Pinay makes mark in K-pop scene
MANILA -- When dusky dance maven Aimee Lee Lucas emerged onstage and gyrated in bed with Korean pop superstar G-Dragon at his solo concert tour four years ago, those few seconds caused a deafening howl that continues to resonate today as one of K-Pop’s most controversial live performances. That very moment, thousands of screaming fangirls wanted either to kill her – or to be her.
It was not by chance that Lucas got that coveted role, as she entered the KPop scene working with some of its best and brightest idols. On her first tour of duty as a dancer, trainer and assistant choreographer, she was given the chance to work with YG Entertainment – home of global superstars like Big Bang, 2NE1 and Psy, among other major talents.
“I went to Korea not knowing much about K-Pop, what the songs were and what the lyrics meant… All I knew was the language of dance,” she said.
Obviously, her dance vocabulary was more than enough to get her involved in major projects that had her performing and designing moves for popular music videos like Big Bang’s "Number 1," Taeyang’s "Wedding Dress," 2NE1’s "Fire" and Park Bom’s "You and I."
Looking back, she recalled that it was quite a daunting experience because YG chairman Yang Hyun Suk was himself a former idol and dancer of renown.
“He was very much involved with developing choreography for the artists and he was also very strict. It was normal for him to stick his head in and observe rehearsals. He knew what he wanted and what he didn’t, and would immediately give us feedback. He was quite hands on,” she reminisced on her memorable experience working for the man who is now widely considered to be one of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in the Korean entertainment industry.
Eventually, Lucas found herself increasingly drawn to the rapidly growing K-Pop culture that she ended up immersed not only in the music but in the lifestyle as well.
“People who are into K-Pop end up appreciating all the elements that go with it, including the fashion, the food, the trends. It’s also a very tight community where everybody knows everyone else. Like among dancers and choreographers, we’d bump into each other in pitching for projects and get to collaborate all the time, not just in Korea but also in the US. We’re all friends,” she said.
From her experience as an insider, what are the factors that make K-Pop click?
“I think there’s a certain DNA to it,” she quipped. “The music needs a strong hook or chorus that’s easy to recall. Visually, the performances should involve very fashion-forward clothes and a choreography that anyone can do. Every song has a different series of movements that fans would identify right away with certain idol groups, so each choreography also has to be unique.”
From singkil to 'Gangnam Style'
Not a few people are surprised when they learn that this K-Pop vixen had no prior knowledge of Korean culture until the day she actually set foot in Seoul. Born and raised in Daly City, Aimee reveals that she and her siblings were brought up in a distinctly Filipino household.
“My father is from the Ilocos and my mother is from Davao. Like many people from their generation, they moved to America to seek a better future for their children. But they also brought a lot of the qualities they grew up with at home. They were strict when it came to our schooling, they taught us to respect our elders and not talk back. They also did a lot of volunteer work with Filipino-American senior citizens and brought us to dances and bingo socials for the lolos and lolas. And, of course, we grew up with lots of Filipino food and cultural experiences within the community, so we were very aware of our roots,” she narrated.
Lucas also revealed that long before she mastered hip-hop, she was already performing singkil and pandanggo sa ilaw with a US-based Philippine dance troupe.
“Dance has always been an extra-curricular activity for me, so I learned ballet and folk dance as a child. But I never sought to be a professional dancer. My parents wanted a more secure life for me and hoped I would be a doctor or a lawyer. Even while I was working in Korea, my dreams were still evolving. I can be very detached that way. When I returned to the States, I became part of an agency in Hollywood that represented dancers and choreographers for overseas bookings. I had a management position, a salary, business cards -- but it was a desk job and I was unhappy. You know, there are moments when desperation can be very scary because the ugly comes out and at the same time, the best comes out too. I don’t know if I was desperate but that’s when the epiphany came that I should go back to doing K-Pop,” she said.
Auspiciously, the universe conspired to give her what her heart desired. And it came in a really large package. In September last year, international media company MNET invited her to organize a "Gangnam Style" flash mob in Los Angeles – a dance event so big it was featured in the popular American news program, "Nightline." For Lucas, it was a clear signal that her pencil-pushing days were over.
“For me, everything is an experiment. I have no expectations and I tend to question every decision I make. Until then, I didn’t really see myself as a choreographer or a teacher. But the experience was almost a testament to myself. I worked with thousands of kids and they loved it and they wanted to learn more. So I held my first class and did everything on my own. Whatever I used to do for other people, I applied it to myself: marketing, advertising, putting up an event, teaching class, doing follow-ups and gathering feedback,” she said.
Not a class but a dance party
It only took a few months for her to realize that she had opened herself up to a whole new enterprise. Last January, she established her own company, Aimee Lee Lucas LLC, which has seen her dancing, teaching, choreographing, judging and organizing dance events non-stop since.
“Just this month, I’d be in four countries doing workshops,” she said, with classes in the US, Singapore, the Philippines and France filling up her calendar over the next few weeks.
In Manila, Lucas is teaming up with the Philippine K-Pop Committee Inc. for an exclusive, one-day-only dance class and meet and greet session -- “PKCI x Aimee Lee Lucas Dance K-Pop” -- which will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 12, at the Starmall EDSA function hall.
Lucas said the event is open to all K-Pop fans, with no dancing ability required. Knowing how learning those tricky dance routines can be quite intimidating for most people, she came up with the idea of holding MVPs or Music Video Parties, where she teaches the choreography to popular K-Pop hits by breaking down the steps and making it fun for all the participants.
“They can relax because it’s not a class, it’s a party! And it’s open to all ages too, so you can bring your mom or your lola and dance all you can,” she said.
The amiable instructor is also very grateful for the support she has been receiving from the international K-Pop community, especially in organizing events around the world, as well as for volunteering their services in manning her various social media sites.
She also now has her own dance crew, MVP Elite, which she claims is composed mainly of non-professional dancers brought together by their common love for K-Pop.
“K-Pop has become really huge everywhere, not just in Asia. Everywhere I teach, most of my students are actually non-Koreans. It’s like a virus that spreads so quickly because of the fashion, the music… And it’s really universal. You don’t have to understand the lyrics to know that it’s a very happy, positive, upbeat, catchy song. K-Pop reaches out to everyone and I’m so proud to be part of that scene,” she said.