They say that the best way to learn a language is by immersing yourself in the country and culture the language originates from. Honestly this applies to just about anything. I mean, what better way to learn something than to go straight to the source?
Traditional Korean dance is something I have always wanted to learn. I studied some forms of Korean dance in university and even wrote my thesis on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many (or any) opportunities to put my knowledge to actual practice.
Here in Korea, there are so many opportunities to see traditional Korean dance! During any holiday or festival you’re bound to come across beautifully hanbok clad dancers performing at least once. As a foreigner, coming across traditional performances is easy. Coming across places to learn it… not so much.
Fortunately, last year I heard about a program held at the National Theater of Korea called the Traditional Performing Arts Academy for Foreigners. This program allows foreigners the opportunity to learn janggu (trading drumming), pansori (traditional singing) and Korean dance from professionals in those fields. A chance to learn traditional dance from the pros at the National Theater of Korea? I literally signed up the next day.
The program is three months long and 2 hr classes are held once a week, typically from 7 pm ~ 9 pm. It’s not too much of a time commitment if you have other things going on (which most of us do), but that also means if you miss a class you can fall behind quite easily. Personally I think meeting twice a week would be ideal for grasping the material and techniques more accurately, but with registration being ₩30,000 I’m not about to complain.
Every season has different instructors and different material to learn. So, if you enjoy the program and want to do it again the following season (like I did) you get to learn new stuff from different professionals… which is awesome! I’ve done 2 seasons so far and absolutely loved it!
This past season I learned 화관무 (Floral Coronet Dance) and 꽃춤 (Flower Dance). Hwagwanmu (화관무) aka Floral Coronet Dance is one of the oldest forms of court dances in Korea and is one I was most excited to learn. Working with the long, wide, colorful sleeves that are a signature of this dance, was a unique and fun challenge. The dance itself required a lot of precision and a surprising amount of strength. You can’t always see what’s going on under those flowing hanboks, but it’s a lot of muscle work. Needless to say I woke up sore almost every morning after rehearsal.
At the end of the 3 month season there is a completion ceremony. The students from all three classes come together to put on one awesome show at the National Theatre of Korea for all their family and friends. There’s a dress/tech rehearsal and you get to borrow amazing costumes from the theatre. It’s all very professional. Working primarily as a choreographer, I don’t get a lost of opportunities to perform on stage these days. So, getting to dance on stage at the National Theater of Korea (even a small stage) is always an honor.
If you have the time and interest, I really recommend trying out this program. It’s a lot of fun and really rewarding. I definitely feel accomplished at the end of every season and it’s a great hands-on way to learn more about Korean culture. If your feeling particularly ambitious you can even register for more than one class since the class days never overlap. So get out there and bust a traditional move.
**All the lovely performance photos are courtesy of my talented boyfriend! Be sure to check out his Instagram and show him some love =)
- 서울특별시 중구 장충단로 59 (장충동2가)
- 59, Jangchungdan-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul