Photo of the day: 1 Million Dance Studio.
It was finally time to head over to the infamous Gangnam district of Seoul. It’s about time and this is why. One of my goals for this trip was to take a dance class in Korea. I’ve always been very impressed by Korean dancers and really love their interpretation of dance whether it is modern, jazz or hip hop. Their “music video” or “k-pop” style dance can also be very girly, which is a style that I really like. I found a few dance studios in Seoul, which are more foreigner-friendly, and the ones I was most interested in had their studios in Gangnam. I originally decided on 1 Million Studios. It was a top-notch studio, with millions of YouTube subscribers (myself included), and past contracts with entertainment companies. for those interested, this was the first of their videos that I watched a while ago that really impressed me. I’ve read/watched some reviews on people’s experiences there, which made me change my mind. I got very intimidated. It sounded like a very intense class with many students lining up 30 minutes to 1 hour before class just to get into the class, hoping to impress their instructor/idol. I also read that even the beginner’s classes were still quite difficult to follow. I just wanted to have fun and all this did not sound too fun, so I’ve been putting this off.
Instead, I chose Def Dance School. They also offer vocal and modelling training as well and appeared to be quite a professional performing arts school. They also supposedly had English-speaking staff and instructors. The studio was located near Seolleung station, so we got off there instead of the more central Gangnam station. We walked around for a bit and found a nice, cozy restaurant serving Japanese food called Yurikamome. I did not want to overeat before dancing so I just had a fish-cake udon. Aaron had the lunch set menu with Tonkatsu and a mini-udon as well as other side dishes. I was pleasantly surprised that I got a couple pickled side dishes too with my udon. One can always expect to find side dishes with their meals in South Korea. The broth was very tasty and peppery, perfect for a cold winter day. The Tonkatsu was delicious and the portion-size was huge! This is a trend we have noticed. The meals here are definitely North American-sized, compared to the smaller portion-sizes found in Thailand and Vietnam. It was a nice simple meal and before long, I had to get walking to the studio.
One thing I noticed about the fashion here is that people don’t wear boots. I’ve only seen foreigners wearing them. I did not understand because in Canada, almost everyone wears boots in the winter. Today, I finally saw people wearing boots and it was because it was snowing earlier today. It makes perfect sense now. In Canada, where it was always raining (Vancouver) or snowing (Ottawa), we needed to wear boots to keep our feet dry. Here, there is not as much precipitation, so it was not necessary! Well apparently my boots are not that waterproof because it was now raining and my socks were soaked. That is not a problem because you can get cute socks for 1000 KRW almost anywhere in Seoul.
I finally found the studio and was super excited! I walked up and checked with the front desk where the girl k-pop class was happening. The staff did not speak that much English but I got my point across and she asked me to go upstairs to register. I went upstairs to their main office and filled out a form, got my picture taken and then paid. I was asked to go back downstairs for the class. I was introduced to the instructor downstairs. That was when I found out that it is the end of the month and they were at the end of their choreographies. I wouldn’t really be able to catch up with all that has been taught already, so she said it was up to me whether I could just watch or I can just cancel the transaction. Again, that took a while to get through since she did not speak any English. So I went back upstairs to get my class refunded. They were happy to do so initially but later explained that because I used a foreign credit card, it would be more difficult for me to get a refund and they do not know how long it will take. They again offered that I can watch the class instead. I insisted I preferred a refund since it’s really no fun just watching a dance class and they said they will apply for it. So I am not sure if I will get the refund but we will see. So, as you can probably tell, I was pretty disappointed. I wish I knew I wouldn’t be able to participate in the class before registering and paying.
The weather matched my mood as I strolled through the rain to meet up with Aaron at The Bean Brothers near Gangnam station. It was a really nice coffee shop with lots of space for working. There was plenty of seating by the window and really fast wifi. The only downside is the price of the drinks! I should expect that in Seoul, coffee and tea at a nice cafe should cost 6000 KRW (~$6.90 CAD) and up.
I quickly got to work on blogging, but in the back of my mind, I still haven’t given up on dancing. I was no longer dissuaded by the intimidation and decided to go try 1 Million Dance Studios. It was quite a few stations away, so I took the subway. It was rush hour so I got to experience what it was like to be packed into the subway like sardines. You would think there was no longer any space but you are then pushed further and further in to make room for more and more people. It was quite impressive actually. Impressive, but not comfortable.
