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Aimee Lee Lucas: From YG to MVP

September 11, 2014
Aimee Lee Lucas during an MVP dance class. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

Aimee Lee Lucas during an MVP dance class. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

By Tae Hong

Don’t slap “YG Choreographer” onto Aimee Lee Lucas and expect to successfully define her under that singular title.

It may be her claim to fame, but the 28-year-old has more than just her years with YG Entertainment under her belt — as a dancer, entrepreneur and teacher, she’s only getting started.

Growing up in San Francisco as the seventh child and youngest daughter of a giant family was tough. With seven siblings and Filipino parents who “thought they found the formula of raising the perfect child” by the time she came around, life was about ballet lessons and discipline.

Such a big family meant that even a trip to Disneyland was beyond the budget. Lucas came to crave travel, better if it was around the world. She would get there, of course, but childhood was an uphill battle with strict restrictions caused by years and years of mess-ups by her unorthodox range of siblings — Lucas’ oldest sister is 50, her youngest brother 23.

“The formula was: no drugs, no boys, no leaving school. I had the smallest amount of freedom,” she said. “[My parents] were very concerned about me dancing and not making a good living.”

Uhm Jung-hwa in 2008's "D.I.S.C.O." (YouTube screencap)

Uhm Jung-hwa in 2008′s “D.I.S.C.O.” (YouTube screen capture)

They know now that they shouldn’t have worried. But even Lucas hadn’t expected — or even had the slightest inkling — that her vehicle would be K-pop.

In 2008, she had begun working with two good friends at the time, also dancers, who choreographed for songs to send via videos to music labels. Lucas, a complete stranger to Korean music, came to act as the dancers’ female counterpart for a K-pop song titled “D.I.S.C.O.,” to which she added a feminine touch.

The track was longtime K-pop diva Uhm Jung-hwa’s summer release, produced by YG Entertainment and featuring Big Bang’s golden boy rapper T.O.P.

When Uhm saw the video of the dance, she liked Lucas’ short hair so much that she adopted a short bob wig to mimic the movement she’d seen. The song was an instant hit in Korea, one of that season’s biggest successes.

And Lucas was there, helping with the song’s promotion in Korea while partying with Uhm and Yang Hyun-seok, the entertainment mogul famously referred to as “YG.” She learned Korean culture as she lived it.

“I had no idea,” she said. “No one had prepped us, no one had warned us. I had to learn how to stand up [when people came in]. I had to learn hierarchy. I had to learn the drinking games, the customs of Korea.”

Doing “love shots” — in which two people hook arms and drink from the other’s shot glass — with YG was one thing, but it was only after he proposed that she stay and live in Korea that she saw her life uprooted.

Those were busy times — acting as choreographer, backup dancer and director, she had a hand in some of YG Family’s best moments, from Big Bang member Tae-yang’s chart-topping “Wedding Dress” to leader G-Dragon’s 2009 Shine A Light concert, which she staged and directed from top to bottom. Then there was her work with Se7en and 2ne1 member Park Bom’s “You and I,” which was released in 2009.

Lucas during an MVP class. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

Lucas during an MVP class. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

“I’m really proud of coming into a very conservative country and pushing the envelope,” Lucas said. “The biggest thing for me was teaching backup dancers to touch their bodies, touch the artists, to make it believable.”

Seeing dancers overcome the giggles and flushed cheeks that came with her provocative choreography was one of her biggest accomplishments.

“I remember a day when [dancers] were like, ‘Don’t be scared, Young-bae (Tae-yang’s real name)! Just go for it. Really slap her butt,” she laughed. “That was a big step for them out of their comfort zone.”

Korea helped her, too. Once, while looking down from an upper level of a popular Seoul club, she found herself noticing the way young people packed like sardines danced along to the music despite limited space. It affected her entire approach.

“Sometimes the best choreography comes from being in a very confined space because that’s what they end up doing anyway,” she said.

The experience helped her realize the sheer force of her work — K-pop had become the big leagues in terms of choreography visibility, the ultimate proliferator of dance moves imitated and loved by millions worldwide. Nothing illustrated K-pop’s dance dominance better than Psy’s epidemic horse gallop in 2012.

“Once you came up with it and you got the approval from YG, you were like, my job is done. … But then you go to the club and see everyone doing it — that’s crazy,” she said. “That’s crazy.”

Lucas is no stranger to Americans, whether or not they may know it. She’s starred in commercials and print ads for Apple’s iPod Shuffle, JC Penny and McDonald’s, as well as music videos with Avril Lavigne, Keshia Cole, P.Diddy and Frank Ocean.

With her experience as a talent agent who scouted for choreographers post-Korea in hand, she launched her own eponymously named company in 2012, and with it Music Video Party, or MVP.

Lucas teaches a dance workshop at KCON 2014. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

Lucas teaches a dance workshop at KCON 2014. (Courtesy of Aimee Lee Lucas)

MVP grew out of a restless Lucas who wanted to focus on bringing K-pop dancing directly to fans around the world, especially after she experienced fans’ desire for it firsthand while leading Mnet’s “Gangnam Style” 1,000-strong flash mob in 2012.

Two additional instructors, Michael Avelino and Danielle Day, travel with Lucas around locations in California and, so far, to Europe and Mexico to hold free dance classes.

“As much as fans are excited here, they are excited in Guadalajara, they are excited in Paris, and they are excited in Singapore,” Lucas said. “So you can find that fan in any part, anywhere.”

Students rich and poor and young and old crowd her classes, eager to learn the choreography to their favorite idols’ music from an actual K-pop choreographer, she said.

It’s hard to deny K-pop as a driving force in her life. From VJing and MCing gigs for a variety of projects including for Mnet and The Tuesday Blend Project in Vegas to being asked to direct programs for mammoth K-pop convention KCON, to standing behind a podium as a motivational speaker at a college dream festival — “People who are motivational speakers have climbed Mt. Everest blind or saved Africa from a virus. … I still have a lot of things to check off my bucket list.” — to continuing with MVP and continuing to choreograph for K-pop bands, she’s a busy bee who never says “no.”

“Korea and K-pop — it made a lot of dreams come true that I didn’t even know I had,” she said. “I don’t think it’s such a big deal for me now [to only be known for K-pop], because if that’s what I’m known for, then that’s my key into creating something better. That’s what I did and that’s what I’m known for, and I should use it to the best of the my advantage and for the most positive way.”

 

2 Comments

  1. jaydeekim

    September 11, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Great job Aimee! Ur such an inspiration!

  2. Pingback: Kpop Con USA 2015 Guide – milktea305

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