Michaela Reese, Daisy Yanez and Jasmin Rios might not seem like K-pop stars. But when the three friends (21-, 22-, and 21-year-olds) aren’t studying for midterms in dance, they perform in Astronomical, a group that creates covers of K-pop dances from music videos. They are a mix of college students from Chicago that formed through Columbia College Chicago.
“There was a random dance that was coming up, literally [April] marked the year anniversary of it. They wanted to be in it. And they’re like, Michaela, you should be in it. I was like, well okay!” Reese said. Since last April, the dance group has been rehearsing and performing dances.
“I think my favorite moment of Astronomical was definitely our first performance,” Rios said. “It’s engraved in my brain. It was like one of the best days of my life.”
Yanez’s favorite memory of the dance group was also her first performance, but her’s was different than the others.
“My first performance with [the group] was probably the best one because I had my own friends there and then had friends from Columbia, so that was an experience,” she said.
Most of the members began their dance career from watching Janet and Michael Jackson when they were young.
“They were up there. And watching Dance Moms or Bring It On, oh I wanted to be part of that,” Reese said. “And then once I saw K-pop, the dancing definitely drew me in.”
Yanez had a similar change of dance-heart. “I think what switched me into K-pop was just seeing how they structure their dance,” she said. “You don’t see that here in America, we lack that in performances. It’s more like a soloist and they’re moving around.”
Astronomical was created in 2022 by Reese, Rios and two other Columbia College students. They created this dance group because a random dance popped up in Chinatown. A random dance is an event where “K-pop fans come and learn the dance choruses of a K-pop song and at the random dance, they play random choruses, hence the name random dance,” Rios said. “If you know the song, you go into the circle or stage and go in and dance.”
“In order for us to get in, we had to make up a group,” Reese said. “So we sat in [Columbia’s] dance lobby, trying to figure out a group name and a logo. And then lo and behold, Astronomical was created.” Each member drew a line to create a star, which is their logo.
When it came to figuring out which songs they should perform, Astronomical chose songs from K-pop groups Big Bang, 2NE1 and iKON. “And we did it, Astronomical, and people were like, oh you guys are so cool!” Reese said. After their first random dance, Astronomical was invited to perform at Columbia College as a special guest for a showcase.
K-pop stands for Korean pop music, which is made up of a large group of singers and dancers (usually, seven to eight). Most of the time, these groups create lavish and intense dance routines to go with their songs for their music videos. Some of the most popular K-pop groups are BTS, BLACKPINK and EXO. BTS has over 1.6 billion views each for their songs Dynamite and Boy With Luv on YouTube. BLACKPINK has over 84 million followers on YouTube, and EXO has over 100 million views on four music videos each on the same platform.
K-pop has been growing since 2011 in the U.S. “There’s concepts and more to some K-pop groups. Paris has like presentations that are 50 slides long about the lore of certain K-pop groups, like TXT,” Rios said of Paris Anders, the group’s co-creator.
Preparing for these events takes a lot of time. “For some people, some groups, they create the random dances to not include duplicate songs so that people don’t get bored of the songs,” Rios said. As for Astronomical, “it takes a month to prepare everything because we want to [make] raffles or have little gifts to give out and stuff. And then preparing for the random dance, like the actual edits of the dance,” Rios said.
On their Discord chat, Astronomical members discuss the song they want to learn, choose a timestamp from that song and practice. “We learned that sometimes we might go beyond that timestamp, so we usually just go over that. Run it over, mostly, because we have to work on formations for that section,” Reese said. “Everyone’s pretty consistent about learning the dances. So it’s not necessarily overdoing practice, it’s just getting formations down.”
“When we first made Astronomical and we had our first performance, that’s like one of the best and most fun performances that I’ve ever done,” Rios said. “It was just super hype. I didn’t really care if I made a mistake or not, because it was just about having fun and hyping up the crowd.” They reminisced about the water guns they brought to their first random dance, where the sun was extremely hot and the crowd went crazy for them.
After their random dance, Reese felt that it was “pretty cool. And then afterwards, we were just kind of like, let’s keep it going.” But since not all of the members were in Chicago over the summer, they took a small break and began performing again in September 2022. Shut Down by BLACKPINK was their song of choice to prepare for the next random dance. They learned the dance in a week and Astronomical felt that it went great, Reese said.
This dance pushed them to have their cover of Shut Down recorded, which can be found here on their YouTube page. As they danced around Chicago to BLACKPINK’s choreography, each dancer performed with their heart on their sleeves while in formation.
After that, they prepared for two more random dances, where at the first they saw Yanez performing. “Dude, she’s a little too good. Let’s connect with her,” Reese said. Yanez said yes to joining Astronomical.
Now, the group is made up of seven dancers from Columbia College Chicago and DePaul University. Yanez said that since she has been in previous dance groups, although never a K-pop group, she thinks “the structure of it, overall, was different. Usually, we have like an instructor that teaches you.” However, the group learns the dance together. “I really like it, it’s different, the environment, it’s more relaxed,” she said.
At the random dances, Rios said “it’s fun to see all of the groups perform and see all the groups from Chicago, because there’s actually a lot of K-pop dance crews in Chicago.”
Astronomical was also able to see more local groups at a K-pop dance competition in April. “A lot of groups from Chicago, but also closer to the Chicago area, come and compete. And there’s a money prize,” Reese said. Groups like NeXus Dance Collective, from University of Chicago, local RevX Dance Crew, and Astronomical competed at the KonneX: The Next Dimension K-pop dance competition. RevX took first place.
Recently, Astronomical has been recruiting new members. They’re also thinking of welcoming “people like editors who want to work on their portfolios,” Reese said. Specifically to create graphics on their videos to make them pop.
Since recruiting more members, they’ve filmed a cover of Miracle by WAYV. “We’re really small but at the same time, I guess I’m still shocked about the outcome we get, the publicity,” Reese said.
Although this is a Korean-based culture and they only have one Korean member in their group, Astronomical believes that this music genre brings people together and is open to anyone who is interested in it.
Yanez, who is Mexican and Filipina, feels that the K-pop community is open to anyone who is interested. “Do I feel like, should it be nice to have a Korean person in a group? Yes. That will let you get their sense of culture and understanding of where they come from, and then their musical aspect,” she said. “But I feel like music is just a worldwide thing, where as long as you understand or respect and share the love for it, I think that’s what really matters in terms of dancing.”
Although this group has only been together for a year, there is much sentiment to how important this dance group is to the members. “I have always wanted to be in some type of dance group. So when Astronomical was formed, I’m just like, ‘this is what I really wanted to begin with.’ So this is definitely a dream come true, as cheesy as that sounds,” Reese said.