Dance Sports Girls: Episodes 1-2
Following the life of a high schooler who wishes for more than her small seaside town can offer, Dance Sports Girls revolves around a rambunctious heroine who takes life into her own hands. Filled with heart and whimsy, the show starts off strong, capturing the essence of those rocky teenage years when life feels immeasurable and daunting at the same time.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A female dance team half dressed in sparkling red dresses and the other in all-black shirts and slacks gather their hands and step up the stairs in front of a cheering crowd. Fade in from black, the sun rises over the small seaside town Geoje, and as the somber opening of Élégie, Op. 24 plays, a girl narrates, “Before I turned twenty, I might as well have lived in a coffin. However, it was not my fault that I wasted twenty years of my life.”
The narrator is the show’s protagonist, KIM SHI-EUN (Park Se-wan), and in her suicide note, she hopes her mother will realize how terrible she is and be overridden with guilt. Alas for Shi-eun, Mom threatens to dump cold water on her if she doesn’t get up for school, and Shi-eun bolts up, cursing her minor-status in her head.
Shi-eun’s older sister laughs at her melodramatic note, but Mom deadpans, “Both of you are the same in my eyes, you fools.” She reprimands Shi-eun for wanting to skip school to watch a movie in Seoul, and though she warns her daughter to be on time for school, Shi-eun drags out every little morning task from breakfast to the bathroom.
Despite their butting heads, Mom helps Shi-eun straighten her hair, and noticing Mom’s worn fingers, Shi-eun apologizes for her behavior. However, their sweet moment doesn’t last long as Shi-eun quickly stuffs a bag with clothes and steals money from Mom as soon as she leaves. But like most parents, Mom’s sixth sense kicks in, and she comes back home to find her daughter watching television.
Mom chases Shi-eun down the street, and grabbing her bag, she dumps all the contents right there. She finds a train ticket to Seoul and rips it up before throwing it at Shi-eun. Mom yells at her to get to school, but in an act of rebellion, Shi-eun drags her feet to the bus stop and watches the bus drive off without her. Womp womp womp.
The next bus won’t be for another two hours, but Shi-eun won’t be late on Mom’s watch. Cue to Shi-eun running like the wind to another stop as Mom drives besides her, making sure she doesn’t run away. On the bus, Shi-eun greets her friends, but the air around them seems chilly.
She explains their group as an “alliance” rather than “friendship,” and one by one, she describes the other kids on the bus: LEE YE-JI (Shin Do-hyun) the liar and loser, YANG NA-YOUNG (Joo Hae-eun) the attention-seeker, Park Hye-jin (Lee Joo-young) the biggest piece of trash, and the rest, “just microorganisms,” sighs Shi-eun.
Shi-eun closes her eyes and hears a boy give up his seat for her to sit. She thanks him and sits down, but ends up in Ye-ji’s lap since the seat was for her. The others snicker at her blunder, and Shi-eun apologizes before getting up.
Hiding her embarrassment, Shi-eun imagines herself as a bus hijacker armed with a gun who drives them all to Seoul. She then envisions ways to undo the curse that is her life, and considers stopping her parents from ever meeting Back to the Future style. She writes down all these thoughts as text messages to herself, and laments her teenage years as already ruined.
There’s more life around Geoje than Shi-eun may think, though, as the camera shows the mornings of various individuals. Teacher LEE GYU-HO (Kim Gab-soo) whom Shi-eun calls an old fogey, buys energy drinks to restock the refrigerator for his students in the dancesport club; Mom attends a protest for labor rights before heading to work at Daewoong Shipyard; and the girls at dancesport club record their routine.
In class, Na-young asks Shi-eun if she’ll be alright sitting next to Hye-jin. Shi-eun silently tells her to shut it unless she’s offering to switch seats, but aloud, she tells her that she’s fine. The substitute homeroom teacher walks in, but no one listens to his orders to quiet down. A hush finally falls over the classroom when Hye-jin enters, and as she takes her seat, she notices Shi-eun is her deskmate and calls her a loser.
