In Jay Park’s Cafe Dudart at Apgujeong Rodeo Hello Asia’s Assistant Editor Kat met up with Sydney Langford, a Seoul-based Chicago-born dancer and contestant from the first season of Korean challenge show Dancing9. They chatted about her experiences on Dancing9 and dancing in Korea, and then Kat went along to take one of her amazing classes at Surge Dance!
The chat will be split into two pieces, but let’s start with everything Dancing9- from audition, to the process, to gruelling practices and bathtubs!
Hey Sydney, can you give us a quick introduction about yourself?
My name is Sydney Langford, I am 27 years and from Chicago, Illinois in the United States, and I’m a professional dancer. Since January 2013, I’ve been teaching dance in Korea and I started my own dance workshop, Surge Dance Intensive. After my very first workshop, my friend Grace told me about Dancing9 and told me to send in a video, so I did! I was on season 1 of Dancing9, which aired on MNET in the summer of 2013.
What was your reaction upon being accepted in Level 2?
I was so surprised when I got to the open auditions! I didn’t know what to expect, and it was huge. There were TV cameras everywhere and it was a huge auditorium and I did not realise what I was getting myself into. Around that time, I had a flight home to the States, and when I was at home in Chicago they called me and said they had some good news- I was going to level 3! And I was like ok cool, and I didn’t know what that meant either!
What did level 3 involve?
So level 3 was the one that was pretty big, and they told me that it was a really important level because I was going to be auditioning for a team- either the red or blue team. But I didn’t realise that it was so big- once again, I just got there and my jaw dropped like ‘OMG.’ I found out that day that from level 2 to level 3 they cut the competition down from thousands of dancers to about 300.
I was the last person of the day to audition, so I was waiting there all day. The producers wanted to wait for one of my friends to come- Lee KeumHee – she’s a very famous announcer in Korea and has a morning TV show on KBS. KeumHee and I met the year before, and she’s really amazing and easily one of my favourite people in this entire country. She said she would love to come watch and support my audition! So they waited till around 9pm when she arrived, and when I made it onto the red team, they filmed us celebrating and my bf, friends, and everyone there was really happy and proud!
What were the auditions like? Were they your own choreography?
The audition routine for every level was always our own choreography, except for level four. So for example- at the open audition, they put on a song and we had to improv for 3 minutes. And like I mentioned, when I got there and realised that level 2 was crazy and really big, I freaked out because I hadn’t prepared anything. So I was in the balcony, listening to the music I chose over and over again, and thinking of different choreo I made up before…trying to piece them all together to make a pseudo audition piece. And of course, I ended up forgetting it all! I definitely blacked out and improvised the entire time. It was fine, even with those camera guys coming right up to our faces. Only 3 other guys were on that huge stage with me, so I had space to move. Immediately following this craziness, I made it to the second half of that level, which was a private audition in another room of the building. They interviewed me and then I did my own 1 minute choreographed piece (I prepared for that one)!
What were the teams and judges like?
There were around 75 dancers on each team after level 3. The blue team had five judges and the red team had four, and they were all super famous choreographers, dancers, and Kpop stars in Korea and worldwide. It was really cool to meet them and work with them. I’ve kept in touch with some of them and still take classes with them today.
When we were doing level 4 (the All-In mission), we had to learn 4 routines at once and it was so fast. Each judge taught about 1 minute of choreography, and we only had 30 minutes to learn it before performing all of them simultaneously. The first one was Park Ji Woo’s dance sports combo… and people who had never danced with a partner before…man, we all had no idea what we were doing! It was hilarious. And then K-Pop with MinWoo, Jazz with HyunYoung, and popping with PoppinJay. It was stressful and very much a test to see who could do it all and make it look good.
Were you receiving feedback and support on your performances through all this?
We always got feedback, and luckily, the red team masters spoke English to me all of the time so I knew what was going on! I told them that I could speak some Korean but that I felt uncomfortable, especially on TV.
During level 4, I asked Minwoo (of Shinhwa) if he could show me one part of his combo again, because I definitely wasn’t doing it right. He showed me how to move my hips properly and we totally had a moment… I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, I need to tell my friend Grace about that one…!” Haha. It was awesome. And when I performed, the judges were like ‘yeah, that was nice but you should be more serious…’ but MinWoo only said, “Sydney… Goooooddd.” It was the cutest thing, and I realised why he is sexy hahaha.
