Occidental’s K-Tigers don’t need ‘permission to dance’

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K-Tigers practicing in the dressing room of Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, April 7, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Between performing on the Academic Quad to songs like “OMG” by New Jeans and participating in off-campus events such as the showcase We Are Boba x BTS Army, chances are you have seen Occidental’s K-Tigers in action. They’ve dazzled in performances, but out of the spotlight, the club has grown and developed since its founding in 2022.

According to co-president and co-founder Ariel Shweiki (junior), the K-Tigers meet every Tuesday night in the dance studio to workshop a new song with only one specific criterion: all the songs featured are in the K-Pop genre. Shweiki said each new dance is taught by a different club member who picks the song that the group will dance to. Instead of creating their own choreography, they learn dances already performed in the song’s music video.

“We learn chunks of the song at a time,” Shweiki said. “It’s up to the dance teacher of that week how they want to structure it, but they usually just teach a chunk and then we practice it slow with music. By the end of [the workshop] we’re able to speed it up and do the whole thing.”

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K-Tigers practicing in the dressing room of Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, April 7, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Neither the teachers nor the participants of each workshop are required to have any dance experience, according to Shweiki, just an excitement to learn with the group.

“We pretty much want the opportunity [of choreographing] to be open to anyone because a huge thing of what we strive for is this idea of amateurs teaching amateurs,” Shweiki said. “I’ve taught twice and I don’t have any dance experience, which I think is really cool.”

E-board member Abigail Sajdak (sophomore) said that welcoming dancers of all skill levels is so important that it is both written into the club’s constitution and noted in each email the club sends to the student body.

“We encourage everyone to come,” Sajdak said. “We have a lot of people on our e-board and in our club that wouldn’t consider themselves dancers, but they still come because they have an interest in K-Pop or their friends are in the club. I think it’s just important that we have this space for people to explore something new or explore an interest.”

The more casual environment sets K-Tigers apart from other on-campus groups like Dance Pro, according to Shweiki. But, there is also a deeper fan community through K-Pop, which e-board member and co-founder Leila Moassessi (sophomore) said goes beyond dancing.

“There’s a culture around buying K-Pop albums, trading them, watching music videos and streaming them together with your friends,” Moassessi said. “We don’t just focus on dancing, we focus on these other aspects of K-Pop that make the community so different.”

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K-Tigers practicing in the dressing room of Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, April 7, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

This appreciation for the depth of K-Pop fan culture is how the club came to be. Shweiki said that the club was first pitched through Tzu Kit Chan (senior) as a K-Pop club. After a few informal meetings, Chan decided to step back and Shweiki said she was excited to seize the opportunity to lead.

“I think that I’ve always had a confidence about leading,” Shweiki said. “It’s something that I’m passionate about, and [K-Tigers] was an extracurricular that I [knew] I would pour my time into fully.”

Shweiki works alongside other co-president Christina Yu (senior). According to Shweiki, the dual-leadership system is crucial to the club’s success.

“Christina is super awesome,” Shweiki said. “We work really well together and we’ve kind of established within our club that we don’t ever want there to be one president, because we want people to bounce ideas off each other, always communicate with each other.”

Another important aspect of the club is its emphasis on appreciation versus appropriation of K-Pop, which Sajdak said starts with giving background information on the groups and songs they choose.

“We’re trying to be more conscious of explaining where things come from so that people are aware, and [so] that it’s not just like ‘we’re going to take this thing and use it and put on a performance of it,’” Sajdak said.

Moassessi said that understanding the intersectionality of K-Pop and viewing it as more than a pop culture trend is something the club especially tries to push within the group.

“One of our biggest values is really focusing on the fact that not all of us are Korean, or not all of us are Asian, but we’re appreciating this wonderful thing that has brought us all together,” Moassessi said. “Even though it’s in a different language, we’re all still able to come together and appreciate this and respect it for what it is.”

K-Tigers is hosting a showcase April 21 during Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Association’s on-campus Night Market which will feature dances from its club members as well as other performances from both members and non-members, according to Moassessi.

“It’s just an opportunity for students to do whatever they want related to K-Pop whether it be singing, dancing [or] playing an instrument,” Moassessi said. “The space is for students to perform in any format they would like, which is super exciting since we do it once a semester and the spring semester tends to be the big one.”

To watch K-Tigers’ performances before the showcase, you can visit their YouTube channel for recordings of their workshops, or follow them on Instagram at @oxyktigers for more information on upcoming events.

Contact Kawena Jacobs at jacobsk@oxy.edu


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