The lion dance (舞狮) dates back over 1,000 years. Sharp distinctions are made between the dance of the lion—which generally requires two dancers—and the dragon dance, which can utilize far more people to control the many sections of the dragon’s long body. Within lion dances, as well, there are two styles: the more realistically styled northern lion and the more colorful and ornate southern lion. In addition to costume-styling differences, the method of dancing also varies between the two regions.
Though they might make it look simple, the dancers are highly trained performers, most with roots in gongfu. While performing they follow particular choreographed forms that are based on martial-arts stances. Additionally, the costumes are quite heavy—with the heads alone weighing up to 15 kilograms—and the performers must be able to jump forward and backward from a standstill, sometimes the height of their own body.
Dancing to the beat of a drum, gong, and cymbal, the lion chases vegetables, hidden in which are hongbao—red envelopes with money inside.
While the dance nowadays is performed mostly for the delight of spectators or as a competition, it was originally believed that the lion would chase away the evil spirit Nian—who feared only lions and the color red. While immigrants in the world’s Chinatowns have preserved the lion-dance ritual, as a new era rushes into the motherland, this tradition is also becoming an increasingly rare sight in the China’s cities.
Watch these videos to see Chinese Lion and Dragon Dances.
How about creating your own Chinese dragon? Check out these two tutorials and be inspired to create your own dragon puppet with a spring body.
Lesson Plan: Chinese Dragon Puppet - create a dragon with cardboard and paper, then decorate with other craft supplies
(There's a copy of the dragon head template at the end of this lesson)