The Lion Dance

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By Luci Lizares

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CHINESE New Year celebrations are never complete without the Lion and the Dragon Dance. I thought this year I would miss their performance, but when we were at the Ayala mall, a whole troupe came and completed my Chinese New Year celebrations.

The lion is the king of animals and to the Chinese the lion symbolizes good luck. The Lion Dance is one of the most popular dances in China and its history stretches back more than 2,000 years. Records show that during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Lion Dance was already performed for the royal family.

The troupe was made up of six or was it seven Lions but it was the Blue Lion that performed before entering the mall. Observing the dance, there are two people who act as a lion; one moving the head and the other moving the body and tail.


The lion dances to the beat of the drums and is suppose to bring luck and good fortune to the spectators. The Lion Dance is very entertaining as the lion frolics and plays around. The lion is costumed very ornately with colorful bright wide eyes. They bob and dodge their way to the crowds which brought much joy to the shoppers.

It is obvious that skill is imperative when performing the lion dance. In China, authentic lion dance performances can be divided into Wenshi (civil lion) and Wushi (martial lion). Wenshi depicts a docile and amusing lion, playfully licking others and gently nodding off. In contrast, his friendly cousin, Wushi portrays the power of the lion. Besides the athletic jumping and tumbling, performers show off their techniques by climbing upon a high table or by stepping across five wooden stakes.

Lion Dance has evolved into many styles but its popularity has never wavered and is still one of the most popular forms of dance amongst acrobatics troupes today. In over 1,000 years of development, the lion dance has developed into two major genres according to geography-Northern Lion Dance and Southern Lion Dance.

The Northern Lion Dance has a longer history than all other forms of lion dance. During the Wei Dynasty (386-534) in the North, Emperor Wudi launched an expedition to Hexi in Gansu Province, and captured over 100,000 Mongols. The emperor ordered the Mongols to dance for his entertainment. Over 30 Mongolian warriors held wooden carved animal heads, two large and five small, and clothed themselves animal skins, dancing before the emperor. The emperor was very pleased and named it Northern Wei Auspicious Lion, before allowing the captives to return home. The lion dance became popular across northern China, and the Northern Lion Dance was born.

In the Northern Lion Dance, the lion writhes, falls forward, jumps and takes a bow, accompanied by higher-flying maneuvers, such as walking on wooden or bamboo stakes, jumping over a table, and stepping on a rolling ball.

The Southern Lion Dance in China stems from a legend that in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong dreamed about the pilgrimage of an animal with bright fur on his inspection tour south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. After his return to Beijing, the emperor ordered his men to make a figure according to the image of the auspicious animal he dreamt about. He further ordered it to be paraded during festivals and ceremonies, to make the state prosperous and the people peaceful. The Southern Lion Dance focuses on the civilized lion dance. The performance focuses on movements like scratching an itch, shaking the hair, preening itself and so on.

The Lion Dance we saw seemed to be more of the Southern genre.
Today, Lion Dances are not confined to the big Chinese festivals like the Lunar Lantern Festival we just celebrated. They grace many auspicious occasions like weddings, planting or harvest time, religious ceremonies or even to launch a new business.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 06, 2014.


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