They had been dancing together for only two months but last Saturday night, five- member dance group Destrict were as smooth as any K-pop video.
They blew away the competition to win the dance category of the Singapore preliminary round of the K-Pop World Festival, inching closer to a face-off with 14 other groups from around the world in South Korea in October.
Group leader Muhammad Noor Irfan, 19, says the group worked hard to overcome their inexperience: "We practised till 11.30pm or midnight three or four times a week. It was very tiring but we were carried through by our passion. And we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it."
The competition, watched by an audience of more than 500 at the Singapore Conference Hall, was organised by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and Daehan Education Centre, which runs Korean- language courses.
Home-grown comedian and actress Patricia Mok was one of the four judges of the competition. The others were the Korean embassy's press & culture counsellor Yoon Jaewoong, Odyssey Dance Theatre associate artistic director Lo Pui Sze and Daehan Education Centre principal Harry Kwak Ha Rim.
Ten acts in two categories - dance and vocal - competed for two places in the next round of the competition, an online video contest, against semi-finalists from other countries. Results of that round will be determined through online voting.
The top 15 will then compete in the Korean Broadcasting System Hall in Changwon City in October. The finals will be screened on KBS, South Korea's biggest television network.
The other four members of Destrict are Ng Huiyan, 24, Lee Yan Qing, 19, Ng Joey, 19, and Muhammad Yusri Yusoff, 18. They had met through mutual friends. They danced to a medley of four K-pop songs: Mirotic by TVXQ, I Am The Best by 2NE1, Warrior by B.A.P. and Overdose by EXO.
Looking sleek in white blazers over black shirts, they added a touch of drama to their routine when they flung handfuls of white powder into the air in the middle of their performance.
Group leader Irfan says: "We saw this in the movie Step Up, which is where we got our inspiration."
The 2006 film, starring Channing Tatum, tells the story of a hip-hop and a ballet dancer who come together to perform.
Judge Mok says of the group: "They are creative and know how to get attention. Not many of the other groups use props."
She also gave the group this advice: "They have good energy but for them to compete in Korea, they will need to work extra hard. Now, I would say their energy is about 80 per cent. It needs to be 100 per cent."
The Singapore preliminary round of the K-Pop World Festival was the highlight of the sixth Korean Night Festival, which included a trivia quiz on Korean culture and a festival with booths on Korean food, games, and clothing.
The winner of the competition's vocal category was student Lerene Tong, 16, who sang the ballad Because I Love You by Wendy of S.M. Rookies, a group being groomed under record label and talent agency SM Entertainment. However, the student at CHIJ (Toa Payoh) says her idol is not a K-pop singer or group, but British actress Emma Watson. She says: "She acts, but she also studies well. If I do go down this path, I want to be like her."
Mok says: "She was very consistent throughout the song, and when she sang the high notes, she was up there. When she reached the chorus, I almost cried."
This article was first published on June 9, 2014.
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