The girls’ regular homeroom teacher is on maternity leave, and the substitute is clearly unhappy with having to conduct consultations with them. First up is Shi-eun who wants to go to a college in Seoul, but the substitute tells her to stay local—even though he also fills out an application for the entrance exam in Seoul.
He tries to find excuses for Shi-eun to give up her dreams, and mentions her deceased father and tough financial situation at home. He wants to meet with her mom, but Shi-eun knows Mom is against college, imagining her with devil horns and fire spitting out of her mouth. She asks for the application guidelines to fill out herself, and the substitute hands it to her though he still plans on calling her mom.
Shi-eun’s sister makes a cocktail at a bar where she’s both the bartender and customer. She receives a call from the substitute, but recognizing his voice, she berates him for drinking and jetting the last time they met. Utterly confused, the substitute asks if this isn’t Shi-eun’s mom, and her sister quickly changes her tone, pretending to be Mom.
The college application asks about school activities, but Shi-eun has none. Na-young and Ye-ji talk about random things, awkwardly clashing on everything, so they ask Shi-eun about her opinion on boys. She accidentally blurts out her true thoughts rather than her staged comments, telling them that she dislikes sharing her private life. They shoot each other furtive glances before Shi-eun quickly excuses herself to the bathroom.
Shi-eun calls someone inside a stall and thinks back to the day she visited a filming site and met one of the staff members. The young man from that day appears before her as she talks to him on the phone, and he guesses that she must have fought with her mom and won’t be able to come today. Before she can tell him what happened, he hangs up because of a shoot, and the soft glow surrounding her turns grey.
Na-young and Ye-ji enter the same bathroom, but unaware of Shi-eun’s presence, they talk about her behind her back. They wonder if Shi-eun is poor because of her hand-me-down uniform and find her to be weird. They consider kicking her out of the group but decide against it since Shi-eun would be too pitiful.
The substitute teaches English class though only two people are listening and Shi-eun works on math. The shouts from the girls dancesport club interrupt their lesson, and Teacher Lee learns that his dancers have to attend a company training on the day of their competition. He barges into the office to confront the vice principal for setting this up, but the vice principal feigns ignorance.
The vice principal reminds him that the club will be disbanded if they don’t win a competition this year, but Teacher Lee refuses to let his petty tactics ruin him. He reaches for his chair, but the substitute is sitting there since they’ve reassigned desks. The vice principal tells him that his desk is in the club room, and Teacher Lee throws a doll at him as he leaves.
The girls dancesport club and the hip-hop club fight over the time sheet for the practice room and end up pulling each other’s hairs. Sporting bloody noses, the club members make recruitment posters with free snacks as incentives, and the announcement catches Shi-eun’s eyes. She mentally checks off all the boxes the dancesport club meets for her college application and smiles.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Shi-eun finds Ye-ji smoking in a secluded spot and asks her to join the dancesport club with her. When she refuses, Shi-eun mentions free snacks and brings up Ye-ji’s past as a judo athlete—suggesting that she didn’t quit because of an injury. She tells Ye-ji that she likes her over Na-young, and that seems to do the trick.
Next on Shi-eun’s list is Na-young who’s been rejected from the hip-hop club. She tells her friend to join the dancesport club instead and become their ace. Using the same, “I like you more,” trick on Na-young, Shi-eun manages to convince her, too.
She narrates in voiceover how life needs main characters (her) and supporting roles (her two friends). Then there are the useful assistants (Teacher Lee) as well as the extras (the two “microorganisms” from the bus, Kim Do-yeon and Shim Young-ji, who are actually spies for the hip-hop club).
