Korean music and dance evolved over three thousand years from the religious ceremonies of shamanism and Buddhism and often were linked to the agricultural cycle. Traditional dances are often performed separately by groups of men or groups of women because the idea of men and women dancing together for many years was considered scandalous. Even today at discos, Koreans tend to dance together in a circle rather than pair off with a partner of the opposite sex, except during slow Bruce (blues) songs.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Korea has an exceptionally rich dance culture and, as in most Asian countries, Korean traditional theatre also employs dance or at least a dance-like, stylised movement technique. The Korean dance technique seems to stem from shamanism, as the dance movements grow from breathing, regulated according to the tempo of the music. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“The tempo is often slow, while the series of movements are characterised by a legato-like quality with an alternation between tension and relaxation. The steps flow. The flow is, however, frozen every now and then into sudden poses. The feet, which are usually covered with white socks, are rarely lifted from the floor. Symbolic hand gestures are not employed, but arms and hands are extended to elegant, linear poses. Arm movements dominate the dance, while they naturally grow from breathing, which in Korean philosophy is linked with spirit (ki). Thus the focal point is on the chest and lung area, while the dance appears as a physical manifestation of a deep, personal emotion. Many of the religious processions include dance and dancing musicians. Their dance employs other kinds of techniques, which are shared with many of the more lively folk dances.

Book: International Encyclopedia of Dance, editor Jeane Cohen, six volumes, 3,959 pages, US$1,250, Oxford University Press, New York. It took 24 years to prepare.

Types of Traditional Dance in Korea

Chunghee Sarah Soh wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “ There are two categories of traditional dance: court dances and folk dances performed by farmers, shamans, and villagers. Kut and nong-ak (farmers' festival music), which combine music and dance with ritual and entertainment, continue to be popular. Mask dances performed by villagers combined dance with satiric drama, making fun of erring officials and monks for entertainment and ethical edification. The Traditional Dance Institute of the Korean National University of Arts was established in 1998 to educate future generations in the traditional dance [Source: Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Traditional dances include court and temple dances and folk dances with highly stylized moves and musicals interpretations. The forms of Korean traditional dance are classified here as follows: 1) Shamanistic dance; 2) Ritual dances (Buddhist and Confucian); 3) Court dances; 4) Dances of the professional entertainers; and 5) Traditional dances adapted in the 20th century for the modern stage.” [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

Traditional Korean dances include the farmer's dance (samulnori), in which dancers with streamers attached to swiveling rods on their hats make swirling patterns while hopping around to thunderous drum and gong music; the female sword dance, in which women dance around a drum or throw balls through a gate; crane dances, in which women dressed in crane outfits pick lotus flowers until they are driven off by human dancers; and fan dances, in which fan-carrying dancers make designs. Mask dancing is dying out because few people can’t make a living at it. The masks have movable jaws and show different class characteristics. Salpuri is an exorcism dance.

Shaman Rituals and Korean Dance

Shaman use various techniques to put themselves into trances: taking hallucinogenic drugs, asphyxiating themselves, and/or being taken over by hypnotic drums, dance rhythms or chants. When in a trance they have visions, speak in strange voices or languages, communicate with dead ancestors, gods, demons and natural spirits, and receive instruction from them about how to help the person who has sought the shaman's help.

Shaman rituals in Korea are often held in front of shrines or altar in the shaman's house, where the shaman goes into trance, is possessed by spirits, shakes and trembles, and speaks in strange languages. They often dance to the rhythm of gongs and drums, and ring a bell, and sometimes perform feats such as walking on the blades of knives without hurting themselves.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: The nucleus of Korean shamanism is the [kut] gut ceremony. It can be a private, individual ceremony, which, for example, is aimed at curing a disease, ensuring longevity or paving the way to the after-world. This kind of ceremony can also be addressed to a deceased person. A gut ceremony can also be a grandiose, communal happening. A village gut may, for example, aim to ensure a good harvest, or luck for the fishermen, or to cure an epidemic illness. Serious, ritualistic sections are combined with more entertaining dance and music numbers. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“The dance of the shamanistic gut ceremonies may look spontaneous, even completely improvised. However, it has its own rules and regulations. Its main elements are soft steps, flowing arm movements and whirling. It is during the dance that the shamans get in contact with the spirit world. During the whirling movements directed to the left, the shaman is able to connect this world with that of the spirits. The shaman’s dance also aims to entertain the spirits. It seems that it is the shamanistic dance that has given Korean dance in general its easily recognisable style and technique. The energy flows from the chest area through the extended arms to the hands and fingers. This kind of ecstatic, almost trance-like emotion is typical of many of the Korean traditional dances. This particular feature, derived from shamanism, is called shinmyon. It indicates the moment when a god or a spirit approaches the shaman performer. The experience is manifested by a deep, almost painful emotion and by the uplifted arms.

