From Seoul to Chicago: How K-Pop has made its home at DePaul


Lucas Madlangbayan

DePaul student’s dance to Kpop in the Student Center.

Above the hustle and bustle of the DePaul Student Center on a Thursday evening, a conference room transforms into a dance class. Cleared of chairs and tables, the carpeted floor of room 314AB becomes a dance floor as students prepare to dance in unison, from intense hip-hop to upbeat electropop.

The songs on the playlist: Monster by EXO, Panorama by IZ*ONE and Rookie by Red Velvet — all Korean pop groups.

From sold out concerts to McDonalds collabs, Korean pop — better known as K-Pop — has become an international phenomenon, garnering fans from around the world. K-Pop’s catchy music and complex choreography has inspired fans from all over the world to pick up dancing for themselves. In Chicago, random dance play events and dance groups see fans coming together to bond over their love of K-Pop.

“When you combine dancing with K-Pop players like BTS who have been known to help people with mental health issues, and bring it into a fun loving environment, your recipe for helping a lot of people is a success,” Elliot Stine, the founder of WKPOP said. WKPOP is a Chicago-based dance program for women and girls, which focuses on empowering women.

K-Pop has even found its way to DePaul in the form of the DePaul K-Pop Dance Club, shortened to DKDC.

“[DKDC is] a space for anyone who’s interested in K-Pop dancing, even people who don’t have experience with K-Pop, to come in and learn dances and to build community with each other,” Madison Hill, the founder of DKDC, said.

Since its creation in 2019, DKDC has been a no-judgement space to enjoy dancing with other DePaul students. For Hill, being a part of DKDC has also helped improve their physical and mental health.

“My body image and self image has gotten a lot better since I started the club and started dancing more often, and it’s helped to be around other people,” Hill said. “It was definitely harder during the pandemic, when we were all kind of in different places around the country, but it’s always been a space where I can just be myself and become more confident. We’ve made it a space where no one’s judging each other. It doesn’t matter what level you’re coming from, it just matters that you have the motivation and the passion of learning.”

In the wide space of the Student Center’s conference room, a song by the boy band EXO plays over the speakers as the members dance along to the intense music, improving with each repeat. One move, where the entire group sways in unison while the dancer in the middle is supported by two others, proves to be the most difficult challenge of the night — but instead of being discouraged, they continue to practice.

“Dance in general is a pretty good all around physical activity to get healthy,” said Angela Tam, the founding Artistic Director of the Yin He Dance Company. The Yin He Dance Company offers K-Pop classes alongside others such as ballet and Chinese classical dance. “During the pandemic, a lot of people were at home, they barely interacted with other people, especially in person. So going to dance class every week gives you an excuse to really get out there.”

K-Pop is more than just a music trend— for those at DKDC, it has fostered a community where students can grow together.

“From when the group started, I’ve had freshmen from 2019, and now they’re juniors, and I’ve seen their own personal style of dancing grow a lot,” Hill said. “So it’s really cool and fulfilling to see people that were in that first original group start to grow. And with the new people coming in, I can already see the growth of them, even though it’s only been a few weeks.”

“So that’s what’s really important for me, it’s definitely the community,” Hill added. “People are becoming close friends, we’re hanging out a lot more often, and even the newer members are starting to get more comfortable with the older members, and I think that’s what makes me happiest.”

While some have described K-Pop fans as “obsessive,” DKDC shows that K-Pop fans are passionate for the music that brings them together.

“I think a lot of people have a bad rap about Kpop,” Hill said. “I think they see a certain vision of it, like on TV or social media, whatever that people are very, like crazed, but I don’t think that’s true. As someone who’s loved K-pop for four years and who grew up listening to it in my early teenage years, it’s something that people put so much passion and time and energy into. I feel like the dance group is an extension of that love and we’re better able to share our love for music and dancing. I think as long as you’re able to put it into something constructive, I think that love and energy is not a waste at all.”

Just as their practice time finishes, the members of DKDC finally perfect the last part of their dance, moving in unison. The conference-turned-practice room erupts into excited chatter as the dancers, exhausted but beaming, take a well-deserved water break.