Choreographer Ahn Hyung Suk can take from just 20 minutes to two days to come up with the dance steps for a song. -- PHOTO: MARK CHEONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Renowned Korean choreographer Ahn Hyung Suk says some of the best dancers among the K-pop stars are Kim Hyo Yeon of Girls' Generation, and Lee Min Woo and Jun Jin of Shinhwa.
The 37-year-old says through an interpreter: 'Sometimes due to the body shape of females, they can't perform the male dances, but Hyo Yeon can do everything.
'Also, Min Woo and Jun Jin are better because they started dancing before becoming singers, hence they look more professional.'
He would know. After all, Ahn - who says he can tell if someone can dance with just one look - is one of the most highly sought-after dance directors. His reputation has spread beyond South Korea to places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Besides working with mega K-pop groups such as Super Junior, he helped Hong Kong Heavenly King Leon Lai bust the moves as his concert dance director in the 2000s.
Taiwanese dancing diva Jolin Tsai engaged his services too. He worked on her moves for her album, Myself (2010), and the choreography for her song Honey Trap, in which she experimented with vogue, a modern dance style.
Remember Girls' Generation breakout chart-topper Gee (2009), which currently has over 78 million views on YouTube? Ahn is responsible for the group's deceptively simple moves. They have been copied by fans, including middle-aged men, around the world.
He is also the dance mastermind behind veteran boyband Shinhwa's comeback hit Venus (2012), and has been working with them since 2000.
The veteran was in town in May for a short visit and spoke to Life! about his latest project with cafe chain Thai Express founder Ivan Lee. The artist training programme is called the Lechao K-pop Dream Package and marks Mr Lee's foray into the South Korean entertainment business.
The career programme in Seoul begins on July 22 and involves professional dance, voice and styling classes, a class by Lee from Shinhwa, and a chance for budding stars to audition for Lechao or companies such as Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Joon's KeyEast.
With at least 18 years of experience in the K-pop industry under his belt, Ahn - who had dreams of stardom himself and established dance performance group Standby in 1999 - now wants to set up his own entertainment company and groom future global stars.
1 You saw the mega success of Girls' Generation after Gee, and their dance was copied by everyone. Did you ever imagine K-pop would go global?
(Laughs) I could never imagine this happening 10 years ago. Whenever I created a dance, only Koreans would know. Then, the Korean market was very small. Compared to Japanese artists, our songs and performance were underdeveloped. But K-pop is now everywhere. Every time I go overseas, I see my moves.
2 How long does it take to come up with hypnotising dance moves, and what inspires you?
It could take a couple of days, but for Gee, it took only 20 minutes. Songs have different parts and I don't incorporate strong dance moves for the first part, just small ones. In a three- or four-minute song, I just catch that one part and that one move that people can easily recognise.
3 What makes K-pop so successful?
The secrets of K-pop's success include the song's hook and dance. When you compare a K-pop idol group to idol groups from other countries, you can tell the difference in their dance. Everybody is perfectly synchronised, but it's also the repeated dance actions during the hook that hypnotises you.
4 What are some of latest dance trends in K-pop today?
Two or three years ago, the trend was hip-hop. Last year, it was the shuffle dance. Recently, there has been no such thing because everyone's trying to mix it up and come up with new things.
5 What are some of the dance mishaps that you have encountered when working with K-pop idols?
(Laughs) During one of Shinhwa's music videos in 2002, for the album Perfect Man, the lighting almost fell on Min Woo and I pushed it away. He almost died. From that moment, we became like brothers.
6 How much say do you have when choreographing a K-pop song for the idols?
Everything is planned and defined by the company. The producers will ask me for a lot of things, for example, to make a dance for a certain song that people can easily follow. Or if the song is more masculine and the idol group have to wear leather jackets. Nobody can follow the dance steps, they have to be complicated. But I do tell them what I think and we come up with something together.
7 What was it like working with Leon Lai and Jolin Tsai?
Leon Lai's company called me after he watched Shinhwa's Wild Eyes (2001) music video, which has a popular dance where the members dance with chairs. I've been his concert dance director for almost 10 years and we became friends. He speaks Korean fluently so we can communicate well.
Jolin was a little bit more distant, and I didn't know who she was when her company called me. I knew how famous she was only after I taught her. She's very smart and learnt the moves quickly.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
As a creator of dance, I'm quite satisfied with my current status and what I've achieved so far. But now I'd like to produce a competitive company, just like or better than YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, which were set up by dance directors too, and be remembered for it.