By now, many of us are familiar with the aspects of Korean culture that have spread throughout the States. K-pop is a rapidly growing music genre, Korean skincare products fill beauty store shelves and the country’s unique take on a corndog has gone viral.
On Sept. 23, the city hosted the very first Colorado Korean Festival at the Tivoli Quad at Auraria Campus, where visitors could be immersed in the rich culture. Vendors served up traditional foods like tteok-bokki, kimbap, fried chicken and dalgona candies—made popular by Netflix’s Squid Game—to “feed your Seoul.” Kids played traditional games like Jegichagi and Yut nori. Local businesses sold Korean skincare, art and K-pop merchandise. But one of the highlights of the event was the live performances.
The festival hosted a K-pop dance battle, where seven local and two out-of-state dance teams competed against each other to a variety of K-pop songs. The battles drew a large crowd and loud cheers from Denver’s K-pop community. Lauren Lang, one half of the duo K-pop Dancing Frogs with her sister Noelle, are known for dance covers with their signature frog hats. Lauren said the music genre has grown globally, which explains why the events draw so many people. Those sentiments were echoed by Noelle.
“I feel like at school and just the community of K-pop in general has been so much bigger, like this year it’s been such a big boost for it,” Noelle said.
The self-taught dancing twosome from Fort Collins have become minor Denver K-pop celebrities, having amassed a following of 31,000 on TikTok.
“We don’t really feel like superstars or celebrities, but it’s really fun. We get people who recognize us just for doing something that we find really fun,” Lauren said.
One of their competitors, Crown Dance CREW which was formed in 2022, took second place at the Colorado Korean Festival dance battle. The team’s leader Jae said the K-pop community in Denver is extremely loving and supportive.
“I’m a dancer here, but every time I come out and dance, there’s always the same people, but they’re always cheering, they’re always supporting,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of festivals but this one for sure is one of my favorites. There are a lot of food vendors. There’s a lot of things to do, a lot of great performances.”
Attendees were not only encouraged to watch the teams dance but also show off some of their own moves in the “random dance” segment hosted by DJ Innaseoul. A crowd formed in a circle, counting down before each song. Once the music started, those who knew the song would run to the center and perform the corresponding dance. Sometimes a song would only be recognized by a single person, other times a group would join in. The crowd went wild for both the professionals and the random dance participants.
“I really appreciate not just the dancers but everyone who came to support because that’s what we as dancers rely on, is everyone’s energy. It was fun seeing everyone compete but also have that same excitement and fun in the random dance play and in the competition,” said Shauny, leader of the dance crew Luminescent which traveled from Reno, Nevada. “I love everyone here. Even though some people are from out of state, everyone here knows that we all love K-pop and we all love to dance. I feel like that reason [alone] made us all bond together.”
DJ Innaseoul, who emceed both the dance battle and the random dance has hosted several K-pop dance events. He said K-pop is appealing to a wide audience, reflected in the crowd which ranged in age, race and gender.
“I think K-pop in general is just really popular and blowing up,” he said. “People, I think, really enjoy the sound of K-pop and what it means: inclusivity. You can be who you want. It’s just great. It’s a super fun and inclusive community.”
Cultural festivals have become an important way to introduce those who are otherwise unfamiliar with a country’s customs, food, dress and arts. It also provides an opportunity for those who are already acquainted with the culture to come together and celebrate their shared interest. DJ Innaseoul has hosted several random dance events in Denver over the years and has watched as K-pop continues to spread.
“It’s just been great to see the community grow over time,” Innaseoul said.