Dance has a tendency to bring people together. The music, movement, and color or the lack thereof, creates a story for the audience and everyone involved. Dance draws people in and makes them curious in order to invoke powerful emotions.
Traditional cultural dances have this same effect. The music, movement and color sets the scene to a story that’s been passed down through generations. Korean traditional dance depicts the history of the culture through dance and storytelling which exists today in modern and ancient dance styles all around the world.
The dances originated in ancient shamanic rituals about 5,000 years ago but now, many modernized versions are performed.
“Korean dance is a cultural dance. You take the old fashion style and recreate it,” junior Lesley Kim said.
Kim is one of the many teenagers who stay close to their culture in the form of dancing. She feels that it is really easy to become Americanized. By learning the dances, she feels more connected to her culture. Putting this modern twist on a relatively old style of dance brings a fresh new take and appeals to younger generations.
“Honestly, me being Korean, not knowing how to speak Korean, not eating that much Korean food, and not really having an attachment to anything really Korean, had me feeling disconnected. I was Korean but I didn’t feel Korean. This was a good opportunity to really join with the culture, and I don’t think there is a better way to do it than to experience the old traditions,” junior Hannah Lee said.
Many of the dances originate from the dance styles and religious views of each unique village in Korea. Every one of these regions would have their own local gods. Many of the dances, like Tang’ol, would be choreographed with the goal of entertaining that god or goddess. Dances like the Ghost Dance, Fan Dance, Monk Dance, and Entertainer Dance were included in the official division of dance as created by the government when Korean kingdoms came about. Those dances are more recent, becoming popular around 1,000 years ago. These dances that have roots from the original shamanic dances are often performed with accentuated beauty and drama as well as props and traditional Korean dance attire.
Most Korean dances have a storytelling element to them, a sort of storyline that represents Korean life. A dance like the Great Drum Dance depicts a drum that is larger than the dancer which represents temptation of a pure religious figure. In contrast, the Ghost Dance, shows a dancer who reunites with a dead spouse then through the second goodbye, shows grief. The story is mostly shown through the dancing but with smaller elements like props, music and costume complete the effect.
“It’s really fun, but sometimes performances get stressful. Before the performance, you have to get your costumes, the Hamboks, and the venue is always crazy. It’s nerve wracking, but it’s fun once you get up there. People think the outfit is crazy but then they get the idea,” Kim said.
Hamboks are characterized by their bright and vivid colors and are often only worn as semi-formal or formal wear.
When a person watches one of these performances he or she can see the colors, music, props and dance moves complementing one another to create this seamless performance. Korean dance is an experience for everyone. It is a mental journey for the audience with their exposure to the art of Korean storytelling and a connection of the dancers to the culture on a different level.
“It deserves more recognition. More Korean people should get into it and be proud of who they are and their culture and learn more about their roots,” Kim said.
In America, specifically, where it is easy to lose one’s culture to the American way of life, even having a slight understanding and rekindling with one’s roots can keep people from losing a piece of themselves and a long line of family history behind them.
“I never thought that being Korean would be something that would be cool. Traditional Korean dancing taught me to be proud of my culture,” Lee said.