Everything You Need to Know About the Dragon Dance & the Lion Dance
The Dragon Dance (舞龍, in traditional Chinese) and the Lion Dance are quite easily confused for someone who is not a keen eye.
These two folk traditions of China have more than 1000 years to their credit.
Although neither creature probably ever existed in ancient China, the dragon and the lion are celebrated as deities, especially for their magisterial powers.
This marvelous popular spectacle is part of the Chinese culture, especially during the Chinese New Year celebration, but also during several other important events.
Differences Between Dragon and Lion Dance
🔹Number of artists : Lions usually have two dancers inside a costume, while dragons need a multitude of individuals to manipulate their long coils.
🔹Lions are fun: Lions appear to viewers as fun and curious creatures with a slight penchant for mischief, but they are not ferocious beasts to be feared.
🔹Dragons are imposing : Chinese dragons, on the other hand, appear to be fast, powerful and mysterious.
🔹Fireworks: Unlike Chinese lions, dragons are sometimes adorned with fireworks that produce sparks.
🔹Popularity: Lion dances are somewhat more popular during celebrations. Perhaps because they require fewer seats and performers.
Common Points Between Dragon and Lion Dance
🔹Ancient Traditions: Lion and dragon dances are both old traditional Chinese practices.
🔹Experienced Artists: These two dances require acrobatic skill and years of difficult training for the performers.
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The Chinese Lion Dance
A. Physical Aspect of the Lion Dance
The lions have a “shaggy” costume, meaning that they are not short of hair. They also have two large blinking eyes.
The lion dance also includes the laughing Buddha. In parenthesis, the dragon clan offers a statue of the Laughing Buddha, finely worked.
The latter wears the habit of a monk, as well as a mask and a fan. He uses the latter to tease the lion.
B. Interpretation of the Lion Dance
In China, the Lion Dance ( wǔshī ) is performed by only two dancers. One controls the movements of the front paws and head, while the other controls the animal’s hind paws. Both performers are completely invisible to the crowd.
The movements of the Lions are accompanied by an orchestra playing drums, gongs and cymbals.
When the lion is staring at you with its big eyes, it is best to be generous and give a small donation, ideally in a red envelope, which you will slip into its mouth. Red envelopes are known as hong bao, in Mandarin. They symbolize luck and prosperity.
C. Symbolism of the Lion Dance
Knowing that it is a Chinese New Year celebration, the goal is to bring fortune and prosperity to a company or a neighborhood for the coming year.
The lion dance has a lot to do with luck and fighting evil spirits. It is interesting to mention that on the lion’s head there is a mirror. It is put there because the evil spirits are afraid of its reflections.
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D. Lion Dance Variants
There is not only one style of lion dance. In fact, there are three:
The North Chinese dance,
South Chinese dance,
And the Taiwanese dance.
The lion dance also exists in other Asian countries. In Japan it is called Shishi-mai, and in Korea it is called Saja-nori.
The Chinese Dragon Dance
A. Physical Aspect of the Dragon Dance
Each dragon is made of wood, bamboo and fabric. The Dragon has a big head, a long body and a wonderful tail.
The dragon is an interesting combination of several animals:
🔹His ears are those of a bull,
🔹The dragon’s eyes look like those of a rabbit,
🔹His body has fish scales,
🔹Its paws have tiger claws.
Because of all these characteristics, dragons can move wherever they want.
The length of these dragons ranges from 25 meters, to a record of about 5 kilometers long! An “average” dragon used in a dance is usually about 30 meters long.
If we go back in the history of China, we can see that the color and type of the costume could change. Green was the most common color for the Chinese dragon dance because it embodied a fruitful harvest. There was also the color yellow, representing Fortune. Red was also sometimes part of the show, as it embodied joy.
Moreover, the dragon lantern is shaped in an ancestral way, based on thin strips of bamboo, lantern and silk. The dragon’s body, head and tail are made from very thin strips of bamboo, and then from very thin and transparent silk, which is glued to these famous strips. At the end of the making of this costume, the legs and scales are painted on the silk.
B. Interpretation of the Dragon Dance
In the Dragon Dance ( wǔ lóng ), up to 50 people use sticks to hold the dragon. The Chinese Dragon Dances are performed by a troupe of acrobats who raise the dragon above their heads. The fluid and curved movements of the dragon are carefully coordinated by poles.
The dragon dances are often led by an interpreter who controls the movements of the “pearl” – a sphere representing wisdom – that the dragon is chasing.
The dragon is segmented and serpentine in shape. Synchronization between the multiple parts of the dragon is paramount for the dragon illusion to be perfect. The rhythm of the drum coordinates the movements of the gigantic animal.
During the dragon dances, the many artists who manipulate the dragon on poles are visible to the audience.
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C. Symbolism of the Dragon Dance
The Dragon is very important in Chinese beliefs. It was once the symbol of the Chinese emperors, as we saw in the article on Chinese Dragons. So it symbolizes, among other things, power, wisdom and fertility.
In China, during a show, up to 15 performers can control the dragon. Odd numbers are a good omen.
In addition to the abundance of dragon-related symbols conveyed in this dance, it is also noted that the longer the dragon is, the more prosperity and fortune will be attracted.
Are the Lion and Dragon Dances From Kung Fu?
A. Needs Time and Talent
Because of the skill, dexterity and endurance required for the Chinese lion and dragon dances, artists are often students of Kung Fu.
Although being a martial artist is certainly not a formal requirement, joining a dance troupe is an honor. It requires even more time and discipline on the part of martial arts students, who already have a busy and regular training regime.
In addition, it takes sufficient time and talent to learn the dances well.
B. Onerous Costumes
In addition, lion and dragon costumes are expensive and require maintenance efforts.
C. Influence of Dragon and Lion Dances in Kung Fu
The more lions and dragons a martial arts school can produce, the more influential it will be. Chinese lion dances are therefore a way for a kung-fu school to do business!
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