Lion Dance, 舞狮, is a traditional art form that incorporates physical training commonly associated with martial arts and ascetic expressions.
During a lion dance performance, 2 performers co operate to “become” a lion. The Lion’s body consists of a lion head with movable ears, eye lids and mouth and a highly decorated body. The performers wear a t-shirt with the lion dance association’s logo and a special pair of pants designed to look like lion’s feet and in matching color and design with the lion’s body.
One of the performers takes the front position and assumes the front body of the lion. He controls the lion’s eye lids, ears and the mouth while his legs moves represent the front legs of a lion. The second performer arches forward to form the back of the lion, controls its tail and his legs represents the hind legs of the lion.
Lion dance performances are often accompanied by drum and gong players so that whenever there is a lion dance performances, the drum and gongs help to “inform” everyone around the area drawing crowds. The lion dance can occur with one or a group of lions and sometimes together with the dragon dance.
At the end of each performance, the Lion may leave a display of orange petals for audience to decipher the lucky numbers from the formation. Pastries such as prosperity cakes 发糕 are also used as props because of its auspicious symbolism.
Although it is called a lion dance, the lion is definitely not the physical lion in the zoo but a stylized cultural lion with a variety of colors and designs. The lions are generally categorized into northern and southern lions and within each category, there are variations reflecting regional influences in China. One of the most distinguished types of Southern Lion is the Green Lion 青狮 thought to have its origins in the Ming loyalist’s anti Qing movement.
Lion dance performances are usually associated with joyous or auspicious occasions. The following is a list of social and festival occasions that a lion dance performance can be seen
Chinese New Year
During the Chinese New Year, groups of lions perform from door to door at residences or offices. The lion performance the “Picking the greens” 菜青 to usher an auspicious new year. The lion during such performances are also associated with Nian 年, the mythical creature who is frightened away with firecrackers and red color during the Chinese New year.
The Lions are often invited to welcome a VIP or guest of honor at a banquet or meeting. When the drum or gongs start playing, it signals the approach of the VIP. The lion dance performance begins when the VIP alights from his car or appears at the front gate. The lions accompany the VIP from the arrival point to the VIP table or the stage. Such welcome ceremonies are used in both traditional occasions as well as by corporations to give foreign visitors an interesting and unique experience.
Ground breaking ceremony / Opening ceremony
Lion dance performances are also found at ground breaking ceremonies of buildings and institutions. The performances create a joyous mood for an important and significant occasion.
In this function, lion dances witness and usher many important occasions and events of a society.
Festive / religious events
During major religious events, lion dance performances are arranged for ritual purposes and also to create a festive and joyous mood. These events quickly attract people around the area especially tourists and children to enjoy the performance.
Lion dance groups are also invited to performance at tourist destinations or night markets. Lion dance performances are very effective in drawing crowds and in creating a festive or joyous mood since performances are often associated with happy events.
In Singapore, lion dance performances are commissioned by Chinese customers and also by expatriate community. Lion dance association also attracted students from other ethnic groups so that it is common to see Lion Dance performance with Malay and Indian performers.
The next time you have an event consider a lion dance performance to create a joyous mood or to mark the start of an auspicious event. When you commission a lion dance performance, you also contribute toward sustaining a traditional art form in a modern society.
Lion dance performance at the opening of Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore 2007
Lion dance in Belleville Chinatown, Paris during
Chinese New Year
Lion dance in front of the spirit medium
within the cloud of fire crackers
Bintan Island, Indonesia