Cheoyongmu is performed wearing the mask of Cheoyong, a fictional character from the Silla Dynasty (57 BC - 935 AD). Of all the court dances in Korea, it is the only one in which a mask depicting a human is used, instead of a god or spirit. The dance is sometimes called "Obang Cheoyongmu" (obang refers to the four cardinal directions and the center).
Cheoyongmu is based on the legendary tale of Cheoyong. Many years
ago, during the time of King Heongang (r. 875-886), an evil spirit came to the kingdom and
began spreading smallpox and other diseases. The evil spirit tried to rape Cheoyong’s wife, but Cheoyong was able to chase the spirit away with his singing and dancing. From then on, people believed that putting a drawing of Cheoyong on the outside of
their main gate would ward off sickness and a variety of evils.
Cheoyongmu is an art form combining masks, costumes, music, and dance. Though there are many variations of the actual movements, the accompanying song and music have remained the same. The dance is performed by five men clad in white (symbolizing the West), blue (East), black (North), red (South) and yellow (the center). The message of the dance is the theory of Ying/Yang and the Five Elements. The dance is supposed to bring
good luck and positive energy while warding off evil, and reflects this flow of energy through vigorous body movements.
Cheoyongmu was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Asset in Korea in 1971 and was added to UNESCO's Intangible Heritages of Humanity List in 2009.