If you’re looking for a unique Korean experience, there’s no better place to start than the Andong Mask Dance Festival. Andong is home to the largest number of cultural artifacts in Korea which help paint a vivid picture of the peninsula’s storied past. Famous for its traditional folk village and annual Mask Dance Festival, Andong is an interesting place to explore Korea’s rich history.
Masks have long played an integral part in Korean cultural, with natives believing they ward off evil spirits. Once a year, Andong preserves this tradition by celebrating the historic masks through exhibition and folk dance. Visitors to the festival can enjoy various traditional mask dances, folk performances, and hands-on experiences, including conventional mask making and mask dance learning.
Our visit to the festival began with an early morning bus ride to the festive grounds where various cultural activities could be experienced. We started off with mask making and chose traditional designs to decorate our twenty-first century cardboard cutouts. We felt almost childlike as we shaped our masks with floam (brightly-colored, sticky foam balls). While it was a bit too crafty for my taste, I have to admit it was enjoyable.
We spent our afternoon exploring the Hahoe folk village, a beautiful place to wander as it is nestled in a lush valley between the Taebaek mountains. From here, various traditional dwellings can be explored. It’s easy to see why this quaint little village was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After wandering around the village, the late afternoon was spent watching various traditional mask dances. The performances were an interesting sight to witness. The choreography mostly involved various men strutting and prancing around the stage. I personally found it quite comical, yet a bit baffling when a man dressed as a woman squatted mid-stage and “peed” and then one of the other characters proceeded to scoop it up and smell it. It was definitely lost in translation as the story was told in Korean which is a language I’m still not very familiar with.
The festivities concluded with with a traditional fireworks display along the river, one of the most unique displays I have ever seen. It was more of a fireshow than a fireworks display as flaming bushes were thrown off the cliff’s edge into the river below and lit charcoals were strung across the river creating a rainstorm of sparkling embers.
For those interested in checking out this year’s festivities, the Andong Mask Dance Festival will take place in late September, Friday 25th to Sunday, October 4th. If you’re in Korea during this time of the year, a jaunt to the festival is well worth the journey. For more information please visit the official Mask Dance Festival Website.