Q&A with popping legend KYO (Pt. 1)
Have you ever heard of the dancing technique popping? Even if you're not familiar with this style of dance by name, you have probably seen it in the moves of iconic dancers like Michael Jackson, and even mixed into the choreographies of more contemporary dancers. KYO, one of our instructors, is the dancer who pioneered the field of popping in Korea. Watch a Q&A interview with him below, where he talks about how he started popping, what inspires him, and other aspects of dance. (The transcript of the interview is included below.)
KYO: Hello, my name is KYO and I’m a choreographer. I’ve trained Big Bang, 2NE1, Red Velvet, Seventeen, and more, and created choreographies as well.
I’ve been active as a street dancer for about 27 years and as a choreographer for about 8 years.
Q: Are there exercises that can help us be better at popping
A: Rather than a specific dance that helps with popping, mainly you need to have good stamina. Popping is a dance that takes a lot of energy, so if you lack stamina, it’s difficult to pop (or flex your muscles for the popping motion) and you can get tired quickly from flexing your arms. To do these things, you need good stamina first and foremost.
Q: What routines can we do to practice popping?
A: There are some basic popping routines that you would need as a beginner learning popping, but I don’t really practice these things anymore. I’ve been popping for so long that my body is accustomed to these things. Instead there are some basics to popping like flex, walkout, old man, wave, pop, flex, Egyptian twist… there are a lot of basic techniques, and I’ll teach you everything during ED Online classes.
Q: How can we make our popping more powerful?
With popping, consistent practice is important. It’s just like a sport. If you take a break, your pops can lose power. So it’s important to keep popping with your muscles and it’s important to make sure you’re used to that feeling. If you keep doing it consistently, you will improve a little by little.
Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching popping?
A: To first tell you the good thing about popping is that it can actually be danced to any music. Pop isn’t just a technique, and there are many different elements of popping. There are different techniques such as wave, roboting, control, strobing, and more. Of course, typically you would dance to the beat, but you can also dance to classical music, R&B, or even rock. You can control it in different ways depending on the music so it’s a big strength of popping that you can use it to dance to different genres of music.
Q: What is your favorite popping move?
A: I actually like movements based on control. What I mean by this is just like how when we sing, we control the dynamics or we have high and low notes. In popping, rather than having only strong pops, we have elements such as small or delicate details, or even outside of the pops there’s tension. It can be fast or slow, and there are pops but when we release, there is a control of the strength or intensity. I really like these controls, so you could say that I enjoy dancing like how you sing.
Q: What is the most common mistake people make when they start learn popping?
A: One mistake that beginners make the most often is that they try to make their pops strong and miss the beat. Strong pops don’t indicate that you’re good at popping. It’s more important that the popping conveys different emotions. People make this mistake, and when you move your shoulders and are too tense because you’re trying to pop too hard, you can’t control your own strength and this looks more unstable and the movements look unnatural. Even if your pops aren’t strong, you need to practice popping with movements in a more natural way. Instead of focusing on strength over all else, it’s important to understand how to control and use your own muscles, so just like in today’s class it’s important to practice at different strength levels, use double pops, small pops, medium pops, and so on. I wish people would focus less on strength.
Q: Who is your inspiration, especially when you first started popping?
A: There’s a lot. I really like Michael Jackson. In Korea, I’m a big fan of Poppin’ Hyun Joon. If you look at Michael Jackson’s dancing, he uses a lot of very famous pop techniques, such as backsliding or the moonwalk. Very clean-cut movements and excellent control. So when I first saw them, I didn’t know they were popping techniques. Someone from the old generation of popping was actually Michael Jackson’s teacher. So later, I learned that these are all popping techniques. So there’s that, and Poppin’ Hyun Joon in Korea. I used to do hip hop, but when I saw him doing popping, I thought that was very cool. At the time, I didn’t think to try it out myself, but in Korea there’s a teacher called Poppin Ryu, and I started popping after I met him. So then I also became a fan of Poppin’ Hyun Joon. Videos of Michael Jackson and Poppin’ Hyun Joon continue to inspire me a lot.
Q: What was the hardest part about learning popping for you?
A: I’m not actually very flexible. My body’s not that flexible, so initially I tried to mimic that. I copied difficult techniques and tried to flip my back over. I tried these things, but my body’s just not cut out for these things, so I tried to find and practice things that fit me better. Things like that? Things that require flexibility are difficult for me so I avoid that.
Q: How popping is different from other style of dances?
A: The definition of popping is actually whether I’m using pop in my movements or not. If people look at a dance and can recognize it as popping, the movements incorporate pops as a technique. For example if I’m not using pops like this, it can seem different, but the difference is whether or not I’m using pops in my movements. So there can be basic elements of popping in the movements but these days popping dancers apply them in so many different ways. It can seem like hip hop movements in one way and freestyle dance in a different way, but pops are used in those movements sometimes these days. So popping movements have become very diverse lately. Rather than defining something as popping or not popping, you should think of movements that mainly focus on pops as popping.
Q: How is popping used in other forms of dance?
A: Let's say for example that we are dancing to a choreo and move like this. Using pop, with pop. Movements like this are put together with popping so it can be a pop technique, and something like a wave you can also do with a pop, and a movement like this you can do it without a pop or also simultaneously with a pop, when you are grooving to the rhythm you can just do that or incorporate pops into it, so all these things can be considered popping techniques. But I don’t think it’s very important whether something is or isn’t popping because it uses pops.
Q: Last class, you said we should think of popping as a technique necessary to dancing rather than a genre. If people thought of popping just as a genre, what do you think would have happened?
A: The question is a little awkward, but here is what I want to say. The old method of teaching dancing used to be by dividing dances by genre. For example, popping, locking, hip hop, or house. But now choreographies have become so trendy and different genres are being mixed within. If popping was separated, I think it would have been quite political. With the old methods of popping, for example you had to wear a popping costume or dance to popping music, so you had to move within the basic frames of popping. Now, you can use ground moves, sometimes you can groove and pop, or use tutting, waves, or other creative moves. So I think if popping was separated like it used to be, younger dancers these days wouldn’t use popping much. Instead, I actually want a more open interpretation and I want to show people that you can do popping in different ways, or to K-pop or more contemporary music.
Watch him in action at our studio, popping to Jessi!
We hope you enjoyed this interview, and learned some things about KYO and about popping.
Click the image below to take a Popping class with KYO!