Many countries around the world have their own traditional dances, and this includes South Korea. They have many different forms of traditional dances from different regions of the country. These include Ganggangsullae and Geommu.
Ganggangsullae (강강술래) is Korean dance that was performed under the full moon, to bring about a good harvest. It involves singing and dancing and is mostly performed by women. It is often associated with the Chuseok holiday. On February 15, 1966, Ganggangsullae was made as the eigth Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea. Today, it is one of many cultural symbols of Korea.
Women of all ages wear traditional Korean attire and dance through the night in a circle, in a clockwise motion, under the moonlight. They sing without any instruments being played. The lead singer sings a line and everyone sings the refrain ‘Ganggangsullae’. The things they sing about are their hardships, relationships, and desires.
*During the Japanese invasion of Korea, Admiral Yi Sun-sin ordered women to do this dance in military uniform to intimidate the Japanese army, to divert them away from genuine troops.
Geommu (검무) is a traditional sword dance. Geommu is performed with Hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, overcoat, belt and military-style hat. The use of the replica swords shows the militaristic origins of the dance. The sleeves are the main highlight of the outfits, which move in harmony with the movements of the dancer. Also, between the blade and the handle of a Kal (sword) are three rings. These rings make noises whilst the performers dance. The dance is also known by the term Hwangchangmu in reference to its origin story. The royal court version of the dance is called Jinju Geommu. Geommu is the 12th Important Intangible Cultural Property of Korea.
It was first performed by Hwangchang of the Silla Kingdom, who had a talent for sword dancing. During the Joseon Dynasty, the dance was changed by the Royal Court and rearranged by Kisaeng. Kisaeng were woman who worked to entertain others such as kings. Today, it is performed by women with replica swords, to prevent injuries. There are three main motions, Ipchum-sawi, Anjeon-sawi, and Yeonpungdae. Ipchum-sawi is where the dancers are in two rows and stand facing each other. Anjeon-sawi is to dance kneeling down while maintaining the two rows of Ipchum-sawi. In Yeonpungdae, the dancers form a circle and rotate.
There are also other tradition dance forms including Salpuri, Taepyeongmu, Buchaechum, Hanryangmu, Pungmul and many more.
The dance form that has really caught my interest and attention is Pungmul (풍물).
I love listening to all kinds of music and so when I came across B.A.P’s No Mercy, I loved it because there was a mix of both modern and traditional music. In the bridge of the song, I could hear the use of traditional instruments, such as “samul nori“, a type of traditional Korean percussion music. There is also the use of dialect (‘satoori’) raps, which is not in the norm, as the majority of K-Pop songs use the Seoul dialect. It’s nice when traditional music is mixed with modern music, as traditional music is often called old-fashioned or is thought to be enjoyed by only a select few. Also, Himchan has a major in traditional Korean music, graduating from top national Korean traditional music schools. He is currently a student of Korea National University of Arts. He plays various Korean traditional instruments, such as daegeum (flute), janggu (drum), ggwaeng-gari (small gong) and jing (large gong).
In the music video of No Mercy, during the bridge along with the traditional music part of the song, B.A.P danced in a circle whilst doing mid-air side flips, which is similar to what Pungmul dancers do. Also, for their comeback stages, they performed along with Pungmul dancers and drummers. This made me love the song and music video even more, as it showcased the ancient music and dance of Korea, along with the modern side of Korea on one stage.
120721 B.A.P performing No Mercy on MBC Music Core.
Earlier this year, B.A.P performed No Mercy with Korean drummers, on KBS’ ‘K-Pop, to Find Its Way Within Gugak’. During the bridge part of the song, Himchan showcased his skills in playing the Janggu. Gugak means “national music” and is contains two other genres, folk music and court music
These same drummers appeared in Japanese Version of B.A.P’s No Mercy music video.
In Toppdogg’s Arario music video, also has a fusion between modern, hip-hop style music and traditional Korean music, with the use of the Gayageum (Korean harp), Haegeum (Korean string instrument like a fiddle) but it is not shown in the music video, Pungmul drummers and dancers, shamanic masks, and fans in their dance routine, known as Buchaechum.
On 140220, ToppDogg performed on Mnet M!Countdown with the Buk shown on screen behind them. The props they used were fans and shamanic masks. Buk is a barrel drum, used for jeongak (Korean court music) and folk music.
C-Clown also used a fan in their dance routine in their music video, Justice. Also, they use the sound of the jing in the chorus of the song. A jing is usually played in farmer, shaman, Buddhist, and military music for ceremonies.
I had the chance to see this wonderful performing art at the MBC Korean Culture Festival in London 2012 at indigO2. Along with 4MINUTE, Norazo and EXO-K, there were traditional music and dance performances. It was my first time ever witnessing and hearing traditional Korean musical performances. When the Pungmul dancers were dancing, singing and drumming, I could see their energy, passion and could see that they enjoyed it very much. Their energy came across to the audience. They performed many acrobatic moves, such as flips and also did head movements, whilst playing the different drums in tune with each other, which was very impressive.
