A committed fan of korean culture

Walking into Traditional Korean Dance Academy and Korean Performing Arts, freshman Kayla Cho feels apprehensive as she attends her first practice. Upon entering, Cho witnesses the synchronized hitting of the Korean drum and is amazed by the loud sound and sight of it and watches in astonishment as a fan shapes into a colorful flower. After watching the spectacle of graceful movements and listening to the traditional music, Cho decided to give it a try.

Korean dance includes different types of traditional instruments, such as the two-way drum and the three-way drum, or janggu, and styles like scarf and knife dancing. Cho learned about Korean dancing after watching various YouTube videos of performances, and a family friend suggested she join the academy. From there, she began attending practices twice a week, preparing for an upcoming performance for “The Tempest,” a Shakespeare Orange County production.

Practices at the academy are two times a week. At these practices, fan dancing, scarf dancing, drums and three-way drums are practiced. Fan dancing is more elegant than the other dances, while the drums are more intense. Cho found the three-way drum to be more challenging at first, but she was inspired to continue with the three-way-drum and finds it easy to perform with it.

“When I first entered the academy, it was really hard for me to adapt because I didn’t know what Korean dancing was, and I never danced in my life,” Cho said. “I never [had] any rhythm. I wanted to quit because it was so hard, but I realized that it’s going to benefit me because I like to be out in the world, and I knew I liked the sport.”

One of Cho’s more recent performances was at the Buckboard Days parade Oct. 19 in Rowland Heights where she performed the janggu, which requires the dancer to arch her back while hitting the drum.

“The [janggu] is one of the hardest instruments,” Cho said. “There is a certain rhythm and there’s different parts of it that need to be to hit to make different sounds, so it’s harder for me.”

Cho also performed at the annual KCon convention Aug. 13, 2018 at the Staples Center. During the week of KCon, Cho attended rehearsals three to four times a week to prepare as opposed to just two practices a week.

“KCon was really exciting because I met a lot of new people,” Cho said. “It was a very pressuring because it was such a big event, and we had to go to rehearsals three or four times a week from afternoon to night. We were trying to get everything perfect.”

Cho participated in her first performance when she was 11 for “The Tempest.” She performs with her group from the academy. For her first performance, Cho was in the back for most of the dance. Cho now performs the janggu along with fan, scarf and knife dancing.

“Fan dancing requires a lot of teamwork. If you don’t have teamwork with people, it will be hard to make an image so vivid,” Cho said. “Dancing puts my mind into a different place, and I can connect to everyone else because we all have our own places.”

Cho also performs at elderly homes as community service. This is something Cho would like to continue doing. Cho has performed twice at the elderly home, which is in Orange County. She first performed there with her friend, and she now performs at the elderly home alone after getting used to it.

“This is an opportunity that I can help older people,” Cho said. “Korean traditional dance isn’t known to a lot of people, so when I [participate in] community service, it makes them happy because they know what it is and enjoy watching it.”

During rehearsals and performances, the dancers are required to wear three different dresses. The first dress has a short jacket clipped over the red and yellow dresses, and when the dancers spin, the two colors show. The second dress resembles a tail that wraps around the dancers in an effort to shape their body. The last dress is shaped like a box. The same red and yellow dresses are used, but accessories such as clips are used to adjust the dresses. 

“Practices during the week of a performance are more serious because the teacher really pressures us,” Cho said. “If someone messes up then the entire group has to restart from the beginning, so you just need to focus more.”

Cho practices at the academy with her friends from different grade levels. During the week of a competition, Cho practices four times a week, from afternoon until night.

“I have a family [at the academy] because I know everybody there and we don’t really care about positions, but the teacher likes to shuffle people around so we know the feeling of being in the center or back,” Cho said. “Everyone thinks the back isn’t important. But being in the back is really important because the sound comes from there.”

Although Cho is unsure of whether or not she will continue performing Korean traditional dancing, she will treasure her experiences gained from performing in public. 

“I like Korean dancing because I’ve done it for so long now, so I know what to do and everything comes naturally,” Cho said. “I’ve made new relationships with the people around me. It makes me really happy.”

By Sajjan Sandhu, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Kayla Cho