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[Book × Dance]

The Era of Dance is Coming

Different Worlds of Dance in Books





By their very nature, books are vessels of knowledge encompassing all fields. Endless topics can be written about depending on the material and message. In the [Book × _____ ] series, experts recommend Korean books in their respective fields that you’ve been curious about but had trouble discovering more about. Now, let’s jump into the infinite world of books through the collaboration of books with various fields.



Has there ever been a time when people are more passionate about dancing than now? Today, dance has become a part of pop culture that young people enjoy on a daily basis. Along with K-pop music, K-pop dance is loved by people all over the world beyond Korea. In addition, practical dance majors that cover commercial dance fields, such as street dance and K-pop dance, have emerged and are growing in quantity and quality. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were unable to travel and socialize freely, dance competition shows on TV such as “Street Woman Fighter” and “Street Man Fighter” exploded in popularity, further stimulating people’s desire to dance. Such interest in dancing is expected to continue to grow.
Meanwhile, in comparison to “commercial dance,” “artistic dance” has been somewhat marginalized from public attention. However, as the public’s interest in dancing itself has grown in recent years, the number of people visiting theaters to watch ballet or modern dance performances has also increased.


『케이팝의 역사, 100번의 웨이브』

『케이팝의 역사, 100번의 웨이브』

Footage from TV shows “Street Woman Fighter” and “Street Man Fighter”



Dance as an art has been experiencing as much growth and change as dance as pop culture. Most notably, there has been more exchange between artists. The number of performances by internationally renowned dance troupes in Korea has increased steadily since the 2000s, and it is becoming more common for world-renowned choreographers to choreograph works for Korean dance troupes or for Korean dance troupes to perform abroad and gain acclaim. It is also noteworthy that Korean dancers who have won international dance competitions are making significant achievements in various countries.
The exchange between dance genres has also diversified. Today’s art of dance is moving towards expressing contemporary subjects through colorful movements without any limitations of genre and style. This can be seen in the fusion and convergence of traditional and contemporary dance, street dance, and social dance mixed with modern dance and ballet, and experimental performances that combine AI, robotics, and interactive media technologies. Collaborations with other artistic fields are also becoming more common, and we expect to see more innovative forms of dance performance reaching a wider audience in the future.


The public’s interest in dancing is growing.


As such, the world of dance is expanding, and more people are dancing and watching in dance classes and theaters. However, the number of books about dance has not kept up with this trend. There seems to be a fundamental problem: it is not easy to write about dance, which is instantaneous art. It is hard to capture and verbalize gestures that appear and disappear instantaneously, and it is hard for readers to recreate them in their minds as they read. Thus, books about dance are mostly theoretical books read by professionals with enough experience and literacy in movement language and the dance world.
In addition, it was only in the middle of the 20th century that “dance studies,” a subject studying the field of dance, began to develop in earnest in the West. Most of the books in the field in Korea are foreign translations, as the majority of dance departments in Korean universities are still centered on the major academic achievements of the West. The number and variety of books published in the field of dance are fewer than in the fields of art and music, and even fewer if foreign translations are excluded. Therefore, it cannot be said that Korean books that introduce the art of dance to beginners in an easy and friendly way are sufficient. However, in recent years, a number of popular theoretical books have been published to quench this thirst for knowledge. In this article, I would like to introduce a few books that will not only help you develop your knowledge of dance, but also help you understand the connection between dance and our lives.


Take a “Ballet Class” through books


『한국 대중음악사 개론』

The Ballet Class series



First, the number of adults enjoying ballet as a hobby in Korea is growing significantly every year. Many working women in their 20s and 30s start ballet for health reasons, like yoga or Pilates, and it’s common to see them become ballet enthusiasts after they open their eyes to the world of art. There are now classes for all levels, along with many dance competitions for ballet enthusiasts, as the age range of people learning ballet has widened and more people have become more experienced ballet dancers. There are also online cafes and blogs where ballet enthusiasts actively exchange their knowledge and news of ballet performances. Now, people who started ballet as a hobby have become more interested in learning about the genre as a whole, rather than just dancing.
This is why a number of ballet books have been published in recent years, targeting this audience. One of the most notable is the The Ballet Class series by Floorworks Publishing. Yoon Ji-Young, CEO of Floorworks, started ballet as a hobby, then fell in love with the deep and wide world of ballet, which eventually inspired her to create this series. So, the series consists of books for beginners to learn ballet in an easy and fun way. The series includes Good Ballet Life, Correct Ballet Vocabulary, The World of Ballet Works, A Walk Through Ballet Music, A Ballerino’s Story, The Evolution of Ballet, Tutu Wears Desires, and Mulie’s Plié, many of which have become bestsellers in the dance field. All of these books are written by ballet enthusiasts and professionals, making them relatable, easily readable, and deeply informative.


Want to understand western dance art more easily?


Classical ballet is a genre with a low entry barrier, as you can follow the plot and understand the scenes. However, since contemporary dance presents a wide variety of styles and expressions that are difficult to define in a single word, it can be a bit confusing for beginners who have just started going to dance performances. In this case, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of the history, philosophy, aesthetics, and sociology of dance to understand contemporary dance.
Dance Art Code (Hangil Art) is a popular theoretical book that explains the flow of Western dance art through 100 dance codes. The book is arranged into five chapters: Gender, Culture, Style, Technique, and Idea, providing a dictionary of key terms to explain the core content. For example, the “Technique” chapter covers key words related to dance techniques such as “Divertissement,” “Aleatory Technique,” “Proscenium Theater,” and “Modern Dance Technique,” the “Idea” chapter features key words about dance philosophy, such as “Mind-body Dualism,” “Orientalism,” “Phenomonology,” and “Mimesis,” and the “Culture” chapter explains key words related to the dancing culture such as “Dancing Masters,” “Social Dance,” “Choreomania,” and “Dance Macabre.” While most introductions to dance simply chronologize the history of dance, requiring the readers to persevere through a fairly thick book to connect the past to the present, this book makes a quick read as it moves through a variety of topics in dance studies. You’ll be able to get a good idea of the dance world by the end of the book, as the book is both comprehensive and in-depth, with clear and concise explanations. Also, you will be able to stay with the flow even though you read different parts of the book, as it is organized like a dictionary.



