How Moynihan Train Hall Emerged as the Center of K-Pop in New York City

It started small with a handful of people showing up last fall. Now it has grown to the point where 40 or more people are showing up in the rail hub on a daily basis. They are drawn from six K-Pop Dancing clubs and have turned the station into a happening place.

| 26 May 2023 | 12:28

It’s 6 p.m. in the west end corridor of LIRR in Moynihan train hall. You can feel the ground shaking, not only because of the LIRR train rumbling, but also because six K-pop dancing clubs - around 30 people of different colors–are practicing here. With mini speakers playing K-pop songs on the ground, some dancers wearing crop tops and joggers rehearse with serious faces and look at the transparent windows to check their movements, while others sit on the ground to have a rest, chatting with their friends and bursting into laughter from time to time. The passengers walk behind them and can’t help but look at them with confusion: what are these young people doing here?

Moynihan train hall has become an unofficial popular rehearsal place for K-pop dancing clubs since last year. “A year ago, there were like five or six of them. Then there were ten. Now 20. Now there’s 50,60,” said Gerald Carter and Edgar Virunla, two retired men coming to the west end corridor every day.

Vivian Zhu, a Chinese dancing member living in Jersey City, came here at 3 p.m. on a Saturday with other three dancing members. The space with transparent glass windows had been occupied. “We can have a space if we squeeze with others,” she said.

Compared with expensive studios in New York, Moynihan train hall is a free space to practice. There is a row of transparent glass windows that can reflect as mirrors so that the dancing members can see and adjust their dancing movements in time. But this free space also has its shortcomings. Vivian said she couldn’t hear the music clearly when practicing here and the place sometimes is not so clean.

Nobody knows who is the first one to find the place. The members of Harmonyc, one of the biggest K-pop dancing groups in NYC, told the reporter one of their members passed here to take a train one day and accidentally found a good place to film: enough light, clean and white floor that can reflect light better, fewer people at that time. When videos shot in Moynihan train hall go on YouTube, they inspire other people to know it’s a good place to film. The members in NYC’s K-pop dancing community often participate in several groups simultaneously. When one knows this place, then nearly everyone in the community will know soon.

The members don’t have official permission to practice here, but they are rarely kicked out by the security guards if the music is not too loud and dancers don’t block passengers’ way. The police usually just stand there, watch them dance for a while and then go away. “At first people would stop us,” Keeley Dehart, one of the board members of Evermore, said, “but we’re being respectful to the space and people around us. They’re actually very helpful now.” Once they practiced in December, a guy was screaming at them. The security guard walked up to them and asked them if they needed his help to kick him out.

The passengers usually don’t know what they are doing here and just walk away. Sometimes, some of them stop to watch and film. When a song ends, they would applaud, compliment, and sometimes shout “bravo” to them. “I would say it’s entertaining for a lot of people.” Carter, a 73-year-old retired man, said, “They’re young people and they’re enjoying themselves.”

As a transportation hub in midtown Manhattan, Moynihan train hall connects people from New Jersey, Upper New York and Long Island. It gives easy access for members from the greater New York City area to gather and practice in Manhattan. Katie Hegenauer, a 19-year-old dancing member from Evermore, lives in Brewster and commutes here for two hours. She had never been to the city before joining the team. Keeley Dehart, the person who invites her to the group, lives 20 minutes away from her and always commutes with her for safety.

Keeley, Katie and their friends gradually arrived at the Moynihan train hall. Before rehearsal, they chatted with each other first about fashion, like Korean-style jelly nails and the clothes they have to wear on the performance day in Times Square. Katie saw her friend practicing in another group and ran to hug her. Clara took out the photo cards made by her last-year performance selfies to send to other dancers as a new-year present.

The rehearsal generally takes two to four hours, depending on the specific dances they practice. During the rehearsal, dancers have to transit to a different location in a second to make a new formation as a whole while paying attention to their own dancing movements as well. At the end of the rehearsal, members were so tired that they didn’t do detailed dancing movements and just moved to the right spot they should stand.

They do this all for free. There’s no commercial profit for them to practice in Moynihan train hall and perform in Times Square. “We can’t monetize because we’re using someone else’s music.” Mi Guo, a member of Harmonyc, said. On the contrary, they have to pay for new customs for different performances, transportation fees and, sometimes, studio fees. Adrian Hernandez, a 19-year-old boy dancer from Queens, told the reporter he generally spent $90 to $120 every month on K-pop.

But their love for K-pop and passion for dancing is their consistent motivation.

“My personality, despite being a dance major, is really quiet and introverted, so it really has always been hard for me to be confident,” Katie said. But after dancing K-pop, she becomes more confident in the dance and much better at expressing herself through moving and animated facial expressions.

Also, K-pop itself captures people’s hearts globally. “I like the diversity. ” Taliyah Coard, a 19-year-old brown girl and a student from CUNY, said, “With American artists, if you’re an R&B singer, you usually stick to R&B. But like one (K-pop) group, they’ll try out different genres. They could do ballads, pop, rock, K-pop, R&B.”

Adrian said he likes the killing part of a K-pop song and dance, which is a memorable refrain of a K-pop song and dance. “Like in a song like from Giddy by Kepler, it’s like if I do this,” Adrian said while doing cat ear dances with his hands above his head, “someone who’s also a fan of Kepler knows that that’s attached to the song.”

However, becoming a professional dancer is totally not in their consideration. Members all shook their heads and said no when asked. “That’s a lot of money,” Illena, a dancing member of Evermore said.

On the performance day, girls’ “Love Bomb” ignited people’s hearts in Times Square on a 35-Fahrenheit night. They wore red dresses with red ribbons on their hair and red heart makeup on their faces. When the music began playing through a huge speaker and the phones started filming, the girls’ status suddenly changed. They were like dancing on a traditional stage: big smiles, energetic dancing movements, and high jumps. Times Square’s LED lights become stage lights and tourists become their audience.

Besides, they have another stage: social media. After filming the formal video, Clara started to film the TikTok version on her phone and other members joined as well. After editing, members uploaded the formal video on YouTube and Instagram. This time their audience is netizens. The most viewed dance cover video from Evemore is Blackpink’s Kill This Love which hit 9.3 million views and 1576 comments on YouTube.