K-pop artists like BTS and BLACKPINK have become international sensations, but the genre’s influence extends far beyond South Korea.
UB, for example, has its own group of K-pop superstars.
Mix’n’Max, an exclusively Asian K-Pop dance group on campus, provides a space for students of all skill levels to get together, learn choreography and bond through their love of the artform.
“I think different people have different views about this club,” club leader and sophomore criminology major Sunny Chen said. “Maybe they think, ‘Oh, I got overwhelmed by my assignment’ some days so they come here to relax. But for me, I really like to dance.”
Mix’n’Max rehearsals aren’t your traditional dance classes, either.
Conventional dancewear is nowhere to be found. These dancers wear sweatpants, pajamas and even a casual Nirvana t-shirt. It seems as if they’re dressed for bed rather than the stage — until they move.
NCT and Aespa’s “ZOO” plays and the group explodes with uncontainable energy. Completely in sync, they shatter that laid-back atmosphere. Their sharp, punchy moves make viewers sit up in their seats. Dance brings them to life.
As the run ends, Chen goes over the steps. Despite the dancers’ laughter as they practice and make mistakes, Chen still has the assertiveness to correct her dancers with the serious attentiveness of a ballet instructor. The team applies Chen’s critiques but also finds joy along the way; goofing around, cracking jokes and bumping into each other before bursting into laughter.
But despite her skill and experience, Chen, an urban dancer from New York City, still encounters nerves.
Before taking to the stage, Chen often frets about whether she will make a mistake or if the group will forget their steps. But when she spots her friends out in the crowd, those fears dissipate.
“They say, ‘Yeah! Go, Sunny! Yeah!’” Chen said. “So I have that confidence when my friends are yelling out my name and I think, ‘Yeah, just do it.’”
Chen is not the only dancer in Mix’n’Max who deals with self-doubt.
Aniko Baranski, a 16-year-old Amherst Central High School student, has been a member of Mix’n’Max, a college level group, since eighth grade. Baranski’s mother’s heavy involvement in Buffalo’s Chinese community led her to Mix’n’Max’s doorstep.
At nine years old, Baranksi began learning K-pop, urban and hip-hop dance as well as ballet and Chinese folk dance. She moved to Buffalo from Beijing just before her 12th birthday. Without a dance studio in Buffalo that taught the styles she wanted to learn, she continued learning k-pop, urban and hip-hop dancing on her own.
Baranski’s extensive dance background lends itself to teaching others. In her own bedroom, which has a gigantic mirror, Baranski helps younger children learn some of her moves. At the head of Mix’n’Max rehearsal, Baranski’s pigtails flop around in the front as she and Chen demonstrate choreography to the group. At one point, Chen jokingly tugged on one of Baranski’s pigtails, both of them laughing.
Her cool demeanor, eye-catching dancing and willingness to be goofy might indicate that Baranski, still a high school student, feels totally at ease leading a bunch of college students. But this didn’t always come naturally to her.
“I actually started teaching them around two to three weeks ago for the first time ever,” Baranski said. “We kind of switch around the people on our team to teach, but it was my first time. It was really nerve-racking at first but right now, I’m kind of more used to it.”
This particular rehearsal, with a talented urban dancer and an advanced high schooler at the helm, was unmatched and completely electric.
Whether it’s a desire for camaraderie, a passion for k-pop music and its stunning idols or the need to express oneself through dance, Mix’n’Max offers a musical escape for UB’s Asian students.
There’s no denying their incredible energy. With every step, finger point, slide, body roll and turn, Mix’n’Max gives audiences one thing above all else: attitude.
“I really like to show my feelings and my attitude to the audience,” Chen said. “That is very special to me and to them.”
The arts desk can be reached at email@example.com
Alex Novak is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.