You may know Yeji as the main dancer and leader of ITZY, but she had a long journey to get there. Here’s the full story of how she battled a troublesome childhood to become an incredible dancing star.

Hwang Yeji was born on May 26, 2000 in Seoul, South Korea, later moving to Jeonju.

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Baby Yeji

Ever since she was a child, she dreamed of becoming a star. However, while fans today know Yeji as the main dancer in one of the fourth generation’s best dance groups, she actually hated dancing as a child.

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Young Yeji

That might be why Yeji had a backup dream—being a soccer player. Although, funnily enough, Yeji revealed last year that she’s not all that good at the sport.

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Yeji trying out baseball pitching in 2019.

Luckily for MIDZYs, despite Yeji’s athletic inclination, her mom saw star quality in her. Despite Yeji’s dislike of dancing, her mom encouraged her to learn the skill. And, although she didn’t enjoy it, Yeji diligently kept practicing dance to keep her mom happy.

But dancing soon turned out to be the least of Yeji’s mom’s worries. When Yeji was 8 years old, she caught a bad case of the flu. While most children usually recover from the virus, Yeji’s condition didn’t improve no matter how much medicine she took.

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Young Yeji

One day, her health condition declined so severely that she had to be rushed to hospital. When young Yeji awoke in her hospital bed to see her mom crying, her mom bravely insisted there was nothing to worry about. However, the truth was that Yeji was actually fighting for her life.

Young Yeji

After being transported to a specialist hospital in Seoul, Yeji underwent a series of tests and was diagnosed with three potentially fatal illnesses: pneumonia (a lung infection), osteomyelitis (a bone infection), and septic shock (an infection reaction).

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Yeji recounted the story in a live broadcast this year. | VLIVE

While the doctors in Jeonju were unable to find the right antibiotics for Yeji, the hospital in Seoul was thankfully able to administer the correct medication, sparing the future star from a serious operation. She later underwent a minor procedure to remove the fluid buildup caused by her pneumonia.

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| VLIVE

All in all, Yeji spent around one year in hospital recovering from her illnesses. When she finally asked her mom why she’d been crying that day, her mom revealed that doctors had told her to prepare for the worst: there was a chance Yeji may not have survived.

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Thankfully, Yeji was able to make a full recovery from her illnesses. And, despite being diagnosed with atopy (a condition which causes allergic diseases) on top of her infections, the star has since revealed that her health is very good these days. Once she was well, Yeji got right back on the train to stardom.

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Young Yeji

Yeji got her first brush with the entertainment industry at the age of 15 when she made a cameo on the tvN drama “Twenty Again”. Of course, being an idol was her true dream.

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Young Yeji on tvN’s “Twenty Again”

Later in 2015, Yeji auditioned for JYP Entertainment, performing TWICE‘s debut hit, “Like Ooh-Ahh”.

Dancing may not have been her thing at the time, but her skills certainly impressed the casting agents. Yeji passed her audition, and in 2016, she became a JYP Entertainment trainee.

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16-year-old Yeji was the third ITZY member to join the company. When she arrived, 15-year-old Chaeryeong and Ryujin had already been training for quite a while. Yeji once revealed that Ryujin kindly introduced her to the company and walked her through everything, giving her a hug on her very first day.

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13-year-old Yuna joined soon after, and Yeji made sure to take care of the future maknae just like Ryujin did with her. Training to become an idol may not have been easy, but Yeji had her loving bandmates by her side to keep her spirits up.

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Young Yeji

And she certainly must have trained hard, because her skills earned her a spot on television before ITZY even debuted. In 2018, 18-year-old Yeji appeared on SBS‘s reality show, The Fan.

Although she was eliminated in the fifth episode, 2PM‘s Junho described her as “JYP’s Secret Weapon”.

So, it’s no surprise that when JYP Entertainment announced the lineup for ITZY in January 2019, Yeji was right there—as the group’s main dancer, lead vocalist, sub rapper, and faithful leader.

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After three years of training, Yeji debuted on February 12, 2019 with ITZY’s ”DALLA DALLA”, and the rest is history.

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Since then, the group has racked up 15 major awards, becoming one of only five K-Pop acts in history to earn the title of “Grand Slam Rookie”.

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And despite everything she went through, Yeji has undoubtedly become one of the most impressive dancers of her generation.

With everything she’s achieved just one year into her career, fans can’t wait to see how much more incredible Yeji’s story becomes as she grows.

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