Monday, November 1, 2010

The Lion Dance - Ancient Art Form of China

The Lion Dance of China originated over one thousand years ago. It depicts the Asiatic lions of nearby India, some of which may have been presented to early Chinese Emperors as gifts. Lions in Chinese culture are guardian creatures, with statues of lions guarding royal palaces, homes of government officials and royal tombs.

There are many variants of the Lion Dance throughout Asia, including main land China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries. The Lion Dance in China can be roughly categorized into Northern and Southern. Lions consist of paper mache heads with the body being of fabric. The body as well as the head is also decorated with fur, feathers, and decorative paint. The Chinese Lion Dance is most usually done by two people per lion, unlike the Chinese Dragon Dance that can have ten or more people per Dragon.

The Northern Dance originated as entertainment for the imperial court. The Northern Lion is very shaggy and can be orange, red, yellow, or a combination of these colors. The Northern Dance is very acrobatic and is done mainly for entertainment. The Northern Dance many times depicts pairs of lions, sometimes a family of two large and two small lions.

The Southern Dance is more often performed as a ceremony to prevent evil and for good luck. The Southern Lion displays a wide variety of colors. It also usually has a mirror on the center of the forehead, very large eyes and a horn at the center of the head.

The Lion Dance can be performed at any time of the year, but is usually associated with the Chinese New Year. The Dance itself is very formalized, with a different ritual and routine for each country and area. But in most cases, the dance begins with the lion entering the town or village and visiting the local temples and ancestral halls to pay respects. Then it continues down the streets of the town to spread joy and good fortune to the people. During Chinese New Year, the lion dancers visit the storefronts of businesses for the 'picking of the greens'. The owner of the business will attach a red envelope filled with money to a head of cabbage or lettuce, and then tie it above the door of their shop. The lion will approach the greens, and 'eat' the greens but spit out the money. This part of the Lion Dance brings good fortune to the business owner and the lion dancers keep the money in the envelope.

The Lion Dance has developed a close relationship to the martial arts, specifically Kung Fu. Many Lion Dance troupes consist of members of Kung Fu clubs that practice the dance very hard to gain athleticism and proficiency.

This short essay only scratches the surface of the beauty, customs and variety of The Lion Dance, a centuries old part of Asian culture.

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Worked in a steel mill for 30 years. Amateur chef, piano player, book reader, letter writer, gardener, peace advocate.