There were bright smiles and laughter as members of Elon University’s K-pop student organization K-DNS headed into a Koury Center studio Sunday evening, chatting about their weekends. As soon as the music was on, they were in position, smiles still on their faces and ready to dance.

K-DNS, which stands for K-pop Dancing ’n Singing, is an audition-based group that provides a space for students to hone skills and share their love of K-pop. It has three subgroups, the Dance, Vocal and Rap Units — as well as general members that are involved in many facets.

K-DNS was first founded by senior music production major MariLu Ravel and a friend, who has since transferred. Ravel serves as the group’s vocal leader, rap leader and linguistics coach.

“My freshman year, one of my really close friends introduced me to more of the K-pop world,” Ravel said. “She was really good at K-pop dances and stuff, and I’m more of a vocalist. We kind of both came up with the idea at the same time. We were both like, ‘Bro, why is there not an org or a club for this?’”

This academic year is K-DNS’s first as an official student organization and performing group, and they’ve been busy getting their talent noticed on campus. K-DNS started out in 2021 as a Burst the Bubble program, where Elon students learn a new skill in peer-taught sessions during Winter Term. When long-term interest accumulated, Ravel decided in 2023 to continue the group even after the Burst the Bubble program was over. Ravel said she didn’t expect the success it gained.

“I’m just really grateful that we were even given the opportunity to be able to turn it into an actual organization,” Ravel said.

Senior Annabelle Stephens hosted another Burst the Bubble program about Korean culture, including K-dramas and Korean beauty topics as well as K-pop. She and Ravel combined their ideas and goals while creating K-DNS in its current form.

They held a Halloween showcase as well as performed at a show hosted by Limitless, another Elon student organization that highlights independent student artists and rappers.

On April 13, K-DNS members taught a free K-pop Dance Workshop in partnership with Transcend Alamance, a local nonprofit LGBTQ+ support fund, at Holly Hill Mall in Burlington.

Vice President, PR Chair and Dance Captain of K-DNS senior Lexi Mulholland was very excited for the group’s first time getting involved with the local community outside of campus and working with youth.

“It’ll be a really cool connection to make,” Mulholland said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to have more events in the future with them as well, even after I’m gone and graduated.”

Sophomore Megan Maines said youth should be exposed to cultural elements, like music and dance, that are different from their own.

“Not only do I think it’s a cute idea, but I think it’s important for kids to be introduced to music from different cultures,” Maines said. “Because I think it can help expand their knowledge.”

K-DNS hosts events about once a month that are open to anyone at Elon, such as karaoke at Irazú and workshop sessions to learn a dance. Ravel said a lot of people attend these events.

Mulholland expressed a lot of excitement about K-DNS’s upcoming end-of-year showcase on May 5.

One of the themes for the end-of-year showcase is having a “Dark Team” and a “Light Team.”

“The Dark Team’s sort of concept is dark, gritty sounding songs,” Mulholland said. “We’re the Light Team, so the song we’re doing is very light and pretty and angelic.”

There will also be full group performances in the showcase — an even split of dancing and singing or rapping.

Rap Unit sophomore Christian Atwater, who joined K-DNS this semester, said there’s something for everyone.

“I think we wind up with a very good variety of things that everyone can come and enjoy, if you’re like a casual K-pop fan or if you’re really hardcore,” Atwater said.

Another new member, sophomore Anabelle Sumera-Decoret, was excited about the Rap Unit trying something different than their usual for their numbers in the showcase.

“We’ve got a cute little surprise in it that might subvert expectations for what you might expect from the Rap Unit,” Sumera-Decoret said.

For some numbers, K-DNS has recorded their own vocals that are layered over each other and played during performances.

Maines said the vocalists devote hours at the Arts West recording studios to accomplish this.

“We are really hardworking and really dedicated to our performances, and we put in a lot of effort,” Maines said. “We’re unique and fun and we like what we do. And people should come watch us because we’re really cool,” she added, laughing.

Maines serves as the stage presence coach of K-DNS.

“I monitor our numbers closer to performance time and help guide or help give ideas, like, ‘This is what this song is conveying.’ ‘This is kind of the vibe you’re going for,’” Maines said. “Because it’s so important when you’re performing to have a good face and to interact with your audience.”

This semester, five new faces have been a part of the 13-member group. K-DNS held auditions in the beginning of the spring semester. The first round of auditions consisted of being taught a dance in a short amount of time.

“That’s important for learning dances: how quickly you get it and how much passion and energy you put into it,” Mulholland said.

For the second round, auditionees chose their own song to perform, through singing, rapping or dancing.

“We try to encompass all sorts of domains of typical K-pop performance,” Mulholland said. “Because most K-pop groups at schools just focus on dance.”

Sophomore Brie Melchor said she found out about K-DNS and their auditions from this year’s Burst the Bubble program.

“I’ve liked K-pop for a while and I was like, ‘Should I do it? Should I put myself out there?’” Melchor said. “And then I decided to just take a chance, and I did, and I ended up really liking it.”

Atwater had attended Stephens’ Korean culture Burst the Bubble program and decided to audition after seeing K-DNS performances.

“I was like, ‘I really want to be a part of this,’” Atwater said.

K-DNS will host more auditions in the fall 2024 semester to account for graduating seniors, Mulholland said.

Maines said K-DNS’s first performance as an organization in the spring of 2023 opened the door to what the group could accomplish.

“It went so so well that it really kind of amped up the level,” Maines said. “Now I spend probably four to five hours a week dancing for different things. It’s a commitment, but it’s a fun commitment.”

Maines is a part of the Dance Unit and other numbers the group puts together.

“You can decide what you put into it,” she said.

Sumera-Decoret said she was able to become a part-time member and perform in the Rap Unit for the end-of-year showcase while also being in a mainstage play with Elon Performing Arts.

“I originally wasn’t going to audition because I was in a show, but they encouraged me and said they’d adapt to my schedule and needs so I could still perform with them, which is really nice,” Sumera-Decoret said.

Senior Minori Hata is an international student from Osaka, Japan, and she said K-DNS’s community has been a great thing for her.

“Looking for Asian community or people who are interested in Asian culture, this is a big thing,” Hata said. “Meeting new people, it really helped me. Just talking to people from K-DNS group, they’re so nice.”

Fellow K-DNS members shared this sentiment and reacted with a collective “aww” when Hata shared her experience.

“It’s a safe space if you do share interest in K-pop and that kind of culture,” Sumera-Decoret said. “I know that’s not generally something that you’d find an in-person community for, so I’m really thankful that it exists here on campus.”

Mulholland said the K-pop fan community at Elon is a little difficult to find, but will grow with time, as will K-DNS.

“Slowly but surely we’ve gotten a lot of attention, a lot more than I feel like I anticipated,” Mulholland said.

Ravel said part of why she started K-DNS was to help build a community of K-pop fans.

“I feel like it’s very much under the radar for most people and not a lot of college students at Elon who are K-pop fans really know other K-pop fans on campus,” Ravel said. “I think the goal is to connect those people.”