Kut include songs, dances, and incantations that are performed at various places to secure good fortune, cure illnesses, or guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven. Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “For the kut the shaman is dressed in special clothing, wears a special hat, and is armed with tools, usually a sword or a trident. She holds a collection of small bells and shakes them while a nearby drummer beats a rhythm. She calls the spirit that is thought to be causing the trouble and tries to start a conversation with it. As the shaman performs the kut she works herself into a semihysterical state that suggests that her powers are fully engaged. She dances energetically, jumping and twirling. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

She chants, shouts, and sings. She wields her weapons and shakes her bells. At times she may try to show that she has reached the supernatural state by doing supernatural things, such as walking barefoot on the upturned blade of her sword. If a sacrificial animal (usually a pig) is involved in the kut, she may balance the dead pig on the vertical sword without using any other means of support. These things heighten the sense of dread and magic in the kut and demonstrate the shaman's power over the spirit world. There are many different kinds of kut and not all of them involve such unusual displays.

Korean Folk Dances

Folk dances have traditionally been performed at festivals and community and family gatherings and sometimes as performances. The buchaechum (Fan Dance) — a traditional form of Korean dance usually performed by groups of female dancers holding fans with floral designs on them — is sometimes performed for tourists.

Korean people have inherited a great variety of folk dances such as salpurichum (spiritual purification dance), gutchum (shamanic ritual dance), taepyeongmu (dance of peace), hallyangchum (idler’s dance), geommu (sword dance), and seungmu (monk’s dance). Of these, talchum (mask dance) and pungmul nori (play with musical instruments) are known for their satirical targeting of the corrupt aristocracy of Chosun and their close connection with rural communities, which had long been the bedrock of Korean culture and tradition. Most performances were traditionally presented in a marketplace or on the fields and involve drumming, dancing, and singing.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “In China, Korean dancing is regarded as dainty and elegant and has been compared to white cranes spreading their wings and willow branches sweeping the water surface. Korean character traits found in Korean dancing include: unrestrained emotion and softness coupled with hardness. Among the most famous folk dances are the harvesting dance, tambourine dance, dance while carrying water on the head, twisting hemp thread dance, fan dance, sword dance, crane dance and monk dance. The harvesting dance is a traditional dance that happiness of farmers harvesting a bumper crop. When it is danced, the dancers play all sorts of drums and folk musical instruments while twirling, skipping and jumping. There are supple and nimble group dances as well as soaring and salient solo dances. Sometimes short humorous plays are inserted now and then. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

Ganggangsullae: Women Dancing Under the Bright Full Moon

Ganggangsullae — Singing and Dancing Under the Bright Full Moon — was put on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. In this dance dozens of young women gather in a circle, join hands and sing and dance all night under the directon of the lead singer under a bright full moon. The dance is usually performed around Seollal (Lunar New Years Days), Daeboreum (The first full moon of the new year of the lunar Korean calendar), Dano (the 5th day of the fifth month of the lunar Korean calendar) and Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving days) on the brightest night of the full moon. The folk custom that was found in rice farming culture of the rural villiage holds a great value as an folk art in passing down the spirit of cooperation, fairness, friendship and a sense of community. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

According to UNESCO: “Ganggangsullae is a seasonal harvest and fertility ritual popular in the south-western part of the Republic of Korea, performed primarily on Korea’s Thanksgiving in the eighth lunar month. Under a bright full moon, dozens of young, unmarried village women gather in a circle, join hands and sing and dance all night under the direction of a lead singer. During interludes, the women playfully mime vignettes reflecting life in a farm or fishing village, including treading on roof tiles, unrolling a mat, catching a mouse or tying herrings. The dance takes its name from the refrain repeated after each verse, although the exact meaning of the word is unknown.

