When the announcement rang out like the principal calling a student to the office Becky saw it for what it was: a nuisance. The sound of people engaging in their rituals of stalling for time before doing anything close to practicing was replaced by the funeral march of shuffling footsteps and nervous tittering from those who were either newer or still intimidated by the stares of people who in one breath claim to support you but would just as easily turn their back if it meant a better chance at personal advancement and survival. The simple fact of the matter was that many of the trainees that wandered around like they were going to be the next breakout star and ride the hallyu wave to people whose attentions were too short to even watch a full three minute PV were, of course, delusional. Becky had no grand aspiration to be the reigning queen of AS Entertainment - that role was 'taken' by someone who wasn't nearly as good as she fooled the naive people into thinking she was and someone who really
didn't want to get into a battle of wits or words with Becky if she wanted to keep that loose grip on the pulse of this place intact. But what Becky did
have was experience.
And experience showed that most of the people that came into AS went out shortly thereafter.
When the announcement rang out, Becky merely opened her eyes with a narrowed gaze and a click of the roof of her mouth. While people were warming up, Becky was being as casual as could be, sitting in a chair resting on the far side of the main floor with earbuds firmly in place and the pounding music loud enough to be picked up by anyone who happened to be nearby. While training included different aspects, Becky was never going to be some prancy fancy dancy clown - and it wasn't as if they were training to be Fred Astaire here; the girls might as well have been training while instructors threw bills at them given the end result of it all. Knowing what she was about, knowing her weaknesses was the best strength possible for the American - it meant she didn't have to feel bad for negating them and it meant she could get away with calling 'listening to rap music' training. Many could probably question why she was even here, especially after five years, given that she did well on Show Me The Money and honestly her answer was as pragmatic as her outlook: She needed representation and AS made the best offer.
She wasn't interested in being an idol, not like some of these true believers who would work themselves to death to the detriment of their physical and mental health; she just needed someone or someones to get her foot in the door with big wigs in the entertainment world. If Becky didn't have the raw confidence or the skill to back up her claims of being the top rapper in AS, she probably would've been terminated years ago. Fortunately the management, despite their faults, know a good thing when her audition on a reality show got a million views the night it was uploaded.
So when the announcement rang out, Becky was in no hurry to respond to the summons. When the instructors asked her to jump, Becky rolled her eyes; when they asked her to go to the basement she simply switched to the next song and turned the volume up another pip. What was the point of evaluations at this point if only to thin out the people who didn't belong anyway? Did she really need to watch doe-eyed boys and girls stammer their way through a sub-karaoke rendition of a top song from the Gaon Chart? Did she really have to get in front of people, do some bars or a scene from some drama she was interested in but never got filmed again? Did she really have to pat someone on the back and tell them how good a job they did when their steps were out of rhythm and they were out of tune and early on the song cue?
But she was going to do it anyway.
After this song.
And maybe the next one.
From her cozy spot against a wall, Becky watched as the main floor emptied, making a point to stare down anyone who glanced her way with eyes and expression that wordlessly asked if she was coming too. In those instances it was like a gazelle looking into the eyes of a lion, so much so that Becky could see the sweat drip down their neck - and it wasn't because of warmups or the overhead lights. The fact that these evaluations took place in a basement didn't seem as funny to the others as it did Becky. Basements by design spooked people, especially back home when every basement was dark, dank, and had stairs that creaked with every step - not to mention the rats - and that evaluations took place in the basement was the fine ironic cherry atop the entertainment sundae. Training was torturous for those who gave a shit, why not have everyone shuffle into an actual torture chamber and call it evaluation. Give the people a rope and watch them hang themselves.
The worst part is that so many of them still bought into this when they should really know better. But when some of them had been doing this since before they knew better - be it from shitty parents or manipulative scouts seeing a penny they could squeeze for gold - Becky figured it was too much to ask. Sucker them in when they didn't know any better, then half a decade later when they start asking when they're going to be in a group just tell them to look at something shiny and run away. In a way, Becky almost envied the people that weren't jaded; maybe it was the American in her that made her so cynical. It was definitely the American in her that caused no fewer than seven people across her reality show appearance and her AS signing meetings to remark on both her 'darker than expected' skin tone and her 'rough' language, both in terms of vulgarity and her speaking Korean as a second language - and one that she skipped a few lessons on.
