June 4, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 52°F

Life & Culture

Electric K-pop performances rock Emerson Suites

As the crowd excitedly waves their blue glow sticks back and forth, cheering on the names of the dancers and lip singing along to their favorite K-pop songs, the dynamic opening number “PTT (Paint The Town)” by LOONA commences, setting an electric tone for the entire showcase.

On April 16, KATALYST K-Pop put on its latest performance, “OUR_WORLD,” in Emerson Suites with about 100 people in attendance. KATALYST is the first and only K-pop dance group on campus and was founded in Fall 2018, with no prior dance experience necessary to join. KATALYST performed 15 group numbers, set to songs and choreography by popular artists like SEVENTEEN, SHINee and Orange Caramel. The energetic evening also featured guest performances by Pulse Hip Hop, E.Motion, Ground-Up and Island Fusion.


Senior Sherleen Vargas is the president of KATALYST and has been a part of the club since her first year on campus. Vargas said the title of the showcase is named after the last dance: “_WORLD” by SEVENTEEN.

“We thought that it would fit nicely with what we were trying to do,” Vargas said. “We were trying to show everyone our world, the world we’ve been living in since we started liking K-pop. And for me specifically, it was the world I’ve been living in with KATALYST for the past four years.”

First-year student Minhty Ha joined KATALYST during Fall 2022 after doing gymnastics for 13 years and wanting to try something new in college. On top of being in nine dances, Ha also taught two of them — “Secret Story of the Swan” by IZ*ONE and “90’s Love” by NCT U. Each week of preparing for the showcase is devoted to one dance before moving on to a new one the following week.

“In that week, you can get really close to the people you’re learning it with,” Ha said. “The people are amazing; they’re all super sweet.”

Over the past decade, K-pop has become one of the most popular musical genres worldwide, with some of the most popular artists including TWICE, Red Velvet and BLACKPINK. Ha started listening to K-pop in 2018 through the popular band BTS and has been a fan ever since.

“All their songs are very meaningful and honestly came to me when I was at my lowest point,” Ha said. “They talk a lot about mental health, so I really related to it.”

K-pop is also known for bringing together different styles and genres from all over the world, with artists releasing songs in many languages, like Japanese, English and Chinese. For Vargas, K-pop means a community of people, regardless of race and ethnicity, coming together to appreciate talented individuals. They started getting into K-pop in November 2018 because of a collaboration between “League of Legends” and (G)I-DLE.

“I don’t think that K-pop is a genre of music anymore,” Vargas said. “I feel like now it’s become its own culture, its own community.”

Along with MCs checking in every few numbers and playing a Korean game with the audience titled “Cham Cham Cham, where two people have to avoid pointing and turning their head the same way, Korean snacks like Choco Pie, Milkis and Konjac Jelly were provided for people to enjoy. Vargas said this was the first time KATALYST provided food at a performance after senior Gabrielle Shapiro, treasurer of KATALYST, suggested the idea.

“K-pop isn’t K-pop without Korean culture attached to it,” Vargas said. “We wanted our audience to be able to experience some traditional Korean snacks as well as getting exposed to a Korean game.”

Graduate student Mark Gregory said he came to see the show to support friends and loved seeing the dancers perform with smiles on their faces. 

“After seeing KATALYST dance from my sophomore year to now, they’ve improved so much,” Gregory said. “The production quality of everything. I was just proud of them. The costumes were crazy. I know they had to make changes and they took their time, but it was definitely worth it.”

Ha said that she felt the performance went well and hopes to teach more dances next year.

“Even the stressful parts like the quick changes were fun, it was such a good thrill,” Ha said. “It was just nice to see all of our hard work pay off.”

Despite being a smaller dance organization on campus with 16 members, Vargas said the bond between members is what makes them special.

“We eat lunch together every day and it isn’t enforced by any of us,” Vargas said. “We’re all really, really close friends. All of us are always trying our best and motivated to learn new dances.”

Over the past four years, Vargas said KATALYST has grown and was able to get more funding for “OUR_WORLD” than previous showcases after successfully requesting money from the Student Governance Council for food and three costumes per dancer.

“It’s honestly still a fever dream,” Vargas said. “I can’t believe that it’s over. If I could do it again and just repeat, I would.”

Matt Minton can be reached at mminton@ithaca.edu