“Once a rare break from restrictive rules governing the behaviour of rural young women who were not allowed to sing aloud or go out at night, except during the ''Chuseok'' Thanksgiving celebration, the ritual is mostly preserved today by middle-aged women in cities and taught as part of the music curriculum of elementary schools. Now practised as a performing art throughout Korea, it can be seen as a representative Korean folk art. It is an important hereditary custom drawn from the rice culture that pervaded daily life in the countryside. The easy tunes and movements can be learned quickly for this communal practice that contributes to harmony, equality and friendship among the women dancers.

Nongak Community Band Music and Dance and Rituals

Nongak — Community Band Music, Dance and Rituals in the Republic of Korea — were named to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2014. Nongak is accompanied by many traditional percussion and wind intruments along with a street parade, dance choreography and acrobatic moves. Though it is often perceived as a form of entertainment today, it originated from communal rites and formal rituals praying for peace and prosperity in a family and/or neighborhood. It has evolved into a representative performing art genre of Korea, with its mixed elements of dynamic energy, joy and sorrow. Despite being widely performed and enjoyed by all Koreans, the nongak play in modern days has become somewhat limited. It is usually only shown during festivals such as praying for a rich harvest in spring, celebrating the harvest in autumn, and during a few professional entertainment events. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

According to UNESCO: “Nongak is a popular performing art derived from communal rites and rustic entertainments. It has evolved into a representative performing art of the Republic of Korea, combining a percussion ensemble and sometimes wind instruments, parading, dancing, drama and acrobatic feats. Local Nongak performers clad in colourful costumes perform their music and dance during community events with various purposes, such as appeasing gods, chasing evil spirits, praying for a rich harvest in spring then celebrating it during autumn festivals and fund-raising for community projects.

“There are distinctive regional styles of Nongak, generally divided among five cultural centres. Within each area, differences exist from one village to another in band composition, performing style, rhythm and costumes. Dancing includes choreographic formations and streamer dances while actors wearing masks and peculiar outfits also perform funny skits. Acrobatics include dish spinning and miming antics by child dancers carried on the shoulders of adult performers. The public becomes familiar with Nongak through observation and participation in its performances, while community groups and educational institutions play an important role in teaching and transmitting the different components. Nongak helps to enhance solidarity and cooperation in the community and establishes a sense of shared identity among community members.

Religious and Ceremonial Dances in Korea

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “ Korea is a storehouse of many old types of ritual dance that are rare elsewhere. They were partly inherited from China, where they have now completely disappeared. Besides the shamanistic dances, ritual dances include Confucian and Buddhist dances.

“Both Confucianism and Buddhism entered Korea from China. As in China, so too in Korea, Confucianism has been the “religion”, or rather the political philosophy, of the court and the ruling elite, since it concentrates on maintaining the traditional hierarchy of society. At the summit of this hierarchy was, of course, the ruler. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“Buddhism arrived in Korea slightly later, in the 4th century AD. During the following centuries it gained great popularity and became the state religion in the 7th century. In the 14th century it was felt that the growing popularity of Buddhism was threatening the Confucian State Cult. Buddhists were persecuted and they were forced to go underground. The oppression was continued on and off until the early 20th century when Buddhism, its rites, music and rare dance traditions were again revived.

Buddhist Dances in Korea

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: Korean Buddhist dances are a unique rarity. It is not known when exactly they were created. They are called chakpop, which indicates the creation of dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). Tradition says that these dances were originally performed by devas, or heavenly beings. The exact meaning of most of the Buddhist dances is unclear. They mostly form part of large-scale Buddhist temple ceremonies during which a huge Buddhist cloth painting is hung on the temple wall. The Drum Dance (popchum) and the Cymbal Dance (parachum) were originally performed during offering ceremonies.

