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Snake Dance: 650-Year-Old Cultural Heritage

Pub Date:16-06-08 14:46 Source:china.org.cn

Maybe you are familiar with traditional Chinese Dragon Dance, but have you ever heard of the Snake Dance?

Villagers from Feidong County perform the Snake Dance. [File photo]

Similar to the Dragon Dance, the Chinese Snake Dance is a traditional performance art which originated in Dashao Village, Feidong County, Hefei City of Anhui Province. Enjoying a long history of nearly 650 years, the dance was included on the country's intangible cultural heritage list in 2008.

According to folklore, during the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), people were suffering from chaos and tragedy caused by war.

One day, a pregnant women and her mother-in-law ran into a group of soldiers and hid themselves in a bush to escape from massacre. The soldiers attempted to kill the two; suddenly, a huge white python emerged from the bush and struck the soldiers. The soldiers ran away terrified, while the two women were saved.

Ninety-nine days after the attack, the pregnant women gave birth to a baby boy and named him Shao Siming. When he was 18 years old, Shao's mother told him about the python, which saved his life. In order to express his gratitude, Shao and all the residents made a python-like lantern and danced in the village.

The dance is performed by a team of dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a python using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the snake. The dance team mimics the supposed movements of the snake in a sinuous and undulating manner.

In the beginning, the dance celebration was held every 18 years, and the lantern is extended 1.6 meters each time. Currently, the python-like lantern reaches 104 meters long.

Shao Chuanfu makes the python-like lantern at a local temple. [File photo]

Shao Chuanfu, 71, is currently the inheritor of the traditional dance. When he was 18 years old, Shao learned how to make a python-like lantern and how to dance with it from his father.

Shao said that to make such a long lantern requires both professional skill and patience. The bamboo used as the skeleton of the python should neither be too hard or too soft, and the entire production process consists of dozens of procedures. If 50 people make the lantern at the same time, it will take 10 days to complete the production.

In 2002, residents of Dashao Village established a temple, in which they stored the long lantern when there were no performances. In order to keep it clean, the long lantern is washed at regular intervals.

After the performance was included in China's intangible cultural heritage list, Feidong's Snake Dance became increasingly popular.

"Recently, the dance is not only performed every 18 years, it can also be seen in a range of festive celebrations," said Shao, "During the Spring Festival in 2013, we were invited to perform at the CCTV Villagers' Spring Festival Gala. More than 100 villagers took part in the dance."

Shao said, "As a national level intangible cultural heritage tradition, the most important thing is to inherit the traditional skill. This year, I introduced four new apprentices on our team, and began to teach them how to make the lantern and dance with it."


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