When we think of dance, Western styles of dancing such as ballet quickly come to our mind. This is due to the fact that we have been exposed to them through media and actual performances at young ages and with high frequency. However, Korean dance, even though we are not very aware of it, is another unique form of movements using human bodies. It includes all kinds of movements underlying Korean beauty. At Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), there are students who major in Korean dance and prominent professors mentor them. By introducing what Korean dance is, The Sungkyun Times (SKT) hopes to remind people of its value.
What is Korean dance?
The definition of Korean dance might be slightly vague . It can be confusing whether a dancer should be Korean or a performance should be held in Korea to call it Korean dance. The truth is, Korean dance is all types of dance on the basis of Korean traditional culture or forms of Korean beauty. Therefore, it is not affected by the dancer’s nationality or the place.
The beginning of dance itself goes back to early ages. Human beings, as they wished to survive and avoid risky factors, depended on the force of Mother Nature. One significant way to get its help was through religious ceremonies. It was in these rituals that dance was used to worship spiritual beings. Korean dance evolved for the same purpose. The exact period when it started and the way how it prevailed are uncertain but we can get an estimate from early records. In History of Three States, known as Samgukji, there is a record that people from three kingdoms sang and danced together in their own annual ceremonies. This is thought to be the start of Korean dance. Also, in a document from China, Korean dance is said to have been played in Chinese theatres. This shows the prevalence of Korean dance, implying the superiority of Korean dance to Chinese one at the same time.
Korean dance has a large spectrum of court dance to folk dance, m a s k d a n c e and creative dance. The former three are classified as traditional and give us the most representative pictures of what we think of Korean dance. Court dance was used in performances to entertain kings, for instance, with varied colors of folding fans. Folk dance evolved to wish richness in agriculture and had less constraints in movements compared to court dance, giving rise to various kinds of dance. Mask dance was first categorized to court dance, but later became folk dance as it gave a keen satire on society. Meanwhile, creative dance is rather a modern style of dance. Its motif comes from individual’s creative thoughts and emotions. Among these four kinds of Korean dance, the SKT will focus on the last one, creative dance.
Is Korean dance only old-fashioned and traditional?
As we have looked through the range of Korean dance above, Korean dance involves creative dance which is a relatively modern type. Last October, a performance featuring Korean creative dance was held in Hyehwa. It was called Bird’s Eye View. It is more unique than other Korean dance performances, as Haksun Lim, a professor at SKKU, directed the whole performance. Lim is a renowned Korean dancer who directed Seoul Dance Company and 88 Seoul Art Corps, and is now the head of Lim Haksun Dance We. Through this rendition, she wanted to express the endless desire of human beings by looking at the world in a bird’s view. Not only was there dance, but image media such as movies were in a harmony with dancers’ moves as well. As a consequence, Korean dance can be creative by combining dance and images, furthermore implying directors' thoughts.
I major in dance!
At SKKU, there are students who are majoring in dance. They have danced and prepared for college entrance since they were six or seven years old. The dance department is divided into three majors: modern dance, ballet and Korean dance. Among them, the SKT interviewed four freshmen who major in Korean dance.
What do you learn in classes?
Same as other freshmen, we do take general education courses. What is special about us is that we additionally learn theories of Korean dance and practical skills. Also, we have opportunities to dance in actual performances. Just last month, we participated in a performance, Feel like Flying, held in 600th Anniversary Hall. Normally, we sweat a lot after learning practice skills, making us tired a whole day.
How is Korean dance different from Western dance?
While Western style of dance is flashy, traditional Korean dance expresses elegance through static movements. It also bans exposure of human bodies. Therefore, as dancers, sometimes it is hard to express our emotions and thoughts through rather restricted moves. However, what we like about Korean dance is that, similar to Koreans’ sentiments, it reveals its beauty by understatement.
Are there physical limitations on Korean dance?
Partly yes and partly no. Many people think that one should be skinny and have suitable height to be a dancer. That can be right because the person would be lighter in each movement. However, unlike ballet which requires physical advantages, Korean dance has much less physical limitations. It can be done to the fullest if a dancer has enough feelings on what to show and how delicate a performance should be.
When we decided to major in Korean dance, most of our parents worried about it at first due to its unpromising future. In the past, ironically, Korean dance was much known to foreigners in that it shows traditional Korean culture. However, as creative Korean dance evolved, it began to attract the public’s interest. Also, as creative dance is performed in a modern style, more people from other countries are paying attention to it, making it much easier for us to spread Korean dance.
Korean dance, spreading to the world
Which type of dance played a pivotal role in globalizing Korean dance? globalizing Korean dance? Court dance, mask dance or folk dance? These types have also contributed to the event to a certain point, but people attribute the successful globalization of Korean dance to creative dance. In 1976, Maeja Kim, a prominent professor at Ewha Womans University at the time, founded Creative Dance Association, developing the nationwide beauty of Korean dance to worldwide values. Starting from 1979 in New York, Creative Dance Association was on stage in more than 93 different cities. Through these various performances, they let foreigners know what Korean dance is. These permanent endeavors made people around the world gaze at Korean dance in awe, and these moves are going forward.
“It takes an athlete to dance, but an artist to be a dancer,” says Shanna LaFleur, a prominent ballet dancer. This shows how hard dance is and how beautiful the dance moves can be. In Arco Art Center, located in Daehangno, performances on Korean dance take place once a month. Why not pay a visit and see the creativeness?
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