“All of the Buddhist dances are very solemn in character. The Butterfly Dance is not an exception. Its dancers, dressed in large, long-sleeved gowns that indicate butterflies, repeat simple steps, slow turns and finally end up in crouching positions. Buddhist dances in Korea are not regarded as forms of meditation or of prayer, but merely as kinds of physical offerings.

According to With a history that goes back to the Unified Silla period, Korea's most renowned Buddhist dance, " Sungmu" or the Monk's Dance, is an independent coming together of colour, music, and movement. Choreographed for stage presentation, it is most challenging to perform. The dance depicts the emotions of a monk torn between the monastic and mundane worlds. The two most common ritual dances, both in praise of the Buddha, are the Butterfly Dance and the Cymbals Dance. Both are usually performed off stage in a temple compound. [Source:]

Confucian Dances in Korea

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “ Formal dance rituals connected to Confucian rites are known in many countries that inherited or adopted the Confucian model of administration and the State Ritual from China. Thus Confucian ritual dances are still performed in Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. On mainland China the tradition was completely destroyed by the Communist regime in the mid-20th century. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“In Korea, Confucian dances are called ilmu, or “line dances”. It is an apt term, since most of these extremely slow and ceremonial dances are performed by large groups of dancers in a temple courtyard in strict line formations. As everywhere else where Confucian dances are performed, so too in Korea were the ceremonies originally related to the ancestral cult. The ilmu rites were introduced to the Korean ruling class during the Koryo dynasty (918–1392). They were originally performed at the royal ancestral shrine.

“Following the general Confucian tradition, the dances are divided into “civil dances” and “military dances”. They are performed in connection with offering ceremonies and ritual music. They consist of a few, almost minimalistic movements, turns and bows, which the dancers execute according to strict discipline without any kind of facial expression.

Korean Court Dances

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “ Korean court dances (chongjae) have an exceptionally long, uninterrupted performance tradition. Early literary sources tell us that two court dances were already being performed by a famous dancer during the period of the Kaya Kingdom (42–562 AD). Many of the Korean court dances were adopted from the China of the Tang Dynasty during the United Silla Dynasty (668–935). Like the Korean Confucian ritual dances, the court dances also preserve forms of Chinese art, which have completely disappeared from their country of origin.

“They provide extremely valuable information, not only in the context of China and Korea, but in the context of the whole of East Asia, since the Tang court was, to a great extent, the original source of many art forms, which spread as far as Japan. Dances formed an important element of the court festivities, such as the coronation ceremony, praying for longevity for the queen etc. The golden age of Korean court dances was the Chosun Dynasty (1392–1910). It was then that their present repertoire was formulated and over forty dances were composed. The custom was that boy dancers performed for the king out of doors, while young “geishas” or kisaeng girls performed for the queen at court.

“The most popular of the solo dances is the Chunaengmu or the Dance of the Spring Nightingale. It was created by Crown Prince Hyomyeong during the Chosun Dynasty in the early 19th century. Arm movements, which send the long sleeves flying in the air, dominate its sparse movements. The dance describes the song of a nightingale and its flight through the sky. The whole dance is performed on a small straw mat decorated with flower motifs. Other dances include, among others, the Crane Dance (Hangmu), the Boating Dance (Sonyurak), Coming of the Phoenix (Pongnaeui). One of the many group dances performed at court is the Jinju Sword Dance, which was performed at court by women dancers dressed in military uniforms.

Technique and Structure of Korean Court Dances

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Like the Confucian ritual dances, the court dances, dictated by the strict court etiquette, are also extremely restrained in character. No facial expression is allowed, and the movements are limited to a few steps (three forwards and three backwards), lifting the feet, solemn turns, bows, and to elevated arm movements, while the handling of the long sleeves and/or limited props form an important element, as in other Korean dances. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“The repertoire includes both solo and group dances. They follow a fixed pattern, which slightly varies depending on whether the dance is accompanied by secular music (tangkak), which originates from China, or by actual court music (hyangkak), which has also been inherited from China. The music was originally performed by a group of court musicians.

“The leading dancers are called chungmu. The main dancers are called wonmu, while the supporting dancers and the honour guard are called hyonmu. The dances usually consist of four parts: 1) the beginning, 2) the connecting section, 3) the main part, and 4) the finale.