I remember watching your super awesome ‘Electric Shock’ performance. But tell me- a bathtub??
Sigh…oh, level 5. The ‘couple mission.’ It all started late one night and I was paired up with SunTae. Our song was “Electric Shock,” which neither of us were that pumped about. The other couple sharing that song got to choose the prop… and they chose the bathtub… and I don’t know why. There were so many options! There was a suitcase, a rope, a table and chairs, a telephone. And they picked a bathtub… We were like, ‘man… what are we going to do!?’
We finally came up with an idea that the bathtub would be our “happy place” and when we were not in/near the bathtub, we were a terrible couple- angry and fighting. We finished choreographing it pretty quickly, but SunTae had to leave for a performance the night before we danced for the judges. So we didn’t rehearse too much…and the judges noticed. They didn’t like the choreo, thought we could have utilised the bathtub better, and wanted us to face them more, not each other (during our ‘fighting’ parts). I was totally expecting to get the cut. BUT they liked the fact that SunTae and I got along well and that we both had a bunch of technique, so that’s why they wanted to send us on to the next level.
What was the filming/training/practicing schedule like?
Levels 4, 5, 6 were all in the same week so it was just like bam-bam-BAM. It was all of my time. Every time there was a shoot, I had to cancel everything. It was really frustrating at times because we would have no schedule to follow, and sometimes only 12 (or less) hours notice… It’s definitely hard to deal with that. As a dance teacher and having my Surge Dance workshops (I was still having workshops in between Dancing9 shoots), I couldn’t just drop my workshop plans, because that was the most important thing I was doing. And I had only just started them! So that was what filming/training was like for me, just a whole bunch of crazy. Trying to balance everything. I wished I was like my Korean teammates, who were all so used to that style of practicing/shooting.
What was the hardest part about being on the show?
Well, as one of the last foreigners standing, I didn’t know why I got to stay and some other AMAZING dancers got cut. Because, honestly, my Korean language skills were not good enough to communicate with some of my teammates. That was the hardest part at times. And dealing with the lack of sleep…!
Once the LA Match finished and the live show came, they called and said, “Sorry Sydney, we’re not going to put you in the live show,” and I was actually kind of relieved. I think they knew it would be really hard for me to adjust to the ‘live show training,’ where everyone lives together and they take away all communication to the outside world and all of that. I was grateful they didn’t throw me in there, because I probably would’ve run away haha.
What did the other Dancing9 contestants go on to do?
The end was honestly different for everybody. After I came back from the Level 7 & 8 LA Match and my time on Dancing9 was over, I continued my workshops! They got a bit more popular because people realised I was from that show. Being on TV in Korea… I guess it gives you a little bit more legitimacy. So it helped me in that sense.
Other teammates of mine got to work on a lot of promotional shoots/events, they went on to dance in some shows, commercials, the Dancing9 Concert, etc. A lot are becoming dance teachers. The experience of being on a televised dance competition show where you might gain some notoriety definitely helps in the professional dance world thereafter.
Would you audition for Dancing9 or something similar again?
When people asked me if I was going to audition for season 2, I have to admit, I was like ‘hell no!’ It was way too soon and all the residual stress was still working its way out of my body haha.
However, when I watched the show after we came back from LA, I remember thinking, ‘This is a little bit different from how I remember it…’ With all the footage they captured and the way they edited said footage, sometimes the dancing or other situations got lost in translation..on purpose of course. I would watch something and be screaming at the TV, “That’s not even the choreography for that part!” or “KeumHee was there for ME! Not for anything else!”… so in those instances, I thought I would REALLY like to go to the live show because it’s LIVE! And you have an audience! When we were performing each mission, it was only for the judges. And the thing about dancing is we’re all performers! We want an audience! I would audition again just so I could try to get to the part of the show where you can connect with an audience and have amazing light production and amazing floors and all of the set, which really contributes to what makes a great dance performance.
Sydney is the founder and director of Surge Dance in Seoul, South Korea, where she teaches classes in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, hip hop, contemporary and musical theatre. For more information visit www.surgedance.com
Kat highly recommends taking one of her classes!