‘They’re like me:’ K-pop dance classes at Orlando studio step up representation, bring diversity

DGBEK Studios gives classes twice a week

At DGBEK Studios in Orlando, K-pop classes are featured twice a week, giving diversity to the dance scene.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Clapping, counting, shouting and loud music fill DGBEK Studios in Orlando.

But in one studio twice a week, K-pop fills the room. K-pop is Korean pop music that has different sub-genres with influences in hip hop, R&B, rock and any kind of style of music.

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Jadiel Rivera, 21, teaches the class and also has his own dance group called 4REIGN that covers K-pop dances. When he graduated high school in 2019 and thought about what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to teach.

“But I want to teach in a style and a music genre that I really love, so I was like, ‘OK, let’s do K-pop because I noticed there wasn’t really anything like that here in Florida.’ I know there’s a lot like on the west coast, in LA and stuff, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna bring it over here,’” he said.

He first learned of the music while he was part of a dance competition team around the time the song “Gangnam Style” by PSY gained popularity when it was released in 2012. After that song, his group learned choreography to the song “I Am the Best” by the girl group 2NE1, acting as the “little domino” that started his journey into K-pop. And in almost a full-circle fashion, Rivera taught the choreography this month to PSY’s newest song called “That That” featuring and produced by BTS’ Suga.

When the class first started being offered, it started in a small studio room with 10 people and that number slowly dropped as time went on to eventually one person showing up for the class. But the popular social media platform TikTok and word of mouth brought attention and the numbers back to the dance class.

Besides wanting to teach the genre he loves, Rivera said he noticed a missing gap in classes offered for Asian representation.

“This is like a perfect opportunity to kind of get that out there and to give a little bit of diversity to the dance scene. Because it’s not a common dance class you would find, even though it is popular in like the West, it’s still not very popular, like, not everyone knows about it. And it kind of helps spread the awareness and all that good stuff,” he said.

And Rhodessa Penaflora, 27, who is Rivera’s “right-hand woman,” helps with the classes. She said she didn’t have the space to explore other Asian cultures “let alone her own” while growing up as an Asian American.

“I’m Filipino. So, you know, being AAPI and growing up in that time, where it was just not normal, or normalized to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m listening to this group from another country’ or, ‘We’re gonna go to this really cool restaurant that serves whatever kind of Japanese Korean Chinese food,” she said. “I wasn’t used to finding places and safe spaces to really enjoy such things.”

She discovered K-pop around the time she was graduating high school, being introduced to it by non-Asian friends. At the time, she said it was when the group BTS started gaining traction in the U.S.

“It was weird but also refreshing because I was like, those people are famous like they’re doing what NSYNC and Britney Spears do, which is what I grew up with, but they’re like me,” she said. “And then I would see not only other people who were like me enjoying it, but other people who were not like me enjoying it.”

Marissa Hebson has been taking classes off and on for the last few months and took the class for PSY’s “That That.” She said she enjoys the sense of community that can be found in the studio and being able to learn with other people.

“While it’s intimidating to come in and learn, like, while there are some people who have years of experience under them, there’s also going to be people who don’t, but everybody is there to learn the same dance, everybody’s going to be on the same foundation level,” she said. “... We’re trying to have a good time. So just come. Do it once. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back but, like, try it. You never know what’s going to happen, you know?”

Every month, a random dance class is held where all the songs that were taught throughout that time are played while people participate on an open dance floor. The studio is holding that class this Sunday, May 22.

The dance classes are every Monday and Wednesday from 6:15-7:30 p.m.

To sign up and see what other classes are being offered, click here.

About the Authors:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!