Early Korean “Art” Dances by Professional Entertainers

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “In Korea there has been a particular class of female entertainers which can be compared to the Japanese geishas. In Korea these public performers and entertainers are called kisaeng. Like the geishas, the kisaeng women were also often well trained in various forms of the arts, such as music and dance. The performances often took place at drinking parties and in public teahouses. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“The kisaeng dancers were able to create new compositions by adapting different traditions, such as the shamanistic, Buddhist and court dances. These kinds of creations are called kyobang dances. Many of them are now highly valued “art dances”, and some of them are even declared to be “National Treasures”, although kyobang dances were originally performed by female dancers, but now also often by men.

“Probably the most famous of all kyobang dances is Salpuri or the Exorcism Dance. Despite its name, salpuri does not have any direct ritual function. However, it is accompanied by shamanistic music and its movement technique echoes shamanistic dance. A long white handkerchief or a scarf plays a major role in the dance. The number starts slowly in a standing position. Gradually the dancer starts to throw the long handkerchief into the air until it finally lies on the ground. While the emotion grows into deep sadness or longing, the dancer crouches down, and finally almost lies on the floor to reach it.

“Another popular kyobang dance is the Monk’s Dance, which was created by a dancer who had formerly been a monk. While the performer is dancing he plays a large drum, which is placed on a high stand. The movements of the loose, white monk’s gown and its extended, long sleeves form the highlights of this expressive and hypnotic number.

Mask Theatre and Satirical Dances in Korea

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Korea has several forms of mask theatre. All of them combine dance music, and spoken lines. The steps, movements and mask systems vary from region to region and usually the traditions are named after their birthplace. All the forms of mask theatre include a wide range of caricature-like characters, covering the hierarchy of the Korean society of older times. The introductory parts of each mask dance, however, still reveal the roots of this art form in earlier exorcism rituals, as each dance starts with greetings to the gods. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“These various forms of mask theatre are called by the generic names either talchum or tal nori. All of them are rather improvisatory in character. Direct communication between the dancers and the musicians is common, while even the audience can, from time to time, participate in the performances.

“The earliest textual reference to mask theatre in Korea seems to be from the 9th century AD and it mentions a form of temple ritual. Even today there exists a form of mask dance in which the village tutelary spirits appear as masked dancers. It is assumed that the present forms of mask theatre started to evolve in the 18th century. They originally presented the spontaneous art of agrarian people. Later, the urban middle class also became interested in them. Thus commercial, touring mask companies became common too. In the 19th century mask theatre was at the height of its popularity.

“The Confucian ruling elite never really approved of mask theatre because of its obvious social criticism and sexual allusions. The official attitude became even more negative during the Japanese occupation of 1910–1945. However, one of the forms, Pongsan, experienced a short revival in the 1930s. The final revival began in the 1970s, when a new generation of academicians started to study the forms of Korean folk culture seriously; these forms were in serious danger of becoming extinct. Nowadays huge, state-organised mask theatre festivals gather together troupes from all over the country.

Traditional Mask Dancing at the Gangneung Danoje Festival

Gangneung Danoje Festival and the indigenous traditional mask dancing there was listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2005. The festival is held the day after or before of every May, the fifth day of the fifth month of the year according to the lunar calendar. There are demonstrations of Confucian festive rite. A Dano shamanic kut ritual gives thanks to the nature of Gods. Traditional games and circus performances are enjoyed. One of South Korea’s largest open markets is held there. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

According to UNESCO: The annual Gangneung Danoje Festival takes place in the town of Gangneung and its surroundings, situated east of the Taebaek Mountain Range on the Korean peninsula.The festival includes a shamanistic ritual on the Daegwallyeong Ridge, which pays tribute to the mountain deity and male and female tutelary deities. It encompasses traditional music and Odokddegi folk songs, the Gwanno mask drama, oral narrative poetry, and various popular pastimes. The Nanjang market, Korea’s largest outdoor marketplace, is today a major element of the festival, where local products and handicrafts are sold and contests, games and circus performances take place. The four-week long festival begins with the brewing of a sacred liquor and the Dano shamanistic rituals, in which a central role is played by a sacred tree, the sinmok, and the hwagae, a ritual object made of feathers, bells and bamboo wood. One of the specific features of the festival is the coexistence of Confucian, shamanistic and Buddhist rituals.

