New Year is the time to usher in the best of things and to ward off all evil spirits that has plagued one in the last year. Thus the Chinese New Year celebration in its traditional aspect has a number of customs which talk about all these.
Lion dance is an integral part of the Chinese New year and is performed with great fervor. This dance is performed donning the lion costume, amidst the heady music of beating drums, clashing cymbals and resounding gongs; this dance requires extreme martial arts capability and artistic sense.
- Origin of Lion Dance
Since time immemorial tradition in China has been to wear masks resembling animals or mythical beasts and perform. Scriptures from the Han dynasty shows records of mime people performing as fish, dragons and phoenixes. However as Lion was not native to China, it came from Persia and detailed description of the Lion Dance can be found in the literary work of the Tang ( 618-907) dynasty and was one of the court dances. Lion dance kept on gaining popularity as a dance form to pray for good luck.
- The Lion Costume
The Lion Dance is conducted like a pantomime horse. It is performed by two dancers. One becomes the head and the front limb, while the other makes up the rear and the hind limb. The lions costumes are mostly made of the auspicious color of red and gold symbolizing good luck and abundance, and the performers’ legs too are dressed in the same color. Sometimes the costumes even extend to the shoes and shape of the Lion’s claws.
Different colors are used to indicate age and characters of the lion. For example lion with the white fur is the oldest, golden yellow fur is the middle, the black is the youngest; whose movements must also coordinate with the color theme and age group. The specific colors may also signify the characteristics of the lions. For example the golden lion represents liveliness, the green lion friendship and the red lion courage.
- Styles of Lion Dance
The lion Dance can be broadly segregated in to two main genres – The Southern Lion Dance and the Northern Lion Dance.
- Southern Lion Dance
The Southern Lion Dance originated from Guangdong. It has a single horn and is associated with a mythical monster called Nian. It is based on the study of the lion’s behavior, emphasizing actions like shaking of the body, scratching and licking of fur. The performances are vivid and highly skilful.
- Northern Lion Dance
The Northern Lion Dance bears more resemblance and relevance to martial arts or Fo Shan. A single person conducts the performance of a young lion whereas two people perform the adult lion. The costumes here are more robust and aligned to the dancers’ body to create more space and scope for the movement. These dances are more robust requiring greater physical agility as it requires lot of jumping, leaping, wrestling, climbing etc.
- Best Places to see the Lion Dance
The best place to see the Southern lion is Hong Kong, Macau and not to forget the New Years’ Celebration in Hong Kong. The Red theatre in Beijing or the Shaolin theatres are two places where the Northern Lion Dance can be seen.
|More on Chinese New Year|