K-Pop, Competitions and Degrees: An Interview with Raymond Sweetman

1. Can you give us a little insight into your previous experience within the performing arts industry?

Previously, I was primarily a track and field athlete for many years. After quitting sport, I started training in dance and by 2014, I started doing a few shows and even got to take company class with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre on one of their UK tours.

2015 was the year I made the decision to actually formulate a professional career pathway in dance, though always retaining strong community links. 

2. You’ve been involved in a diverse variety of styles: ballet, contemporary and K-Pop. What inspired you to study and train within all three genres? 

I wasn’t a particularly brilliant athlete but I found that, by training in a wide amount of events, I could at least gain a place in an individual sprint race. Basically, at that time, there was a shortage of field athletes, so by offering team managers a wide of range skills I could get a place in the team and not be left at home watching the television!

So that philosophy has carried over into my dance career – be multi-skilled! But also, very importantly, and it’s a cliche I know, in addition I also truly believe that you have to “follow your heart” and I simply took up dance genres I fell in love with. Over time, this simply evolved into my current portfolio.

 3. You have a large amount of experience within the K-Pop scene, what have been your experiences in popularising K-Pop in the UK?

In addition to stage performances, through my group (‘Purple A‘) I organize events, both with small, local and national remits, often working with partner organizations. These collaborations, so far, have been very successful though are often very hard work.

Sometimes there have been frustrations, e.g. people not responding to correspondence or sometimes not even getting a simple ‘thank you’ for various things but overall I can honestly say they’ve been a joy to work on and it gives a lot of pleasure to see people having a great day out.

4. How have others welcomed the innovative K-Pop cultural style? 

The reception has been universally good – lots of positive feedback and partner organizations seem to benefit from my group’s input.

Within the general dance sector, things are a little mixed. I think many view K-Pop as a passing fad or very commercial genre derivative. I think time will tell but it’s up to the K-pop community to reach out to potential dancers/participants beyond the ‘bubble’.

To this end, it’s very encouraging to see that some of the London professional dance studios are now offering K-pop classes and this will help many dancers unfamiliar with the genre to try it out for themselves at their usual studio.

 5. What inspired your interest in K-Pop? How did you initially discover your passion for it?

In 2008 I started my first MA at SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies), University of London, doing it part-time over a few years, and in 2009 I undertook a module called ‘Pop & Politics of East Asia’. We specifically covered a new genre called ‘K-pop’.

At the same time, Youtube had been up and running for a couple of years so a lot of material had been uploaded. I was also starting to move into dance at that time. Combine all these three things and that basically amounts to how I became a follower and participant in the genre. 

6. You have previously judged in competitions- what has this taught you? What do you look out for in performers?

Frankly, it taught me that perhaps I don’t have the psyche to be a judge! The last time I judged was in 2017 and I don’t see myself doing this again in the foreseeable future. My problem is that I have stacks of empathy for those up on stage – basically you could say I’m too much of a softie!

I found it incredibly difficult to give what may sometimes be harsh points of correction. Looking at those on stage, I was trying to see evidence of ‘artistry’ in the sense of conveying the emotions behind a song/music. Must be the contemporary in me! When you have a microphone in front of you, a big audience, and you have to highlight even the negative points in front of everyone, it’s so very hard!

I’ve taught a couple of (university) workshops, I run my own group, and in recent years I’ve started to devise and choreograph my own (ballet/contemporary) works and this problem doesn’t arise. Judging seems to be my weak point! I think that judging is a defined, particular skill that may just be inherent to certain individuals.

7. You have fantastic academic achievements as well as being a successful performer- what motivated you to develop your expertise in both? Is it important to train both physically and academically?

You are very kind! But actually I am in awe of my university contemporaries who I studied and socialized with through both my BSc and 2 x MA programmes. They’ve gone on to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, academics, etc etc.

Likewise, over the years I’ve performed and trained alongside many incredibly skilled dancers who have gone onto great things and it has been a genuine privilege to have been in the same shows as them.

I would say my motivation comes from the fact that personal development for me has always been a key philosophy – it’s why I’ve been returning to university to re-boot and retrain over the years.

Also, a few years back I became a member of ‘The Network’ (www.higherlevelindustry.com)and one of the key things Director Stuart Bishop speaks about is the need for performers to continually practice self-improvement and self-development if they wish to get on in the industry.

My own personal route has been via university but for those not inclined (particularly as it can wreck your finances!), ‘The Network’ offers lots of signposting for performers who wish follow the path of self-development. So when I came across the Network it naturally chimed with my own outlook.

So yes, I think it is so important to train both physically and ‘academically’, though as I’ve said, you don’t necessarily have to go to university to achieve this.

Check Out Raymond’s Work

Raymond Sweetman

Click the links below to find out about Purple A, Raymond’s highly successful University of London K-Pop group

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