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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Summer+Arts+students+in+the+K-pop+dance+course+pose+at+the+end+of+their+dance+routine+during+practice+on+July+12+in+the+Music+Building.
Jiselle Cardenas/The Collegian
Summer Arts students in the K-pop dance course pose at the end of their dance routine during practice on July 12 in the Music Building.

Summer Arts gets ahead of the curve with a course and performances devoted to K-pop

The California State University Summer Arts Program has returned to Fresno State’s campus for the summer and is offering a K-pop dance course. Not only will it be the first time for K-pop at Summer Arts, the course coordinator says it’s a first for the country as well.

“It is the first K-pop dance practice class ever offered in a university in the United States,” said Chuyun Oh, the K-pop dance course instructor and associate professor of dance theory at San Diego State University, of the Summer Arts offering.

K-pop is short for Korean popular music that originated in South Korea as part of South Korean culture. The music is often paired with sharp, elaborate choreography specifically made for each song and K-pop idol, Oh said.

“K-pop has been beloved by ethnic, racial, gender and even sexual minorities across the world. It is a social dance, like hip-hop, that advocates many different types of social groups and identities, including young people,” she added.

Fresno audiences will get an opportunity to see professional K-pop artists perform in a public concert on Friday, July 14.

Oh said she is sure the K-pop course will contribute to expanding dance and arts education curriculum as it’s changing. In the past, Western forms of dance, like ballet and modern dance, have been emphasized.

The CSU Summer Arts Program began in 1985 as a summer dance program at CSU Long Beach. Since then, the program has expanded beyond dance to multi-disciplinary arts courses, and for 18 years it has taken place — off and on — at Fresno State.

In February, applications for Summer Arts courses were opened up to students from community, CSU, UC and private campuses or any members of the community over the age of 16. For the K-pop class, a one-page personal statement, resume and video audition were additionally required to apply.

“Art education is always something that people have to fight for,” said Ray Smith, director of Summer Arts. “It’s really special to be able to have this experience as a college student. There are not a lot of programs like this even across the country.”

Smith said that students come from all over the country from various backgrounds and universities, with some students choosing to live on campus while they attend the program like any other student during the year would. She said students came from as far as Brazil this year.

“Being able to centralize our classes and really being at Fresno State, like literally being in the middle of the state, allows us to offer things that people might not normally be able to have,” Smith said.

When classes are planned a year in advance, Smith said that the guest artists being brought in are specifically examined under a diversity, equity and inclusion lens that reflects the diversity of the CSU student population.

The K-pop dance course spans over two weeks from July 10-23 and is led by guest artists, including MJ Choi, a choreographer for KPOP The Musical, K-pop group E’LAST and K-pop cover dance group Lalary.

The class is divided into 3 components: entrepreneurship, K-pop fitness education and K-pop performing arts.

For the first section, students learn how to build a small business using social media and K-pop from Lalary. For the second section, E’LAST teaches students how to maintain their health during physical exercise. The third section focuses on teaching how to present K-pop on a live theater stage, which is led by Choi.

Upon successful completion of the class, students will receive a K-Pop Creator Certificate from Oniz Labs, Oh’s research lab that is registered to Korea Research Institute of Vocational Education and Training, along with three unit credits.

K-pop emerged in the 1980’s and has evolved over the years. The dance choreography matched to the music is a blend of Western influences, including jazz, hip-hop and contemporary dance choreography, On One Studios stated.

“I think the best charm of CSU Summer Arts is that we stay together,” Oh said. “We stay at the dorm Birch Hall with my students, guest artists and me, so it gives a quite intimate sense of community… It is quite an exclusive learning environment because they do not take any other classes, so they could fully focus on the subject that they are learning.”

Oh said SDSU will be offering a K-pop class in the fall instructed by her.

Sumith Goyal, a Fresno State business marketing senior, said he heard about the program through an email from the Cross Cultural and Gender Center and what caught his attention was the guest artists.

“They [guest artists] see the little details that we don’t get to see because we are all basically self-taught in this K-pop course. We would teach ourselves these dances,” Goyal said. “Actually being able to have the professionals in the industry come out here and guide us specifically is amazing. Love it.”

Although his major isn’t arts related, Goyal said Summer Arts could be for anybody because what is taught is so valuable it could be applied to any major.

“Just apply. Try it out because there’s nothing you’re going to regret not trying if you don’t,” he said.

Lia McEllory, a 16-year-old high school student from Pennsylvania, said her mom stumbled upon the Summer Arts program while trying to help Google ways her daughter could get involved with K-pop.

McEllory said she’s very passionate about K-pop, but back home it’s hard to find studios that do anything similar to what the K-pop summer course was offering. She applied for a scholarship to attend the program and was awarded one.

“We had one lecture and I already learned so much more than I thought I would. And then we had a couple dance classes and the community is super nice. So it’s been super fun and very supportive,” she said.

She said the older students and the course have inspired her to think about her future.

“I want to do something with K-pop dance. Like, be a background dancer maybe, or even just do something related to this field,” McEllory said.

At the end of any course under the program, guests artists and students alike hold showcases.

“It might be an exhibition. It might be a full production. It might be a reading of a work in progress that they do, but in some way, shape or form,” said Smith, the director. They share what they’ve learned in two weeks. The showcases are amazing and emotional and they’re really fun.”

In a public concert, Lalary will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, July 14, in the John Wright Theatre and hold a Q&A session after the performance. General admission is $10, seniors are $5 and students are free. The following week, at 4 p.m. Friday, July 21, the students will showcase their K-pop dance in the same theater in a free performance.

“Summer Arts is a really unique program. I hope that we can bring more students into it over time,” Smith said. “We’re really happy to be at Fresno State for as long as we have because we have such a warm, amazing supportive community here.”

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