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It’s Dance Fever!

Head twirling rope dancer

Several times a year the town of Wolgot (the small town where I teach) puts on a Korean cultural festival to keep the ancient traditions alive. My principal joyfully insisted that I accompany her to the festival in Wolgot, which I delightfully agreed as long as I was able to borrow her camera since mine recently stopped functioning; she agreed. The festival was of considerable resemblance to American Indian Pow-Wow’s I frequently attended in the United States, but before I dive into the action, I wish to include another facet of this small wonderful town.

My principal picked me up from my apartment, drove the 25 minutes to our school and parked the car. We were the only ones present, and up that point I had surmised that the festival was going to occur at the school, but I was obviously mistaken. We got out of the car and the principal pointed up to the nearby mountain and said “let’s go.” Go where, I thought. Without hesitation, I followed the principal through some brush and located a trail adjacent to the school.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t know this was even here.”

Wolgot Elementary School's backyard

The principal smiled and then looked down at my shoes with a concerned countenance. As my shoes glimmered in the sunlight protruding through the trees, I quickly realized that I was wearing the wrong pair. I couldn’t help but chuckle; I guess I didn’t get the memo that we were going on a hike. “No problem,” I said. “Hiked many times in shoes like these, not to worry.” And with a quick okay, we headed up the mountain side.

Following the trail uphill we encountered many random, but interesting pieces of art that were laced along the trail.

Teradactyls in Flight

Deco Art Scene

I soon discovered that we were hiking within Gimpo’s International Culture Park; a hidden gem in the heart of Gimpo County. This park is somewhat tucked away into nearby hills and mountains on the outskirts of Wolgot, allowing for sublime solace while hiking and enjoying the multitude of exquisite art alongside the trails. I plan on revisiting the park very soon in order to hike the entire trail and locate all the creative compositions concealed underneath the thick of elm trees.

When we reached the festival, the principal and I were immediately greeted by a huge hoard of costumed dancers. I was instantly handed a bowl of rice, plate of meat, and a cup full of mak’ kkolli (unfiltered rice wine), which I quickly gulped down with everyone. I then followed the principal to the head table where the mayor of Wolgot and several city council members were sitting enjoying some mak’ kkolli. The principal introduced me, and after a few handshakes and nods, my cup was once again filled with mak’kkolli. As soon as I sat down, several plates of food were plopped down infront of me, and at that moment I couldn’t help but ponder how great and almost surreal all this delightful attention I’ve been receiving. I’ve received bounties of generousity throughout all my travels, but never in this supremely magnanimous manner; it’s been a great surprise indeed.

After enjoying a few more cups of mak’ kkolli with my principal and Wolgot locals that ventured to come over and introduce themselves, the festival officially started. With music playing and dancers dancing, following old traditions the city council members, mayor, and my principal bowed and offered gifts to the gods. Unfortunately, at this current time I do not know the significance of this practice, nor do I do know the significance of the pig’s head that is being bowed to. Of what it all amounts to, the offerings appeared to be very peaceful and transcendent.

Offering gifts to ancient gods

Once official offerings were given, the dances began. Many groups and special individual dancers took center stage and gave all they could to keep the rhythm flowing all afternoon; it was dance fever!

Drumming High

Each music group had fascinating and aesthetic costumes.

Drummer Girl


Dancing twirling head rope girls

After all dances were performed, it was time to slam some rice.

Slamming rice into a gummy mush

The actual name of this food has slipped my mind, but apparently it’s sticky rice that has been slammed and molded into a gummy mush that is then powdered with some sort of bean powder that tastes a little bit like peanut butter. Immediately after this photo was taken, I was handed the heavy plastic sledgehammer and pushed in to give it a few whacks. Apparently I didn’t know my own strength, as on the first hard blow I heard a loud CRACK! I took a quick peek below and saw a huge crack in the wood table support. Oh man, I thought. After asking the festival coordinator if that crack was there before, he chuckled and said “no” and told me not to worry about it. Whew! Okay, next time don’t give the big white dude a large sledgehammer and tell him to whack the rice, ha ha. Soon after, I was interviewed by KBS (Korean Broadcasting Station) and plan to see myself on TV again soon, woo-hoo!

5 comments on “It’s Dance Fever!

  1. Adam Bender
    November 1, 2010

    Awesome video! I want to know more about the bowing to ancient gods. Also, I knew not to give the big white guy a sledgehammer.

  2. Debbie Scott
    November 1, 2010

    Sounds like they are spoiling you. You won’t ever want to come back to Texas! Loved the sledgehammer part. Tom & I both got a big laugh out of that one. Keep the post coming, we love it!

  3. Carey Macy
    November 2, 2010

    Awesome Paul! Great festival. Cool pics. Glad you have hiking trails right up from the school. Sounds like the principal is a VERY promonant man in those parts. Pretty funny how you broke the table! HE-MAN!

  4. Dan Henrickson
    November 2, 2010

    Hiking in Korea is the thing I miss the most about not being there. Have you found a mtn that has a gym on it? You can find them in several areas, so I’m sure you’ll stumble on one eventually. It’ll have bench press, chin up bar, some hoola hoops for the Ajumas, to name a few. I thought it was great, and was looking forward to some day blending in some weights during a workout, until I watched a guy who must have been 80, rattle off at least 20 chin-ups, and kept going, as I walked away with my head hung down shamefully, lol.

    The celebrity status is certainly catching on with you Paul! The fact that your principal is inviting you to such things, and meeting the mayor, as well as being interviewed for TV, shows that you’re making some great first impressions.

    Keep having fun.

  5. carmen
    November 2, 2010

    the shoes part was hella funny! (and of course the sledgehammer) you will definitely have to look into those ritual offerings they do with the pig head. that is interesting.

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2010 by in South Korea and tagged , , , , .

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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