A farming community’s wish is always about producing good crops and avoiding natural disasters. It is thought that Pungmul was a tradition carried out to get these prayers to the gods through music and dance. This form came about naturally as the people worked together in the fields, rhythmically matching their farming movements, singing songs, dancing and creating Pungmul. This made working less boring and definitely increased the efficiency and production of work. Pungmul’s main purpose is to unite the people of the community.
Namsadang is a Korean troupe which consists of male performers who show various performing arts such as acrobatics, singing and dancing. Their performances were held on the ground outdoors, rather than indoors. When the troupe found a village, they had to get permission from the leader of the village to be able to perform. Members of namsadang performed the six main nori in the biggest yard of the village.
Pungmul nori (풍물놀이) is the first performance of namsadang nori, combined with music, dance, sangmo nori (상모놀이), a spinning streamer hat performance and other activities. Dancers, who often play sogo (a small drum) carry out acrobatic choreography, wear sangmo ribbon-hats, with a flowery Buddhist kkokkal. The drummers wear these and do head movements along with the dancers, whilst playing the drums. Chants are sometimes included in Pungmul, and the audience is encouraged to sing and dance along by the performers. This is very exciting to watch and be a part of.
Pungmul instruments include four percussion instruments such as jing (gong), kkwaenggwari (small hand-held gong), buk (barrel drum), janggu (double-headed drum) and several sogo (drums played by dancers). Other instruments such as the haegeum and other instruments can accompany Pungmul performances. The music played by the four core instruments of pungmul is called samul nori (four piece playing). Pungmul has developed regional varieties, of which five main groups are distinguished in South Korea.
In February 1978, a group of four men led by Kim Duk-soo and Kim Yong-bae, both descendants of namsadang troupe members, performed an impromptu arrangement of Pyeongtaek (utdari) pungmul, with each of its four core instruments. This performance was different, as it was done in a seated position facing the audience. Sim U-seong, named the group Samulnori(사물놀이), meaning “playing of four objects”. The term, nongak was kept to distinguish traditional Pungmul from the new, urbanized form, Samulnori.
Pungmulgut (풍물굿) is a believed to be a way of purify village wells, protect people from evil spirits and diseases, and ensure well-being and abundant crops.
The history of Pungmul
Pungmul (풍물), sometimes called Nongak meaning “farmer’s music” is a Korean folk music tradition that includes drumming, dancing, and singing, as it is believed that the rhythms of Pungmul originated from the repetitive motions of the agricultural labour. It has been an integral part of village life for the people of South Korea for centuries and has been played as part of farming work, rituals, and entertainment.
There are influences from the native shamanistic culture, Buddhist rituals, and traditional military music. Korean shamanism is the ethnic religion of Korea. During the Joseon dynasty, this folk tradition was the main way of musical expression for the majority of people of Korea. Whilst there were important festivals such as the harvest season, villagers would dance to the rhythms of the drums, expressing solidarity and relieving the stresses of their difficult daily lives.
Today, it is most often seen as a performing art. Pungmul is the 11th Important Intangible Cultural Property of Korea.
Although the styles of attire vary according to region, the most common attire worn by dancers and drummers of Pungmul is similar to the military uniform of the Joseon era called kugunbok (구군복) which was only formerly worn by generals. The costume consists of brightly colour sashes with the colours, red, white, yellow and blue,a white top and trousers with farmer shoes. Dancers also wear the Buddhisht-inspired Kkokkal hat (풍물 꼬깔), a colourful hat made mostly out of paper.
Another traditional dance that I find of interest is Taepyeongmu (dance for peaceful reign).
Taepyeongmu (태평무) or “great peace dance” is a dance with the meaning of wishing for great peace for the country. Its exact origin is unknown but it is thought to have been a court dance performed by royalty during the Joseon dynasty. The costumes used by the dancers are similar to the gwanbok ( 관복) or “official clothing” formerly worn by kings and queens. Taepyeongmu is the 92nd Important Intangible Cultural Properties of South Korea.
If I were to compare traditional Korean dances to the dances performed by K-Pop idols, I would say that Pungmul has an influence in some modern day K-Pop dance choreographies, as groups such as B.A.P and ToppDogg have done flips in circles, similar to that of those carried out in Pungmul performances with traditional Korean music being played. Differences would include that most K-Pop dance routines are more western, with hip-hop and street dance moves.
Daehyun from B.A.P attended and graduated from the Nataraja Academy in Busan. Nadarajah means “King of Dance” and is one of the many names of the Hindu God, Lord Siva. He is the creator of the ancient traditional South Indian Tamil dance, Bharathanatyam.