Lost in another daydream, the spotlight drops on Shi-eun, and Teacher Lee gets on his knees and begs for her help. She promises to lead the girls, and gives them each a motivational speech, moving them to tears. She receives a bouquet of flowers and a trophy, and while she credits their success to the team, Shi-eun—now a director—calls “cut” to give an acceptance speech. Mom wails in the background, but Shi-eun pretends to not know her, claiming to have no parents. Heh.
A stray soccer ball hits Shi-eun in the head, and the boy from the bus asks for the ball. His name is KWON SEUNG-CHAN (Jang Dong-yoon), but Shi-eun calls him by his childhood nickname, “Seung-soon” (a more stereotypically female name). She chucks the ball even further away, and bellows about the times they played house and had baths together.
Seung-chan claims to be a man now, but as she continues to divulge his past, he calls her ugly and says he doesn’t even remember her. Shi-eun yells for a teacher to report a boy on school grounds, but an announcement of the dancesport club auditions plays over the intercom.
The students sit restlessly in their seats as the substitute tries to dismiss them. He says Hye-jin’s name, but she immediately gets up and leaves, causing a chain reaction among the girls. He approaches Hye-jin in the hallway and tells her to say bye before her expulsion. She ignores his rambling, so the substitute sighs about how nice it must be to not have nagging parents. Oi, not cool!
His comment finally gets a reaction out of her, and Hye-jin offers him a belated Teacher’s Day gift: her nudes. Dropping honorifics and calling him by name, she threatens to ruin his life and warns him to stay alert.
Shi-eun and her friends head towards the audition site where a long line of girls are already there. Teacher Lee passes by with a smile, and during auditions, he fails student after student. When it’s Do-yeon and Young-ji’s turn, their steps get tangled, and they accuse each other for dancing the jive and cha-cha. Exasperated, Teacher Lee corrects them both since they’re doing the samba.
He fails them, and though they beg for another chance, the club members drag them off stage. The captain tells Teacher Lee that no one has passed, but he isn’t worried since they have so many applicants. The captain bursts his bubble since the line outside is actually for the bus, and now, only three applicants remain.
During the audition, Na-young dances, clearly not to Teacher Lee’s standards, but he passes her anyways. Next is Ye-ji who instinctively flips Teacher Lee when he offers to dance as her partner, and she passes, too. Last is Shi-eun who simply walks onto stage, and Teacher Lee gives her the thumbs up.
The club still needs more members, so Teacher Lee retracts his prior decision and lets Do-yeon and Young-ji join. With two newbies who joined before, that leaves the club at seven, leaving them still missing one person for the competition. Teacher Lee promises to find the last member and tells the captain to take the recruits to practice—but be easy on them since they can’t have even a single member quit.
Mom works at the shipyard and runs into the manager, Kwon Dong-suk, who is displeased to see her. He asks how she could work as a contractor for a company that fired her, but Mom dares him to get rid of her again if it bothers the higher-ups so much. She walks away from him and continues calling Shi-eun who ignores her calls.
At dance practice, the captain suggests introductions while the teacher is away, and Na-young goes up first. She tells the group that she joined the club in order to get scouted by the hip-hop club since the dancesport club is for loser. The captain barely keeps herself from snapping.
During Shi-eun’s turn, she lies about joining the club in order to dance, but when the captain asks if she knows any moves, Shi-eun shakes her head. The captain finally snaps and calls Teacher Lee to complain about the hopeless new recruits. However, as one of the newbies starts to dance, she’s surprisingly good, and the captain reassesses her opinion of her.
Teacher Lee joins the girls with their last member: Hye-jin. Shi-eun protests, but when Hye-jin yells at everyone, no one can look her in the eye. An odd squeak breaks the silence, and Teacher Lee heads toward the back to check it out. He opens a locker and finds Seung-chan hiding inside. They all assume he’s here because of a girl, but he loudly objects.
If he isn’t here to confess his feelings to Na-young, then Shi-eun guesses this means he’s a pervert. Teacher Lee threatens to call Seung-chan’s father, who’s Manager Kwon, but Seung-chan begs him to not tell his father who would beat him to death if he found out.
