Behind the Scenes in K-pop: Interview with SM Choreographer Rino Nakasone

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Rino Nakasone
(Both Images) Photography by 217…NINA Hair and Makeup by Sooyoo Kim

We’re back again with another interview with a very talented person working in K-pop behind the scenes. Having previously talked to a producer for SM Entertainment, we recently had the opportunity to interview the choreographer behind many of the company’s most famous dances of the past few years.

Rino Nakasone is very accomplished both as a choreographer and as a dancer. Having worked with SM Entertainment since 2008, she is behind many of K-pop’s most well-known dances including SHINee’s Lucifer, Replay and Love Like Oxygen, Girls’ Generation’s Genie, Oh! and The Boys, TVXQ’s Keep You Head Down, f(x)’s Chu and NU ABO, BoA’s Dangerous,  Super Junior’s No Other and many more. She is also a member of the dance crew  The Beat Freaks who came runners-up in Season 3 of America’s Best Dance Crew and has worked as a dancer with some of the world’s biggest stars including Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Rihanna as well as appearing as one of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls.

She talked to us about her process for creating choreography, her influences, her favourite groups to work with, K-pop dance covers and much more.

You have uploaded many of your original video submissions for some of your most famous dances to your YouTube channel. Can you explain to us how the process of submitting a routine and being selected works?

The process of taping my choreography for SM Entertainment artists really depends on the project. I usually use LA dancers as the artists and their dancers to film as if they are real for the performance. Then the SM Entertainment team watch my work and change the choreography if it’s needed to be suitable to their ideas and teach the artists and dancers. Or sometimes after taping the choreo, I go over there and teach them directly.

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SHINee’s Lucifer Music Video

Having worked with performers including Girls’ Generation, SHINee, BoA and DBSK, do you find the gender of the performer has an effect on the way you choreograph the songs? Is there anything else that effects how you approach creating a dance

My main goal with my choreography is how much it fits the song and also to make artists look great.  I choreograph the same way for every artist. And I’m so lucky that they bring out my choreo amazingly with their own flavours. I also enjoy that I get to do choreo for men and for women because I enjoy making both styles.

Having choreographed for so many of SM’s biggest acts, who was your favourite to work with and why?

Everyone! They are all great and work so hard including their dancers. I’m truly thankful I get to work with different types of artists which lets me do different types of styles and also get to know them.

You have choreographed dances for groups alone and as part of a team (including collaborations with SM’s performance director Shim Jae-won). Do you prefer working by yourself or collaborating?

Girls' Generation performing 'Hoot', one of Rino Nakasone's creations

Girls’ Generation performing ‘Hoot’, one of Rino Nakasone’s creations

I prefer working with them. There’s also one more guy from Beat Burger named Greg Hwang. They both have different styles and we work great together. They also know the artists well so when I was first working with the artists, they helped tell me who’s good at which styles of dance. I just love collaborating and sharing each other’s ideas. In my work I also have worked with Maryss From Paris from The Beat Freaks, Mikako Kano and Koharu Sugawara.
Something I want to add is that the artists put in their ideas as well and come up with their solo parts which I enjoy very much. I love when artists speak up for their own voices and know what they want and can be a part of making choreo for their songs.

You choreographed many of the dances for Girls’ Generation’s first Japanese tour and some of their Japanese singles including ‘MR TAXI’. Being Japanese, do you prefer working on dances for the Japanese market and do you find that it is different from the Korean market?

I enjoy working on both areas and I choreo the same way for any country. In Japan I just get to understand what they are singing. As far as markets go, I don’t see the difference. It really depends on the projects and the theme they are aiming for. Also SNSD is SNSD even in Japan. So it’s more important to show who they are rather than focusing on Japan’s market.

Dance covers are a huge part of K-pop fan culture. What is it like to know that so many people have chosen to learn your choreography?

I cried with joy when I first watched people copying SHINee’s Replay. Me coming from copying Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, I couldn’t believe now people are copying my choreography! I’m just thankful.

You are part of the dance crew Beat Freaks who came runner-up on America’s Best Dance Crew and you have also worked as a dancer for many famous American artists including Britney and Gwen Stefani. Do you prefer performing or creating choreography?

I enjoy both. They are so different!!! I can’t chose! Lately I have been choreographing a lot so I miss performing. Being on stage is so amazing and I feel right. Choreographing is another way to express my creativity. I love both!!!

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The Beat Freaks

Do you find working in Asia and working in America very different? What is different about K-pop compared to other entertainment industries?

I don’t see the difference because I don’t think deep about it. I just do what I do wherever I go. Every project is different even in America and Asia so I can’t really say what’s what. Comparing K-pop and American entertainment, I feel like it’s full circle. American artists used to do memorable choreography like Michael Jackson but some of it now looks very intricate. K-pop took that memorable choreo idea that make people want to copy the dance and made it so huge. Now some of K-pop groups do dances that are so intricate and looks like dance performance and I think both ways are great.   Because of PSY’s worldwide success, American entertainment loved that idea and wanted to copy his steps.

I think in America, they are so good at using new technology, stage set, lighting and story telling. And they have so many types of artists like songwriters and instrument players which I see in other countries. K-pop, most of them are idols and they have amazing dance skills and dance became huge part of them when they perform

As both a dancer and choreographer who are you biggest influences? I think it’s fair to say we can see a lot of MJ influence in your work with SHINee!

Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, TLC and all of their choreographers like Michael Peters, Vincent Paterson, Anthony Thomas, Tina Landon to name a few.

Finally! Do you have any plans for 2013 and what can we watch out for from you in the future?

This is something that I would like to announce when it’s ready but meanwhile you can check out my website!

We want to thank Rino again for taking the time to talk to us. Make sure to check out her website if you want to know more and you can also find her on Twitter. Let us know your thoughts on the interview in the comments! 

Read our Behind the Scenes in K-pop series for more articles about  and interviews with the people who make K-pop happen.

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  • emjay

    ah, I’ve loved Rino ever since I found out she was the one behind SNSD’s “Genie” choreo! really awesome to her do this interview with you guys. usually I find that Korean idol groups who move into the Japanese market are kind of half-assing it with their music (e.g. just doing translated versions of original releases) but I definitely understand Rino’s reasoning that any group is still the same group wherever they are!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maribel-Vazquez/100002631121490 Maribel Vazquez

    OMG I love Lucifer’s choreography!! I always wondered who was the mastermind behind it and now I know thanks to you!! Rino, girl, you’re a very talented young woman!!! Congratulations!! Keep working hard and making such amazing choregraphies!! I bow to you!! 😀

  • http://twitter.com/NyNyOnline NyNyOnline

    Awesome that you guys got an interview with her :) She’s awesome!

  • dsd

    rino and shinee= perfect mix!