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Character of Korean Dance
Korean dance differs fundamentally from the ballet of the West. in that whereas ballet seeks an exterior beauty of form through a rigidly controlled elaboration of technique, Korean dance attempts to represent the interior aestheticism of the spirit through subtle restraint. Another basic difference between the two is that although Korean dance places an almost complete emphasis on the upper half of the body, ballet gives a comparatively much greater importance to the lower portion of the dancers' body. It is a characteristic of Korean dance that the image introduced by the shoulders is responded to by the arms, while the head moves in affirmation.
This does not, however, mean that Korean dance does not make use of dynamic techniques such as the stretching and bending of the knees or movements of the legs. The fundamental difference is that the legs, in Korean dance art, consistently move in support of the upper half of the body and not for a demonstration of leg movement technique for its own sake. Throughout our dance history, therefore, the legs have always remained hidden beneath a long skirt.
In addition, ballet may be performed on the toes, but Korean dance is executed by the heels, for the Korean dancer steps forward with his or her toes up. Such a stepping motion may perhaps run counter to the natural movement of the body, but it is an important attribute of the introverted character of the Korean dance. This is an art form holds body movements in check. The free movement of the Korean dancer is further restricted by his or her loose-fitting costume, in contrast to the tight-fitting costume of ballet which facilitates unimpaired movement.
Along the sleeves of the Korean dancers' costume are attached long cloth pieces called which cover the hands completely and further hinder the free movement of the arms. Nevertheless, the technique of handling this apparently cumbersome may be considered one of the most important parts of the Korean dance. Another feature of Korean dance is its emphasis upon shoulder movement; Additionally, the concept of time may in certain instances achieve irrelevancy. The dancer may either move or just stand still, for the spiritual exaltation achieved in quiescence is, indeed, the ultimate aim of the Korean dance art.
Such has been the fundamental philosophy of original Korean dance; The ethical philosophies of Buddhism and Confucianism later came to exert tremendous influence. On another front, dances of foreign lands such as China and Tibet came to be modified and absorbed to serve as elements of Korea's folk dance, endowing it with additional elan, grandeur and elegance. As a consequence, the folk dance of Korea involves a far more difficult execution than court dance might.
Another important characteristic of the Korean dance is precedence for rhythm over movement, for rhythm plays an active rather than a supporting role. What is meant by this is that one does not dance to rhythmic accompaniment, but creates one's own rhythm while dancing. The fact that all of the 'past masters' of Korean dance were also excellent drummers lends eloquent testimony to this. Every performer of old who won fame for his unequalled or her mastery of the Korean dance art form, started out his or her career as a drummer. The old drummers of Korea, as they beat drums, could not suppress their feeling but had to stand up and dance in spite of themselves. Such a dance, then, was rhythm incarnate.
In summary, the character of the Korean dance is such that the performers appear to move and at the same time, to stand still while in a state of uncontrollable exhilaration. To some audiences the dancer may appear as if he or she were transcending consciously controlled movement. For all that, such movement is a fundamental element of the Korean dance art.