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Mask Dance-Drama

Mask dance-drama goes by many names in the traditional Korean culture: t'alch'um, sandae-nori, ogwangdae-nori, yayu, and pyolshin-gut-nori. Different names are used in different regions. For example, Sandae-nori is the name used in the province of Kyonggi, where Seoul is located. In the northern part of Korea, the term t'alch'um, meaning "mask dance", is used. In the southeast, people use the term yayu, meaning "field play". There are a total of 14 traditional mask dance-dramas that are still performed today.

Mask dance-dramas acted as an outlet for expressing emotions and views for the common people. It was a way of social protest and community building. As time passed and the Korean society modernized, mask dance-dramas changed. Its satirical elements became even more pronounced as there were more contradictions between tradition and modernity. Religious and spiritual elements began to decline and mask dance-dramas were embraced as a form of entertainment. Masked dance-dramas reflect the optimism, creativity, and wit of the Korean people. It was one of the few forms of relief from the hardships of Korea's rigid traditional society. The masks offered protection, mystery and entertainment.

The mask dance-drama performed today can be divided into several categories. Some genres have been passed on through amateur performers who learned their skills from village elders and performed at local community festivals. Others are carried on by professional entertainers who travel to various villages and cities, often with the support of local merchants.


Madangguk, or itinerant folk entertainers, played an important role in traditional Korean society. They performed a variety of entertainment ranging from puppetry to mask dance-dramas. Their performances not only provided diversion from the monotony of rural life, but also served to bring communities together.

Performances reflect social realities. In the traditional society, performers poked fun at the elite and hypocritical religious leaders. Today, performers often portray the interests and frustrations of laborers or students. In both cases, the performances have strong values. They surge with energy, often exaggerating or distorting reality to draw their audiences into the fun.

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