『세기의 안무가』

Dance Art Code and The Greatest Choreographers



In addition, the book The Greatest Choreographers (Econ Books) introduces trends in the dance world in the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on the work of famous choreographers. The author, a dance critic, has selected 30 choreographers from the 20th century, mainly from Europe, and provides introductions and reviews of their works. The choreographers include those from the 20th century such as Pina Bausch, Maurice Bejart, Matthew Bourne, Philippe Decoufle, William Forsythe, and Maguy Marin, those of whom non-dance-experts might have even heard of, and later generations of choreographers like Jerome Bel, Jose Montalvo, Hofesh Shechter, Wim Vandekeybus, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. So, it will be a great way to get a sense of how dance art has evolved over the decades, from the late 20th century to recent times. Moreover, the book provides a clear and in-depth description of the worldview that these choreographers consistently demonstrated through their works, as well as their innovative dance techniques and styles. Most of the choreographers featured in this book have performed in Korea at least once, earning them a large number of fans. It is worth looking forward to their future performances in Korea, as they are still active in Europe and around the world.
However, it is often difficult to read a review of a dance work without seeing it in person. If you are unable to see all the works in person, you can search online for short videos of the works introduced in the book. You’ll be able to connect the works to key issues in contemporary dance art, such as life, death, love, capitalism, the body, war, refugees, sexual minorities, and feminism.


The noreum machis in Korea that existed before K-dance


『흥남부두의 금순이는 어디로 갔을까?』

Noreum Machi



Meanwhile, while Korea’s 5,000-year history has left it with a multitude of cultural heritages, many people have yet to fully experience them. The world of traditional dance can be enjoyed as much as you know how to appreciate it, and you can better enjoy it by building up your knowledge before visiting a performance. For example, the book Noreum Machi (Munhakdongne) is an introduction to Korean traditional artists and their musical songs and dances. Based on performance reports written by the author, Jin Ok-Sub, a dance critic and performance organizer, who has been organizing and directing traditional arts performances for decades, the book introduces 16 traditional Korean artists, along with the author’s personal experiences and stories before and after their performances. The book’s title, “Noreum Machi,” is a combination of the words “play (noreum)” and “to end (machi)” in Korean, which is a slang used by Namsadang (a Korean itinerant troupe consisting of male performers that present various performing arts) to refer to the best “jaebi (performer)” who is the master of bringing a play to an end. The masters in this book, despite being accomplished “noreum machis,” were mostly born in the early 20th century and struggled to keep their art alive in the midst of a difficult and turbulent life.
Korean traditional art suffered countless destructions and transformations during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, and it was only in the 1960s that the national protection and transmission of intangible cultural assets began in earnest. However, even after that, many artists continued to practice their art in solitude amidst social indifference. The author has been organizing performances and writing books to bring attention to their lives, artistic achievements, and values. Thanks to this, some of the best artists from the early years have become known to the public, and traditional art forms that could have been lost have been revitalized. In this book, you will discover the turbulent and tearful life histories of these inspiring artists, and their enduring perseverance and strength in their artistic endeavors. The surprisingly wide spectrum of Korean traditional arts is a bonus.


Various dances from around the world that I met during my travels


『춤추는 세계』

Dancing World



Finally, with the growing demand for travel and the diversification of touring styles, more books are combining tours with specific themes. When it comes to the arts, there are many travel books that cover art museums, literature, and music, but there is also a book that introduces travelers to dance in various countries around the world. For example, Dancing World (Bricks) is the first ‘dance travelogue’ to be published in Korea, and is based on my 20 years of traveling around the world and encountering unique nature, culture, and dance. It features folk dance Vallja from Albania, Irish dance from Ireland, yangbanxi (model opera or revolutionary opera performed in China during the Cultural Revolution) ballet from China, avant-garde dance Butoh from Japan, Korean Theater from Kazakhstan, and Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet from Georgia, Indian traditional dance, Balinese traditional dance, and other countries and their representative dances, as well as my own experiences with Jongmyo Jeryeak (royal ancestral ritual music in the Jongmyo Shrine, Korea) and Goseong Ogwangdae (Korean traditional masked performance).
In this book, I tried to write about my long-standing thought, “Can we understand life and meet the world through dance?” The various dances I encountered in my travels were the results of life experiences and sentiments accumulated in bodies over a long period of time and expressed in an abstract form. And, through dance, I was able to understand various cultures and histories of the world. I wrote this book with the hope that this dynamic energy of life that I encountered through traveling and dancing would reach the readers, just as it did for me. In addition, I included QR codes throughout the book so that the readers can see the dances immediately to reduce the gap between the dances and the text.


Knowing the background and context of a dance helps you enjoy it more.


If you’re interested in dancing, it’s great to try it out yourself and go to dance performances. But if you understand the meaning, characteristics, and context of the dances, you’ll be able to enjoy the process more. I hope these books will help you along the way. I hope that more diverse books on dance will be published in the years ahead, and that they will introduce readers to the joy of dance.



Written by Heo Yoo-Mi (Choreographer, dance columnist)



Heo Yoo-Mi (Choreographer, dance columnist)

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