Through the rituals devoted to the deities, the region is believed to remain unaffected by natural disasters, allowing all its residents to live in peace and prosperity. Every year, a large number of visitors attend the various ritual performances and actively participate in events such as making Danoje festival fans, brewing the sacred liquor, drawing masks for the Gwanno Mask Drama, preparing and eating Surichiwi rice crackers and washing their hair in Iris water. The Gangneung Danoje Festival enjoys immense popularity. However, cultural standardization and increased media coverage over the years have resulted in the loss of some traditional elements of the festival. In the traditional context of the festival, one of the functions has been to transcend social differences by allowing people of all social classes to participate.

Cheoyongmu Masked Dance

Cheoyongmu — Masked Dance Performance Based on the Legendary Tale of Cheoyong — was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. Cheoyongmu has traditionally been performed to dispel evil spirits and pray for tranquillity at royal banquets or during exorcism rites on New Year’s Eve to promote good fortune. Cheoyongmu is based on the legendary tale of Cheoyong from the Silla dynasty. Cheoyong came up with his own number to chase the evil spirit away with his singing and dancing. From then on, people believed that putting a drawing of Cheoyong on the outside of their main gate would ward off sickness and a variety of evils. Later, it the simple ritual to ward off evil had transformed into a formal royal court dance. The dance is performed by five men clad in white, blue, black, red and yellow to represent the four cardinal directions and the centre. The dancers move with stateliness and vigour through a variety of styles and tempos of music, punctuated by various lyrical song recitations. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

According to UNESCO: Cheoyongmu is a court dance today performed on stage but formerly used to dispel evil spirits and pray for tranquillity at royal banquets or during exorcism rites on New Year’s Eve to promote good fortune. Based on the Korean legend of Cheoyong, a son of the dragon king Yongwang, who took human form and saved his human wife from the smallpox spirit through singing and dancing, the dance is performed by five men clad in white, blue, black, red and yellow to represent the four cardinal directions and the centre. They wear the light wine-coloured mask of the man-god, with white teeth, tin earrings with a necklace of lead beads, and a black hat decorated with two peony blossoms and seven peaches to ward off evil and invite auspicious energy.

The dancers move with stateliness and vigour through a variety of styles and tempos of music, punctuated by various lyrical song recitations. Part of a greater folk mythology surrounding Cheoyong, including the belief that his image carved on the gate of a house would repel smallpox and other ills, Cheoyongmu also embodies the philosophy of Confucianism, particularly the Theory of the Five Elements. The creation of the Cheoyong masks also provides a valuable opportunity for traditional craftsmanship.

Ballet in Korea

The Seoul-based and Universal Ballet is widely regarded as the finest Asian ballet company. Founded in 1984 and funded by the Unification Church of Rev. Sun myung Moon, it has been run by Oleg Vinogradov, the former artistic director of the Kirov, since 1998 and is equally adept at performing Russian classics as it in doing dances inspired by Korean folk tales. The Universal Ballet has 70 dancers, about two thirds of them from South Korea and the remainder mostly from East Asia. One of the principal dancers and PR persons is Julia Moon, a daughter-in-law of Rev. Moon.

In 2007, Jennifer Dunning wrote in the New York Times: “South Korean dancers dominated the field at the New York International Ballet Competition’s closing gala, winning or sharing a majority of the medals and other honors. [Source: Jennifer Dunning, New York Times, June 26, 2007]

Kwi Sub Park won the men’s bronze medal. The women’s bronze medal was awarded to Seung-Won Shin (South Korea). The Gussie and Samuel Arbuse gold medal went to Eun Ji Ha (South Korea), with no gold medal in the men’s category. The women’s silver medal was awarded to Na Eun Kim (South Korea).The South Korean winners are all students at the Korean National University of Arts in Seoul. The New York competition, part of an international circuit, is open to dancers 17 to 24.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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