Seung-chan confesses that he’s actually here because of dancesport, but no one believes him. With no other option, he suddenly slides on the floor and dances. Everyone watches in shock as he steps and points, then finishing his dance, he twirls his way to Shi-eun and ends in front of her. Locking eyes, he challenges her, asking if that’s enough proof.
Whoop, now that’s an introductory episode! Filled to the brim with characters and setup, the first episodes manage to bring heart to the show by centering the narrative around its wacky, fallible and earnest protagonist Shi-eun. In some ways, the show reminds me of Reply 1997 in its approach to high school and the lives of students. It’s about families, relationships, and dreams during a period in one’s life where adulthood encroaches on you as childhood wanes. There’s no big machinations laying underfoot to destroy these girls’ lives, but in the rather simple plot of one student trying to get into college is the beginning of an exploration into youth and society that foreshadows the possibility for nuance storytelling and contemplation of life.
The biggest draw from these two episodes is really Shi-eun, played beautifully by Park Se-wan. She has an active imagination that paints a vivid picture of her life that she finds all too dull, and dreams of bigger and better things for herself outside her small seaside town. She’s sassy and opinionated, though she hides this part of herself when at school since she feels like an outsider that no one understands. She can come across as judgmental, but Shi-eun strikes the right balance as a teenager who clearly thinks she knows more about the world than she does. Thus, she feels more naïve and self-centered than out-right spiteful. Life revolves around her, the self-appointed main character to her grand tale, and there’s a sort of whimsy to her outlook on life that contrasts against the clear problems she faces and highlights the underlying hope she holds in her heart. Even though her “friends” talk behind her back, her sexist teacher can’t guide her, and her mother seems to be against her dreams of going to college in Seoul, Shi-eun never backs down from these setbacks and fights back in her own way. Her rebellious streak and pain-in-the-butt tendencies when with Mom capture her childishness, just as her longing to grow up and be independent reveals her innocence.
One issue with high school dramas is casting older actors who clearly aren’t high schoolers and then having them play caricatures of what essentially adults think are “teenagers.” Park Se-wan blows my worries out of the water as she portrays Shi-eun with youthful exuberance while adding depth to the character. The flashes of emotions from annoyance at your family for belittling your earth-shattering worries to the giddiness of an unrequited love to the disillusionment of your “friends” talking behind your back, Park Se-wan is Shi-eun, and I adore her already. As for the others, it’s hard to say how their performances will be, but so far, I’m buying the story and am intrigued to see how the show will handle everyone’s character growth, because they all desperately need it.
Though Shi-eun was the major draw for these two episodes, the show also did a great job building the world around her and setting up the story for the other characters. Na-young and Ye-ji are both outsiders who clearly have as many friends as Shi-eun, and Hye-jin’s rebel-façade seems to act as her crutch to keep people at a distance and hide her private life. Though Shi-eun might not know it yet, everyone wants to keep parts of themselves concealed just like her, but hopefully through the dancesport club, they will all get a chance to reevaluate themselves and their opinions of each other, and as a result, develop true relationships that aren’t mere alliances.
Besides the girls, the show also briefly introduced Seung-chan who was the clear deviation from the source material. While we don’t know much about him, he clearly loves dancesport more than any of the other new recruits, but since it’s a girl’s team, he faces a different obstacle from the others. I’m interested in how the show will depict his character and deal with issues of gender stereotypes from both perspectives, and if done with care, his character could add another dimension to the story rather than become a simple love-line. The other major group introduced was Shi-eun’s family, and I hope the show dives deeper into Mom and the sister, who are both riots when interacting with Shi-eun but may be harboring secrets of their own that they wish to shield from the youngest in their family. While these first halves to a whole episode introduced a lot of characters and story in a hour, it felt like getting dropped into the middle of Shi-eun’s life, and hearing her inner thoughts and wild daydreams gave insight to her world that makes it feel real and familiar.