE team due to the language barrier but was thrilled to find out that it made its way into the final choreography in the end.
Video URL: https://youtu.be/bonWRz4BSBs
The music video for Blue Hour has garnered more than 161 million views at the time of writing. The two accompanying choreography videos have also reached more than 4 million and 10 million views respectively.
Video URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODM1B2f-VcQ
The entire process, from the day Ronnie got the email to the day the choreography was finalized and sent over to HYBE, took place over about three weeks.
The experience was an eye-opening one for Ronnie. Before taking on this job, he did not have much knowledge about K-pop and learned more about it through his research on Tomorrow X Together’s music, choreography, and music videos.
Given the stigma that he knew existed around K-pop, K-pop idols and K-pop cover dancers, he tried his best to go into the job with an open mind and not to let any assumptions get in the way of understanding what was expected of him in the choreography.
Since the music video was released, he has also gotten positive reactions from the students at schools where he teaches dance classes. Many of them know Tomorrow X Together or are fans of the group and K-pop as a whole, and are excited to learn that he has choreographed for the group before.
Because the choreography segment is such a large and central part of K-pop, Ronnie felt glad and honored to be able to work on something so popular and important and to also be a part of something which his students are interested in and inspired by.
“It’s kind of like when you get to play a superhero,” Ronnie said in his recent 2022 interview with Bandwagon Asia. “It is very cool to be that for them (the students).”