Seungmu dance is created and performed mainly by “Buddhist monks”. This “Buddhist” dance form is said to have originated in South Korea and is considered to be one of the most popular traditional dance forms in the region.  For the purpose of recognising inherited intangible skills, Korea has a special system for listing cultural heritage. One of the most well-known folk dances in this category is “seungmu,” or monk’s dance.  Apparently, this dance has been officially declared “South Korea’s most important cultural feature” in 1969. Furthermore, it is said to have developed from a Buddhist ritualistic dance form known as “bubgo”.

a. History/origin of the Seungmu dance:

There is no factual evidence available to support the origin of this dance style. However, according to a few researchers, this dance may have been developed using a few Buddhist rituals, and ethnic, or folk dances as a template. In addition, according to a certain cultural fact, it may have been from the “Bubgo”, a Buddhist ritual dance that the Seungmu may have been created. Furthermore, although this dance style is basically traditional in nature, it has over the years been transformed into a solo dance by professional dancers.

The dance is derived from Buddhist tradition, as suggested by its name. Its origins date back about 500 years, and it is still practiced today as a dance that is performed during Buddhist ceremonies as a way of physically offering something to Buddha. The seungmu that one sees nowadays, however, are staged pieces with significant theatrical components that stand as artwork that pursues secular as opposed to religious ideals. Therefore, rather than being a Buddhist ritual, it should be viewed more as a folk dance.

In 2007, in the outdoor square of Olympic Park in Seoul, a massive performance known as “108 Seungmu” that included 108 dancers, including himself, demonstrated seungmu in unison. Based on the idea that a person experiences 108 periods of suffering throughout his life, the number “108” refers to the Buddhist practise of making 108 bows.

Cho Ji-hoon, a famous poet, states in the poem “Seungmu,” “One may be troubled by worldly affairs, but suffering is the twinkle of a star.”

Seungmu is divided into different acts. The Buddhist influence is perhaps most evident in the opening act, known as the “yeombul dongjak” or Buddhist prayer motion. The dancer typically begins by laying face down on the floor. When the “moktak” or wooden percussion instruments used by Buddhist monks for chanting begin to play, the dancer twists his torso and stands up, appearing to be completing a deep bow to Buddha.

b. Costumes used in the Seungmu dance:

The costume used in this dance basically involves the use of attire in the form of robe called “jangsam” of a long sleeve called “gasa” and a white hood called “gokkal”.

c. Music involved in the Seungmu dance:

 The music involved in this dance style is mainly produced by a drum which is also known as the “bubgo”.

d. Training availability and the technique involved in the Seungmu dance:

In terms of technique, this dance requires the performer to dance to eight rhythmic cycles, and they include:

  1. Yeombul
  2. Dodeuri
  3. Taryeong
  4. Jajin
  5. Gutgeori
  6. Dwit gutgeori
  7. Gujeong Nori
  8. Saesanjo

In addition, during a performance as the rhythm of the music shifts the performer accordingly changes his steps as well as the mood. As for training centers/schools, there are none available around the world since this “Buddhist” dance is exclusively performed mainly in South Korea.

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