Boston Conservatory Dancers Open for K-Pop Stars at KCON Los Angeles
In August, Boston Conservatory at Berklee student dancers performed at KCON Los Angeles, a three-day convention for fans and followers of the Korean wave known as hallyu, and its ever-growing influence on pop culture worldwide. An ensemble of Conservatory dancers opened night two of performances at the Crypto.com Arena, dancing for 20,000 K-pop fans who had packed the house to see ATEEZ, ZEROBASEONE, XG, and the singer and actor known as Rain, one of the first K-pop idols to take off internationally.
The opportunity to open for these acts was “an unimaginable, full-circle moment” for Yulia Maeda (B.F.A. '25, commercial dance), who began studying dance in her mid-teens, amidst a surge of hallyu culture.
“I was opening the stage for the artists that had directly inspired me to start dancing,” Maeda said. “During my high school years, I was exposed to K-pop, decided to start dancing, and the rest is history: I went from watching these artists on my screen at home and having never danced in my life, to rising up and performing on the same stage as them, all within four years.”
Maeda and the rest of the ensemble, composed of 12 Conservatory students from both the commercial and contemporary dance programs, gave two additional performances at the LA Convention Center, where an estimated 100,000 people attended the convention over the course of the weekend.
Performing for large crowds on such high-profile stages, Maeda found herself far outside her comfort zone—and thriving on the professional experience.
“It taught me so much about myself and pushed my artistry to the next level,” she said. “Most of my previous experience consisted of school projects, which is a safe space to make mistakes and learn. But there was definitely less room for mistakes and higher stakes at play for those of us whose careers are just taking off.”
KCON is billed as “a fan celebration of Korean culture and music” and an opportunity for convention-goers to meet and “talk all things hallyu.” Daily KCON-LA programming included showcases for up-and-coming musicians, panels on songwriting and K-beauty, “dance breaks” for fans to learn new moves, and “hi-touch” meet and greets, during which fans lined up for a chance to high-five their favorite K-pop artists.
I went from watching these artists on my screen at home and having never danced in my life, to rising up and performing on the same stage as them, all within four years.
For Tula Johnson (B.F.A. '25, commercial dance), KCON provided a chance to connect with her Korean identity and share it with an eager audience. “Being Korean myself, it was amazing to see my culture so up close,” she said. “In a way, this opportunity allowed me to regain my relationship with my culture, but also doing it through my love of dance.”
K-pop dance moves—widely practiced and shared by fans on social media—account for much of hallyu’s global popularity, according to Johnson. “Having fans learn the dances and posting them online receives a lot of attention and interest towards K-pop,” she said. “It keeps growing and growing.”
The Conservatory dancers performed “Dear K-Pop with Love,” a 9-minute piece created by acclaimed choreographer Jennifer Archibald that blends contemporary dance with well-known K-pop dance moves. A graduate of the Alvin Ailey School, Archibald has choreographed for ballet companies around the country and created commercial work for corporations like Nike and Tommy Hillfiger. This was Archibald’s second year choreographing a new piece for Conservatory dancers to perform at KCON. Assistant Professor of Dance Ruka Hatua-Saar White taught the choreography and coached the ensemble during the convention.
Behind the Scenes at KCON
In addition to their scheduled performances, Conservatory students were asked to lead an impromptu workshop, teaching dance moves for the KCON theme song, “Poppia.” Chair of Dance Mila Thigpen said she was impressed by how quickly the students were able to pick up the choreography and successfully teach it to fans who had little to no dance experience.
“Watching them perform at the Crypto.com Arena was a monumental experience. But it was just as moving to watch them teach and perform with KCON attendees at the choreography workshop,” Thigpen said.
Maeda and Johnson were among several Conservatory dancers invited to perform in a showcase for the rising pop artist Piao Huang B.M. '20, a Berklee College of Music alum who made her KCON debut at this year’s convention. Maeda also provided choreography for one of the songs featured in the showcase, while fellow dancer Sofia Pargas (B.F.A. '25, commercial dance) choreographed Piao’s new single, “NeoPet.”
“This was also my international debut as a choreographer, so that was super exciting and a dream come true,” Maeda said.
Boston Conservatory’s performance at KCON-LA was made possible with support from the CJ Cultural Foundation. Check out more behind the scenes at KCON on the Conservatory’s TikTok account.