Korean traditional dance originated in ancient shamanistic rituals thousands of years ago. By the time of the later Korean kingdoms, Goryeo and Joseon, in the 2nd millennium CE, Korean traditional dance benefited from regular support of the royal court, numerous academies, and even an official ministry of the government.
A number of different dances gained permanent high status, including the Hermit dance, the Ghost dance, the Monk dance, the Oudong (Entertainer) dance and others, despite the fact that many had humble origins. For example, the Fan dance is believed to have originated with shamans performing nature rites with leaves but evolved into one of the most highly refined Korean dances.
Other Korean dances remained and remain to this day under the ambit of farmers and folk dance groups. Props used in the dances include the long billowing silk scarf of pure white used in the Salpuri dance, drums, hats, swords and others. The props may be peripheral or central to the story of the dance. In the Ghost dance, the entertainer has a joyous reunion with a deceased spouse, only to endure the heartbreak of reseparation, and there may few or no props. On the other hand, the Great Drum dance (one of several forms of drum dances) features a gaudy drum which may be taller than the performer. The drum tempts a monk until finally he succumbs to it and performs a rolling drum "orgy."
Due to the cultural suppression by Japan during the Japanese occupation, most of the dance academies died out and some dances were lost. However, few pioneering Korean dancers such as Choi Seunghui (최승희 崔承喜) created new forms of Korean dances based on the traditional dances and kept many of the traditions alive in secret and abroad, and today Korean traditional dance is enjoying a vibrant resurgence. Numerous universities in Korea teach Korean traditional dance, and even some universities abroad now provide instruction in the forms. Top dancers are recognized as "Living National Treasures" and are charged to pass their dances down to their students. The lineages of dance and dancers may be traced back several generations through such connections.
Korean traditional dance does not necessarily follow the forms of Western dance. Moves follow a curvilinear path with little short term repetition. The dancer's legs and feet are often entirely concealed by billowing Hanbok. Emotional attributes of the dances include both somberness and joy.
Jeongjae were used to perform for the royal family, court officials, and foreign envoys or for festive occasions sponsored by the state. Jeongjae is divided into the two categories, "Dangak jeongjae" (당악정재) and "Hyangak jeongjae" (향악정재). Dangak jeongjae are dances derived from court dances of Tang China during the Goryeo dynasty, whereas the other consist of newer court dances originated in Korea.
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