The Making of an American K-Pop Star


I walk by that studio every morning on my way to the treadmills and elliptical machines in my apartment complex gym. Sometimes I stop and watch for a minute because they seem to be having so much fun with their exercise and aerobics routine. Bless their hearts, they try so hard, but let’s face it—the ladies, most of them my age or older, aren’t exactly training to be the next American K-Pop Star.

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Exercise Monotony
The Making of an American K-Pop Star

Today I stepped on the treadmill, ready, if not devoid of any excitement to run for 45 to 60 minutes. Are you a treadmill person? Because I am definitely not. I barely finished my warm-up when I abandoned the treadmill for the aerobics class that was about to start around the corner.

I resisted the urge to join them. The memory of swinging that door open to the sauna a few months earlier was fresh. After having 20 sets of eyes and 20 sets of bare breasts (among other things) staring at my every move was still too familiar a memory for me. I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat that experience. And dispelling the rumor that all black people are fabulous dancers too.

Practice what I Preach
Dance out of My Comfort Zone

I stopped at the door and peered into the crowded room. Then I practically hurled myself across the threshold trying not to look too afraid or intimidated by the room full of strangers. I don’t know if it worked. But I found a space on the back row, directly behind the instructor so I could follow her actions if not her words.

The room was sandwiched between two full walls of a mirror, so no matter where I stood, I’d be able to see how bad I looked. And I know I looked bad. No matter how well you dance or how quickly you’re able to follow instruction, the first aerobics class you attend may or may not determine if there will be a second one. And that’s not even taking into consideration that I knew that class would not be taught in English.

However, this is also where perspective jumps in. Because I would have been just as nervous stepping into a class full of black women– knowing my comfort level with my dance ability.

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K-Pop Star Wannabee
All About That Bass

All of sudden all eyes were on me–again. I was almost tackled and led into the studio.

Hi, I returned. I am glad you are here, what is your name?

I’m Stacey and I am happy to be here too. Everyone clapped, whispers of Stacey echoed throughout the studio. She dimmed the lights and the whispers stopped almost instantaneously. And those ladies personas changed (into video vixens).

The room took on the appearance of a night club. It was 9 am and the neon lights flooded down from the ceiling in geometric shapes that danced on the wooden floor. Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass filtered down from the speakers on the forever cementing that song into memory as the first song I danced to in a “Korean nightclub”. And those aujumas got serious, instantly turning into wannabee K-pop stars. It was surreal. The songs were non-stop, less than a few seconds between them and that went on for a solid hour.

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Flashdance or Dirty Dancing

The only break we received were the few times the drill sergeant like instructor stopped to adjust form or technique. I couldn’t understand a lot of what she said except, hana, dul set (1,2,3). I did understand her chastisement in the lack of enthusiasm shown for some of her choreography. Which, btw, wasn’t too bad. Except for the floor work, which unfortunately was an unpleasant flashback to Flashdance or Dirty Dancing. And then it was over.

The instructor turned up the lights and everyone stretched their arms over their hand once, bowed, and started filing out of the room. Someone handed me a plastic bottle of room temperature tomato juice and we took a few pictures of this article. I don’t know if I’ll make it a routine, but it sure broke up the monotony of running on that stupid treadmill. Besides, it may be my only chance to channel the inner k-pop star I didn’t know I wanted to be.

Reflecting on My First Time as a Podcast Guest 

How to Have a Better Expat Experience:

  1. Broaden your comfort zone, jump right in there, commit to it, laugh at yourself when appropriate, and have fun.
  2. Ask questions, don’t assume anything. You’re likely to get more help than you really need.
  3. Go where the locals go, even if they have that activity on post.
  4. Connect through social media, they want to know about your culture too.
  5. Keep an open mind, don’t project your American-ness where it doesn’t belong. That’s the whole point of travel, isn’t it?
  6. Know that there are going to be times when you can’t do any of the above. Find a place to go where you can re-energize, eat a good burger, or just zone out completely. This too shall pass!!

What do you think… what are your tips for making your ex-pat experience better?

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  1. Deena Brown

    Stacey you are so adventurous and I love to read your articles and live vicariously through your travels and experiences. Thank you for sharing.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      My husband calls it crazy!! But he tags along anyway to make sure I don’t kill myself!! Come back often and bring some friends too!!!

  2. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer

    I remember when I lived in Korea I attended a dance school and unlike the ajummas you said could not dance or win any competitions, the students at my school won many many competitions and killed it every single lesson. They definitely put me to shame lol. There was everything from popping and locking to Korean pop – it was certainly an experience!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      An experience is putting it mildly. Korea is lots of experiences and I am open and willing to hurl myself across the threshold for a lot of them. I love the enthusiasm and the willingness to embrace a little black girl from America without hesitation… the dancing is just the cherry on top. Thanks for stopping by, sharing your link. I’ll definitely return the favor.

    2. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks for stopping by, I enjoyed your article on Memphis, I love finding new bloggers to read and hope you come back again soon.

  3. Courtney

    Awesome article, Stacey. I’m not sure if I would have been as confident and brave as you were to go into the aerobic class. I probably would have looked like I had two left feet. The mere fact that you succeeded and considering another class is commendable. Always have been the dare devil.

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