Have you ever encountered a Lion Dancing performance? It is one of the most popular traditions in Chinese culture. In some lion dance routines, performers do incredible stunts on high poles and pillars. Lion dancing is all about teamwork, but it also requires exceptional body strength and balancing skills from each performer.
The Chinese Lion Dance is often confused with the Chinese Dragon Dance. They are both an important part of traditional Chinese festivities, specially Chinese New Year, and both are thought to bring good luck and scare away the evil spirits.
The main difference between the two is that the Dragon Dance is performed by a team of a dozen or so dancers, whereas the Lion performance is acted out by only two dancers.
The Chinese Lion performances during the new year celebrations start on New Year’s Day and continue through the end of the festivities. They play out during street celebrations to the sound of drums, gongsand cymbals.
The parading Lions run along the streets to bring goodwill and luck to everyone they meet. They visit stores, restaurants and businesses.
The Lion Troupes are usually accompanied by their “laughing Buddha” buddy. He wears a mask and a robe and teases the lion with a fan to make him jump, roll around, lie down, etc.
It is unclear how the lion dance began, many years ago. Historians generally believe it is rooted in the late Han dynasty (206BC-AD220), when lions from Central Asia were brought to China’s emperor as gifts. By the Tang dynasty (618-907), lion dancing was regularly performed at the imperial court.
Although the tradition goes back hundreds of years, it has evolved. The north’s version of the dance uses a mascot that resembles a real lion, an element based on those imperial court performances of years ago.
In the south, including in Foshan, where the dance is believed to have originated, the lions are more cartoonish and have exaggerated facial and body expressions.