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___ Lion Dance

Lion dance (simplified Chinese: 舞狮; traditional Chinese: 舞獅; pinyin: wǔshī). Along with the noise of fire crackers, the Lion Dance can be observed as a masked dance performance.
 

According to traditional Chinese belief, the lion signifies courage, stability and superiority. The lion’s dance is performed to chase away ghosts and evil spirits, and since the monsters, ghosts, evil spirits and giants like Nian are afraid of loud noises, the dance has become a natural complement to the fire crackers' noise. Clashing cymbals, a gong and drums usually accompany this lively scene. The lion’s every movement has a specific musical rhythm. The music follows the moves of the lion, the drum follows the lion, the cymbals and the gong follow the drum player. Throughout the performance, the Lion will mimic various moods and demonstrate similar physical gestures allowing the Lion to look life-like.
The lion dance combines art, history and kung fu moves. Normally the performers are kung fu practitioners, and a group of Lion Dancers consist of about 10 people.

Lion dances take place during the first few days of the Chinese New Year.
The dance of a Lion is preformed by two performers, one at the head of the lion, one at the tail of the lion. The head of the lion is made out of papier mâché and the nearly constant twinkle and movement of the lion’s eyelids as well as the movement of the head and mouth are supposed to enhance the lion’s vitality and longevity, while the tail of the lion sweeps away bad fortune and unpleasant things from last year.
A mirror is attached to the head of the lion. Mirrors are believed to expel negative energy, evil and bad spirits, since negative energy would be reflected backwards, evil spirit would be frightened by their own appearance when looking into the mirror and hence would disappear.
One horn is attached to the lion’s forehead.

A Lion Dance starts and ends at a temple, where the lions will pay respect not only to the temple and its deities, but to the ancestral hall as well (see: Ancestor Worship).
The procession will lead through the streets, bringing joy and happiness to the people. Respect will be paid to all temple and its deities located en route.

The dramatic climax of the Lion Dance is the "Cai Qing" or 'Picking the Green'. The green here refers to vegetable leaves which are tied to a piece of string which also has a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the door of the business, shop (or home), and the lion 'eats' both, the leaves and the red packet. Lying on the floor the leaves are 'chewed' by the lion while the musicians play a dramatic rolling crescendo. The lull is broken as the lion explodes back into activity, spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.
A shop, business (or household) being visited by the performers of the Lion Dance will have good luck in the year to come (keep in mind that a visit normally has to be prepaid) and should a family member or the owner of a business stuck his or her head into the lions’s mouth, the year to come will even be more lucky and prosperous. The lions are normally awarded with customary gifts like oranges symbolising wealth or mandarins/ tangerines (see: Food Symbolism) symbolising luck and red envelopes containing money.

Apart from the lion, the performers are accompanied by a fan bearer, the funny, smiling person or ‘uncle’, the latter being the God of Smiles. While fascinating, entertaining and richly this ritual demonstrates how one should approach the ineffable - with good humour and dexterity.

There are various styles of lions and lion dances, though the biggest distinction is the Northern and the Southern. The Northern lion dance was used for entertaining the Imperial Court, the lions showed more of a lion’s flowing mane, the appearance similar of a fu lion, a pekinese dog.
The Southern dance is more symbolic as mentioned above and preformed during Chinese New Year celebrations.
The Southern lions are divided into two main groups, the Hok Shan and the Fat Shan lions. Further divisions or mixed forms do exist.
The Hok San Lion has a straight mouth, a curved horn, and a short tail, the Fat San lion has a curved mouth, a pointed horn, and a long tail.

Lion dance
Lion dance in the streets of China Town, Bangkok during Chinese New Year celebrations.
Photo © Valeska Gehrmann

The appearance of the lion and the colour of the fur has a symbolism to it as well. The Five Element’s theory, the symbolism of colours, the bagua and colours associated with Feng Shui are one base for ‘interpreting’ the colour of the lion’s fur. Traditionally there might have been different interpretations, while folk tales will have added their influences.
When you see a Lion Dance, ‘think outside the box’ and interpret the colour with the first thing which comes to mind and just enjoy the show.
 

Chinese Lion Head
Head of a Lion Dance costume, China Town, Bangkok
Photo © Valeska Gehrmann
 
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The Lion Dance page was last modified on: Sunday, 10-Feb-2013 05:26:53 CET


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