In the room of a barbershop-turned-dance studio in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, a group of 15 teenagers gather around small iPod speakers. They’re chatting and fiddling with their Supreme brand t-shirts and platform sneakers, but when a song comes on, they suddenly snap to synchronised attention, beginning a complicated dance routine to the K-pop song which rattles through the speakers.
The teenagers are members of Elaztix, a Phnom Penh-based dance group who specialise in “covering” the dance routines in K-pop music videos. Elaztix formed in July of this year, when three separate dance groups merged and auditions were held for further members – keeping in line with the K-pop preference of seemingly squeezing in as many people as possible into a single group.
Already, Elaztix have become a local Facebook hit thanks to their homemade dance videos, tinted in washed out Instagram hues and featuring the members in matching, Korean-inspired outfits. Their latest video, in which the female group members dance in a gym to AOA’s Heart Attack, has been shared over 650 times – which is especially impressive considering Elaztix’s oldest members are just 19-years-old.
K-pop dance cover groups have been around for a while, but Elaztix believe they are the only such group in Cambodia. “A lot of dance groups here focus on hip hop, but we want to make something different,” says a 19-year-old dancer who goes by the name D.R. “We see so many popular dance groups from other countries, and we want that in our country too.”
“We chose the name Elaztix, because elastic can bend like a snake,” says fellow dancer G.O., who is also 19-years-old. “It also means we’re friendly and stick together and are adaptable to any situation.”
In a series of portraits introducing each band member on their Facebook page, G.O. lists BTS, Infinite, Big Bang and Got7 as his favourite groups. When asked where Elaztix’s love of K-pop comes from, he says that, “We love the hair styles and the colourful outfits. K-pop is the most popular music with kids our age, and people at school always ask us to cover their favourite songs. We like the pop stars because they look so beautiful, and they train for five years [before joining a band]. They work really hard, and we appreciate them.”
“A lot of K-pop bands come to Cambodia and play on Koh Pich,” D.R. adds. “Once I travelled to Thailand to see [the group] 2NE1 perform. It was amazing – like flying!”
Elaztix’s enthusiastic embrace of K-pop has earned them their own fans. Amongst them is Honglong, a 22-year-old student who has been following Elaztix since seeing them perform live at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center. Over Facebook, he describes their dancing as “cool and powerful”.
The groups’ homage to K-pop is simple: they decide on a video by a group vote, and then learn the dance moves. Once they have the routine down, they find outfits and film the dance, before posting the video on Facebook, mostly to instant likes and adoring comments. Yet despite their fast-earned popularity, there are still some hurdles in their path.
“The hardest moves are flips,” says G.O. “We don’t dare to do them, and we don’t have anyone to teach us either. Nobody teaches us any of the dance moves; we just watch the videos and then learn it ourselves. We also watch and correct each other when we make a mistake.”
There’s no Korean Svengali behind this self-made troupe, so money, resources and support are another issue. “It’s hard to find places to film our videos,” says G O. “We’re not famous enough yet, and people think we’re just kids messing about. It’s also hard to find the right clothes, and it’s expensive because we only wear them once. We’re just kids – we don’t have jobs yet so our parents give us the money.”
However, D.R. points out that even parental funding is not often forthcoming. “Our parents think dancing won’t benefit our future and want us to study instead, even though we only practice on the weekends,” he says.
Nevertheless, members of Elaztix wants to see their group grow in popularity and recruit even more dancers. Last year, some members performed with their previous groups in a dance competition in a K-pop festival in Phnom Penh, and the group plans to compete again this year. “And this year, we want to win!” laughs D.R. shyly.