- Origin of the Dragon Dance
Chinese New Year Dragon Dance is as iconic an image related to China, as is the Great Wall of China. It is a traditional dance form mostly performed and associated with celebrations.
The history behind these exotic Dragon Dances can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD), where we find mention of these Dragon Dances. These dances were then mainly associated with the rain, or the appeal for rain to the Rain Gods; as Dragons in Chinese culture have long been associated with rain. Just to cite an example- the dragon Yinglong, was looked up to as a rain deity.
Gradually however, various forms of Dragon Dances developed all across China, for example a kind of snake totem worship developed in to a form of dragon dance in the Tongliang county ; which originated during the Ming dynasty and became popular during the time of Qing dynasty. Various other forms of Dragon dance are also noted in the Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, and in Pujiang County.
The format from evoking the Greater Gods to entertainment changed during Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the regime of the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Now, the Dragon Dance has become one of the most sought after ceremonial dance performed in festivals like the Chinese New Year etc.
- The Dragon Structure and Costume
The Dragon Costume used for a Dragon dance is made by bamboo, grass, clothes etc.; however in recent time lighter options such as aluminum, plastics etc. have replaced the heavy wooden materials.
The Dragon body is serpentine and made up of a number of sections on poles with a dragon head and a dragon tail coming up in the rear. The dragon is made up by joining series of hoops on each section and then attaching the ornate head and the rear end. The odd numbers of joints is considered as auspicious in the Chinese belief, and thus, 9 jointed dragon or 11 jointed dragon and so on and so forth are preferred over even numbers as far as joints are concerned. There have been examples of 29 jointed dragons too. However, these are too heavy and difficult to carry around for a performance, so their value is more for decorative purposes. These decorative dragons are high on craftsmanship and require extremely skilled craftsmen.
Normally the length and size recommended for the body size of the dragon is 112 feet (34 meters) and is generally divided into 9 major sections. However as mentioned earlier these lengths keep on increasing to create not only records, but also to invite more and more luck. The Dragon body is woven in circular manner with thin bamboo sheets, painstakingly segment after segment and then covered with a huge red cloth with dragon scale like things decorating it. Different colors signify different aspects, for example green as the main color signifies great harvest, yellow symbolizes solemn empire, and golden or silver color symbolizes prosperity; whereas the color of red signifies excitement. The scales are mostly made of glittering silver color bringing in a joyous and festive cheer.
- Performing the Dragon Dance
The Dragon’s body is kept in what is called a local Dragon Kind Temple from where the dragon is brought out on the particular day accompanied by pounding of drums, banners and flags and trumpet blowing. People then amidst this great fanfare connect the head and the tail of the dragon to the body. This ceremony is called the eye-pointing. This dance is conducted by an extremely skillful group of dancer, who bring a long motionless body to thriving life. The person leading the dance holds a rod with a ball on top of it. This ball moves in various directions which is followed by the trailing dragon; which appears to be dancing. The dragon moves in a wave formation which is attained by various coordinated swinging of each section. These extremely nifty dance movements are choreographed according to the skill set of the performers. There are quite a number of interesting dance patterns that can be named, which are – “Cloud Cave”, Tai Chi Pattern, Whirlpool, Looking for Pearl, Threading The Money or Dragon encircling the pillar to name a few. The dragon dance ideally involves the artistic flavor of a dancer and the adroitness of a professional athlete. Though the basic steps are fairly simple to adapt to, rigorous dedication and discipline is required to achieve the stature of a competent dancer.
- Various Styles of Dragon Dance
There are various dragon dance forms known to be present. One such is the Southern Dragon Dance. The Southern Dragon Dance gets its name from the south of the Yangtze River. The world record for this type of Dragon was set in 2012 in Hong Kong, with a 5605 Meter long dragon! These dragons are generally made of bamboo and clothes with scales drawn on it and forms “s” type of shape in its dance movements. Another form of Dragon dance is the Northern Dragon dance, which as the name suggests originated from the north of the Yangtze River. These dragons are smaller in size to the southern ones and are also made of plant fibers or papers which make them lighter. The body movement is that of rolling the movement from left to right and is currently more popular across the world, particularly Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. There are double dragon dances too, which are seen rarely because of its intricate footwork and required skill set of the performers. This dance form involves two troupes of dancers intertwining the dragons.
- Competitions held
Globally a number of competitions are organized based on the dragon dance theme. These competitions are guided by strict rules and regulations specifying the length and the weight. For example the head cannot weigh more than 3 kilograms so as to give the agility of movement to the performers. Then the body pieces are also to be made with light aluminum with cane and the hoops with PVC pipes to make these long serpentine structures easy to maneuver.
- Where to see the Dragon Dance
Dragon dance can be seen at the Spring Festivals or the Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival. The Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade promises a spectacular view of the Dragon Dance.
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