The Magic of the Andong Mask Dance Festival

By Rūta Balžekaitė

Are you interested in Korean culture and want to know about the colorful and lively Korean mask dance? Look no further! In the city of Andong, which is within three hours of driving distance from Seoul, there is a very special festival that happens in autumn, when the weather is still warm in Korea. Many people all around the world go to the famous Mask Dance Festival to see performances and experience various activities. What started off as a beautiful event focused on Korean mask dance tradition, turned into an internationally inclusive festival celebrating not only Korean but other wonderful cultures and their traditional mask dances as well. 

Each year all of the performers prepare a plethora of performances for the audience to enjoy and learn something new. The main places to see the dances and some exhibitions are in the Mask Dance Park and Hahoe Folk Village, which is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. The general term for traditional Korean dance performed with masks is called talchum (탈춤). The organizers of mask dance festival select its theme, helping to create a choreography to interpret the theme through various dance movements and drama elements, which are very entertaining to watch.

In the past Bongsan Talchum (봉산탈춤), the masked dance drama from Bongsan region (now Seoul region), was created as a way for the commoners to express their complaints and struggles to the ruling class. Because it would be quite difficult for the commoners to perform themselves, the ruling class decided to invite a masked dance troupe to speak on their behalf, satisfying the commoners and creating an example of harmony as well. Each mask has a different story, which is represented by the satirical movements of the dancers and their extravagant costumes. The energy of the performers together with the traditional Korean music create a show you will never forget.

As the festival is international, dancers from countries such as Israel, Thailand, Kazakhstan, the Republic of South Africa, Indonesia, China, Russia and others come to perform for the curious audience gathered in Andong. You can see their excitement and hear the traditional music of each performance, admire the traditional outfits and specific movements of each culture.

Apart from the performances, there are many activities that people can try during the days of the festival. The official site always posts a schedule to help visitors plan their activities. Some of them include mask making which is very fun for kids, a mask busking competition, many other musical performances with different instruments, a magic show, taekwondo performances, tea ceremonies and many more. Like in most events, visitors can enjoy some traditional Korean food such as andong jjimdak (안동찜닭), steamed chicken with marinated vegetables, a dish that originated in Andong; heotjesatbap (헛제삿밥), a variety of bibimbap (비빔밥); and Korean noodle soup (칼국수).

There are many festivals in South Korea that you can enjoy, and to get the full experience of a traditional part of Korean culture, the Andong Mask Dance Festival is the place to be. During the festival, the main attraction is the dance performances, but there are many other traditional Korean activities that people can enjoy. Dance together with your handmade mask among other people without a worry in your mind, eat a full bowl of Korean noodle soup and enjoy the traditional music all around you.

What would you add to your festival schedule? Share with us in the comments below!

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Written by Ruta Balzekaite

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