It took me around 30 minutes to get to the studio by subway, which tells you how big Gangnam really is, since it’s still in the same neighbourhood. It was only 30 minutes away from the class start time now and I was crossing my fingers that there I would make it in the class. I was pleasantly surprised that there were no crowds in front of the studio. This was probably because I was taking the beginner’s class with a newer instructor – Minyoung. I did see the crowd downstairs for the popular Mina Myoung’s class. You can take a look here to watch her more advanced choreography. The staff spoke English very well and she helped me process my payment right away. I got my photo taken just like with Def Dance and then had to set up a code for me to use when I attend any classes. It’s more relevant for people who paid for several classes to prove their identity. I was told to go upstairs to place my belongings on this huge shelf. I returned to the studio downstairs and then was told to enter my code while waiting in line. The instructor was practicing inside the studio and we were only allowed in right at the start of class. The instructor teaching this class was Minyoung, who apparently is a student-turned-teacher. I have seen her choreographies previously and liked her style. You can watch it here. The instruction was all in Korean, which is not a problem because dance is more about following movements than listening. The experience was really not that intense! I really liked the 90 minutes of class compared to the usual 60 minutes that I get in Canada. It gives us a lot of time to repeat the choreography to cement it to our memory. Like most dance classes, the last 8-count of choreography did not get as much love and was not given as much time. The class ended with the instructor splitting us up into group of 3’s to perform in front of everyone else. This is when many people pulled out their phones to film the instructor or ask others to film themselves. If you performed particularly well during the class, you were asked to dance with the instructor as the last group, concluding the class. I was pretty relieved today was not a filming day, so you will not be seeing me on YouTube. Overall, I had a very pleasant experience and it definitely wasn’t as intimidating as I originally thought it would be. I enjoyed the choreography, although it wasn’t as k-popish or girly as I hoped. It has definitely resparked my interest to try to take dance classes more regularly again. I did catch a glimpse of Mina Myoung’s class downstairs though and that class was packed with people and there was a lot of floor choreo with some butt waving going on, so I would probably not have survived that. Feeling very content, I head back to Gangnam station to meet up with Aaron for dinner.
We finally got to walk around the Gangnam station area a bit and found a very attractive Dakgalbi restaurant on one of the side streets called Happy Yoongane. We originally were heading to a Nolboo for some Budae Jjigae but we could not say no to such temptations. We ordered 2 servings of the original chicken Galbi with a side of cheese and rice. They also had an option with a whole outer ring of cheese but we figured that was too intense. If there is one thing Koreans like, we discovered, it was cheese. They add it in everything – even lattes! A huge pan was placed in front of us, then some marinaded chicken and rice cakes were placed in the pan for us. They placed a huge metal fence around the pan to prevent splatter. The server would come by every few minutes to help us cook, eventually adding the cabbage and cheese to the mixture. Then finally she removed the metal barricade and it was time to eat. First bite was amazing! What was even more amazing what as when I added the rice in to soak up all the sauce. The sweet and salty taste of the chicken, fresh sweetness of the cabbage, stringy cheese and softness of the rice, was the perfect combination for a happy belly. They had a self-serve side dishes station, where there was a delicious creamy macaroni salad, in case you wanted to add more comfort to this comfort meal.
We decided we could not come to Gangnam without checking out the nightlife here so we found a cozy bar called 알콜패밀리, full of locals, to try some Korean rice wine (Makgeolli). The menu was all in Korean so I just asked for some Makgeolli. Apparently there were many flavours. Google Translate saved us as the server used it to explain what the different flavours were. We asked him which is the most popular one and he suggested the chestnut-flavoured Makgeolli. He gave us these metal bowls to drink out of which was interesting. It came in quite a large bottle, so I am glad he stopped me from ordering 2 at once. It looked quite milky and smelled sweet. The taste was quite sweet and very easy to drink. You can taste a little bit of the nuttiness and it was nice. Apparently, it originally appealed only to farmers and older people but now it has gained more popularity amongst younger people, especially Korean rappers (see source here).
We would’ve loved to enjoy the bustling Gangnam some more but we had to catch the last train at midnight. Despite the little hiccup at the beginning of the day, we quite enjoyed our time here in Gangnam. We definitely need to come back to check out this glitzy neighbourhood.