The Lion Dance is one of the most widely spread folk dance in China. Lion is the king of animals. In Chinese tradition, lion is regarded as a mascot, which can bring good luck. The dance has a long history with records of more than 2,000 years ago. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Lion Dance was already introduced into the royal family of the dynasty.
In the Lion Dance, two people act as a lion; one waving the lion head and the other waving the lion body and tail; or one performer acts as a cub. Another person is needed to hold a silk ball to play with the lion.
Skill is the most important thing while performing the Lion Dance. After more than 2,000 years of development, there are various Lion Dances. It's one of most popular programs of dance and acrobatics troupes today.
When it is the Lantern Festival or other festive occasions, people often organize lion dance to add to the fun. If well performed, the lion dance is believed to bring luck and happiness.
Types by Style
The performance is divided into Wenshi (civil lion) and Wushi (martial lion) according to the performing styles. Wenshi depicts the images of a lion, which is docile and funny. It scratches, licks or dozes off. In some areas, the lion player wears a mask. For instance, there are the Luohan (Arhat) Playing with Lion in Sichuan and Hunan provinces and the Laughing Monk Playing with Lion in Shaanxi Province.
Wushi portrays the power of the lion. Besides the usual jumping, falling and tumbling, performers will also show their excellent techniques by climbing upon a high table or by stepping on five wooden stakes. For instance, the Gaotai (High Terrace) Lion Dance of Sichuan Province has to be performed on seven high tables, which makes the performance highly difficult. In recent years, the Lion Dance in Beijing combined the advantages of others to become a new style.
Types by Geography
During the more than 1,000 years of development, lion dance has developed into two major genres -- Northern Lion Dance and Southern Lion Dance.
The Northern Lion Dance has a longer history than any other forms of lion dance. It is said that in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), Emperor Wudi launched an expedition to Hexi in Gansu Province, and took captive of more than 100,000 Mongols. The emperor ordered the Mongols to perform dance and other entertainment. More than 30 Mongolian warriors held wood carved animal heads, two big and five small, and wore animal skins, dancing before the emperor. The emperor was very pleased and named it Northern Wei Auspicious Lion, and allowed the captives to return home. Then lion dance was popular in northern China, and the Northern Lion Dance came into being.
The Northern Lion Dance mainly focuses on the performance of martial lion dance, i.e. the Auspicious Lion of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Dance of small lion is performed by one person, and dance of big lion is played by two persons, with one person wielding the lion head while standing, and the other wielding the lion body and tail while stooping down. Guided by the lion dancers, the lion writhes, falls forward, jumps and makes a bow, as well as some other highly difficult movements such as walking on wooden or bamboo stakes, jumping over a table, and stepping on a rolling ball, etc.
There are several legends about the Southern Lion Dance in China. One of the legends has it that in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong dreamed about the pilgrim of an auspicious animal in colorful hair on his inspection tour south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. After his return to Beijing, the capital, the emperor ordered his men to make one according to the image of the auspicious animal he dreamed about. He ordered some people to wield whenever there was a festival or a ceremony, indicating to make the state prosperous and people peaceful.
The Southern Lion Dance mainly focuses on the performance of civilized lion dance. The performance attaches much attention to the movements like scratching an itch, shaking the hair, licking the hair and so on.