Sunday, 20 December 2009

School Festival

I was helping a student after school last week (being the end of the year, school ends after lunch), when an announcement by the Principal came on the intercom. The student looked very excited and told me that there would be a festival at 2 o'clock with music and traditional dancing. She asked if I wanted to go with her, so we headed up to the auditorium on the 5th floor at about ten to 2.

It was a bit of a surprise walking in, because teachers were handed big brown envelops on the way in, and there wasn't another student in sight. I figured this was because most of them had gone home at 1 anyway. At 2 the principal was introduced and he walked up to the podium.

My student didn't translate too much for me as he was speaking, but what she did tell me was that he made a joke about underwear, remarked that only female teachers were in attendance (about 20-25 of us, but no men), and explained that children should spend more time at the library.

At 2:20, the two of us were starting to get a little stir crazy. This was quite a long introduction for a festival. Several of the teachers were reading a packet of paper that was in their brown envelop. At 2:30 my student looked a little crestfallen and told me that she hoped the dancing would start soon, because she had to leave at 3. At 2:55 she hopped out of her chair and left. At 3 the principal ended his speech, and I thought surely the festival would be starting, so I stuck around. Mrs. Shim, who came in after me and sat behind me sat next to me and asked how I knew about this. I told her my student told me about the festival.

The vice principal now took the podium, and Mrs. Shim pulled out a 16-slide PowerPoint printout from her brown packet. I sat through another Korean speech until 3:40, of which the only translation I got from Mrs. Shim was that walking is good fro your health.

As the vice principal left the podium, Mrs. Shim informed me there would be a student performance, and although she was going to leave, would I like to stay? I can't help but wonder what she thought I was doing there if not to watch a performance. Indeed, I stayed.

This is how I saw it, keeping in mind that I haven't yet seen a mask dance before this or had their meanings explained to me.

(The pictures are from my cell phone, so they aren't perfect)

A line of students enter with drums and gongs, playing in the traditional Samulnori style. They stand in the back for the duration of the performance as the musical accompaniment to each dance. Behind them enter another line of students, all in the dress and character persona's from the Hahoe mask dances so famous to Andong. After a group dance, they all leave, with only the Butcher character remaining for his (although a 6th grade girl was behind his mask) dance.

Enter the bull (controlled by two very coordinated students in its body). It charges the Butcher, who finally fells the beast with his stone axe after several blows to the head. After a song to accompany the sharpening of his dagger, he plunges it repeatedly into the bull, and pulls from it a heart and a pair of giant testicles that the Butcher holds up with a mighty proclamation to the audience.


After the Butcher's exit, the Widow enters and dances, then falls upon her knees and sends up a very haunting cry. After this, she stands up and starts taking a collection of money from the audience. With a handful of won, her dance becomes a bit more lively and she shuffles away.

The rest come out soon after, and their dances were a bit more difficult to interpret. The Servant and the Fool first have a bit of a scuffle do to the laziness of the later, and then the Monk, Scholar, Aristocrat, Flirtatious, and soon after, the Butcher, follow them on in a group dance with several changes of pairings.

It ends when the Aristocrat and (I think) the Scholar get into an argument over the possession of the bull testicles that leads up to a tug of war. The Widow finally takes charge of resolution, holding them up and shaking them in the faces of the two who have taken separate sides of the floor, and then ends up keeping them herself.

After one final group dance and a short Samulnori performance, the students all come out and take their masks off for a bow. All but one is a girl. I'm glad that I stayed, because I haven't had the chance to see student work outside of English class first hand until then. Elementary school performances are certainly very different back home, where about this time we'd be putting on Christmas recitals.


  1. i like how all the korean teachers asked u to stay & left.

    guess why the masks are wooden brown - b/c koreans during the Joseon dynasty were not racists.

  2. Bull testicles--the root of all the world's problems.

  3. Oh, most of them did stay, just the one. She told me that she had seen the performance practice already. I just thought it was funny how nobody warned me about the teacher lecture in Korean before the performance. Haha, it's one of the many funny miscommunications that goes along with living here.

  4. Thanks for a great post! Dad

  5. What can be said...interesting.

  6. Absolutely fascinating! Great blog Sara. Wish I could have seen the performance. Larry

  7. Your blogs are always educational. The prize in the mask dance and the topic of Scott's last blog have me pondering the Korean psyche.

  8. ^^ what a great opportunity! Good thing you stuck around, eh? What was in the brown envelope?