For now, the hall was basically empty and she was free to do something vital before she shuffled her way down to the basement. Becky flipped through songs on her device before settling on one, turning the volume up to max. She was out of her seat before the beat dropped. 'What the fuck, though, where the love go? Five, four, three, two, I let one go..'
Becky rolled her shoulders, shifted her torso to the right, snapped her fingers as her arms swayed like the waves of the ocean all before she turned to her side, dropped to a squat with palms on her knees, criss crossing her hands as she shook, before rising back up right all in time with the beats of the song echoing from her headphones. With no eyes on the room she was able to rehearse by dancing as if no one was watching.
The problem with dancing lessons in the world of idols is they rarely danced the way Becky was used to people dancing. Just letting the beats take you, the rhythms flowing through your body like lifeblood. It was all so...routine. No one actually danced like idols in reality except for backup dancers; Becky wasn't putting forth effort in choreography because choreography was, in her mind, the antithesis to genuine dance. The way she was moving now, away from prying eyes of her peers, Becky was able to cut loose, to pop her waist, to roll from head to foot in fluid step, to allow her head to bop along, to not have to worry about staying in step with whoever was on either side of her. Becky was a child of freestyle, from rhymes to attitude to moves. Maybe if dance lessons were less rigid she'd care more. Maybe if this idol music had better beats she'd take it seriously.
Maybe if she hadn't been lost in her own little world she would've seen a fresh faced girl standing and watching her with an excited smile. And maybe if the fresh faced girl hadn't been there, Becky wouldn't have looked like she got caught stealing from the cookie jar, her dancing stopping and her face contorting to an expression of guilt, as if freedom of expressive dance was a crime in this world of entertainment."Hi!"
Baek Cho-Rong was in a bit of a cucumber, which was one step away from being in a pickle! You were in a cucumber when you could still float at the top of the brine, but a pickle was when you sunk below and things elevated to worse. A pickle was a bad situation, but Cho-Rong's father always liked to say that being in a pickle was nothing to cry about, because lots of people liked pickled vegetables! Cho-Rong liked pickled radish with her meals, so there was wisdom to her father's words. So despite Cho-Rong being in a cucumber and well on her way to being in a pickle, she wasn't letting that keep her down.
The cucumber was a combination of external factors, most obvious of which was the fact that she was a new member of the trainee dorm. Despite having technically been involved with AS for a small handful of months now, she only got permission to move to the dorms within the past week or so and it had been a bit of a process. The building was so much bigger than what she had been expecting! But then it would have to be to house so many trainees and rooms for training and study. Where she came from everything was much smaller; the biggest thing she was used to was the fields of tea leaves that was her front yard. Her school was a single floor building with class sizes so small she could remember everyone's names in a single day. But here? Here she confused the dance instructor with a simple staffer on the first day! And she still didn't really know anybody's name. But that was okay, that wasn't the cucumber problem; that was just an easily accomplished task of meeting her peers and potentially future idol partners!
The fact that the building was so much larger than she was used to with rooms that were sometimes open and sometimes not and the fact that no one really gave her the tour upon arrival meant that when the announcement to assemble in the basement rang out she was thoroughly confused. The building had a basement? Since when? Always? Normally she would have simply asked somewhere where the basement was or just followed a group of people and hope she was in the right place - that tactic so far had a fifty percent success rate. The first time she moved with a group she wound up going to a boys training session and practically laughed at as she apologized and was pointed in the right direction; the second time she attempted the group following method she wound up in the relaxation room which wasn't quite where she wanted to be but it was a nice change of pace so she counted it as a success anyway.
