Dancers pose while performing ogomu (five-drum dance)

Folk Dances

In contrast to court dance, folk dance expresses the emotions of people and ordinary life. There is a lack of constraint and reveals freedom of improvisation, where folk music and relatively fast tempo beats accompany each dance. Folk dance styles are intermingled with Buddhist and shaman forms – rites and rituals from both practices.

Popular folk dances include: the farmers’ dance, kanggang–suwollae, seungmu (monk’s dance), buchaechum (fan dance), salp’uri, changgochum (hour–glass drum dance), and ogomu (five drum dance).

The Farmers’ Dance

The farmers’ dance is a unique combination of dance and rural folk band music. Originally, it was used as a form of traditional entertainment for farming folk promoting a rousing effect through complicated rhythms by percussion instruments and a conical oboe. The music encourages a natural, high spirited swinging motion of the body and can take on numerous kinds of choreography. Movements and props include: small hand–drums being rotated and beaten; dancers quickly whirling in an oblique downward–like motion; wild beating of drums with rotating heads that cause dazzling white strips to twirl in the air; etc. – all promoting a jubilant atmosphere.

Kanggang–Suwollae

Kanggang–suwollae is accompanied by the folk song of the same title originating from the southwest part of Korea. Maidens in the village gather in an open field to join hands, sing and dance on the night of the full moon of the first and eighth lunar months. The women wear a blouse and skirt with their long hair tied with ribbons to symbolize womanhood, and move slowly with the accompaniment of a solo call and choral response. As the dance progresses, the pace quickens to a climatic whirl at the end. This dance celebrates the woman’s role in Korean culture and historically reflects on pre–1950 when women were called by the Korean chief of soldiers to protect the country from an invasion by the Japanese.

Monk’s Dance

Seungmu, or monk’s dance, consists of varying kinds and is also categorized within Buddhist dance. Originally adopted from the drum dance, a professional dancer performs in front of a drum accompanied by music similar to Buddhist chants and prayers. The dancer holds drumsticks and is dressed in a long–sleeved robe with a white hood and red kasa (a closely worn cape or mantle worn by Buddhist monks during the ceremony, but can vary in style for professional dancers to promote artistic expression). The dance expresses the rigors of resisting temptation through expressive body movements and climaxes with rapid drumming techniques producing exciting and complicated rhythms.

Mi Young Kim in a kneeling pose with outstretched arms

Fan Dance

Bucheachum, or fan dance, is an exuberant and breathtaking display of beautiful large fans forming an assortment of patterns, such as butterflies, a flower in full bloom, and a sea wave. Its origins can be traced back to shaman dance and can be performed in various choreographed forms for different occasions.

Dancers create circle pattern with traditional Korean fans

Salp’uri

Salp’uri is perhaps the most fascinating and complicated of all folk dances and was originally intended to be a dance of exorcism. It is performed solo, usually by the most senior female dancer in a professional group. The dance is characterized by improvised movements and the performer wears a blouse and skirt (usually in the colour of white) and carries a long white, silk handkerchief in her right hand. An accompaniment of improvised ensemble music is used in the Shaman rite while the dancer expresses a widow’s lamentation with climatic whirling patterns that come to an abrupt halt at the end.

Mi Young Kim in various Salp'uri poses

Hour–glass Drum Dance

Changgochum, or hour–glass drum dance, is usually performed solo with an hour–glass shaped drum, or changgo, either loosely held by a shoulder strap or also fastened around the waist (the latter form known as soljangochum). Soljango beats are adopted for soljangochum, where the dance incorporates a multitude of jumps, skips and turns; thus exhibiting a higher level of difficulty compared with the loosely strapped changgochum.

(L) Dancers perform changgochum; (Centre & R) Mi Young Kim performs changgochum

Five Drum Dance

Ogomu, or five drum dance, consists of dancers simultaneously beating various patterns and rhythms on (usually five) drums in a synchronized fashion. The dance originates from Buddhist and shaman rituals, where the style of playing can vary and the number of drums can be altered to three, five, or even up to seven or nine. (see header image)

This is a video from the 2006 SooRyu Dance Festival and shows a traditional fan dance.
This is a video from the 2006 SooRyu Dance Festival and shows ogomu, or five drum dance with accompaniment from other traditional Korean instruments.