Unfortunately when the announcement rang out she happened to be in the bathroom and by the time she finished up everyone had already gone to the basement as instructed. Everybody moved so quickly! Was that because of the big city way of life? The family tea farm of Boseong County was easy going despite there being a number of chores on any given day. But when so much of the life is built around waiting for harvests, taking things slowly just comes naturally.
Stepping out of the bathroom into an empty hallway would normally not be much of an issue but Cho-Rong knew two things: that she was supposed to go to the basement and that she didn't know where that was. For a few moments she simply stood outside the bathroom door, listening for a footstep or something but hearing...not a footstep but...was that...music? It was basically her only lead at this point! And where there was music there was probably a person who knew the way to go! That was one way to take a bite out of that cucumber!
With light, springy steps, Cho-Rong followed the faint sound of pounding beats to a familiar area. She'd been here before! This was where the trainees tended to warm up or talk or just prepare for their activities that day. Normally there were a good number of people there but now? Now she only saw one and the one who was there was getting down. Cho-Rong had never really seen someone dance like that. Could it really be called dancing? It was more like...thrusting and grinding but with the whole body. It lacked the...grace and choreography that idols were supposed to have. It wasn't bad, just...different. And yet, Cho-Rong couldn't look away. Whoever that dark girl was, she certainly had...freedom.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the girl stopped and stared at Cho-Rong as if Cho-Rong had just caught the girl doing something illegal. Cho-Rong responded in the only way she knew how: earnestly. A quick clap of her hands before waving at her in the friendliest manner and tone she could muster. "Hi!"
"Who the hell are you?" The girl's tone was, in Cho-Rong's mind, a bit needlessly confrontational but she could understand the question. Cho-Rong didn't exactly look like she knew the run of the place, because she didn't, and the first rule of any new job was to walk like you deserved to be there.
"I'm Baek Cho-" "What do you want?" Cho-Rong didn't even get to properly introduce herself, but that's okay, she kept her friendly smile even if this other girl was still sneering. Cho-Rong's smile would just have to be big enough for the both of them.
"Are you a trainee too? We're supposed to be in the basement. Are you lost too?"
Cho-Rong watched as the dancing girl stared over every inch of Cho-Rong like she was on display at a museum. When the dancer cracked a thin smirk of a smile, Cho-Rong lit up herself; they were getting somewhere! She'd found someone who was as lost as she was, that was as good a basis for a friendly partnership as any. "I'm not lost. I'm exempt from the evaluation, but you? You're late. It's down that way. You can't miss it." The girl pointed towards a hallway on the far side of the room and Cho-Rong thanked her before bounding off on her way.
Unbeknownst to Cho-Rong was the fact that she was going completely the wrong way.
By the time she realized that maybe the dancer had made a harmless little mistake, Cho-Rong was even more lost than before. It looked like she was in a hallway of doors but none of them were marked 'basement' or even 'stairs'. She couldn't just go around knocking on random doors, that would have been rude...maybe she should turn around and find the dancing girl again, calmly explain the situation, and find her way to the basement before it was too late. This cucumber was rapidly approaching pickle state.
Good fortune seemed to smile on her, however, as a sullen looking staff member (she could tell because he had a lanyard!), was walking towards her with his head aimed fully at his own shoes. "Excuse me, mister?" Cho-Rong tried to flag the guy down verbally and with a wave of her hand, but he just kept on walking. As he passed, she could swear she heard him mutter something about brushing teeth or breath mints or...something? Even as she turned to watch him continue on, calling out to him didn't work and now she was back to square one. Or zero. She wasn't even on a square anymore, but a circle that was rolling along endlessly!
And then, of course, good fortune opened another window as she heard sound. Not just music, but what sounded like people...exerting themselves? It didn't matter what the sound was - sound meant a person or people and maybe that was the basement. Cho-Rong didn't have to go far before the noise became more clear; it was coming from behind a slightly open door. She didn't see anything on the door that said 'staff only' or anything so she didn't see the harm in opening it just a bit further and knocking on the doorway. As far as she could see it was just one girl in the room; she wasn't dancing but she also didn't seem to be in any hurry to go to the basement.