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Let's get right to it.

Today, we're going to teach you everything we know about lion dancing. The Chinese Lion Dance is an ancient tradition that dates all the way back to the 7th century. This vibrant and captivating dance has deep roots in Chinese culture. It continues to be an integral part of various festivities and ceremonies. The most notable of the festivities is the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Chinese Lion Dance Video

The Lion Dance Costume

Let's start of with the Lion Dance costume. At the heart of lion dancing lies the lion costume. The costume is a handmade showpiece constructed with rattan and wire. The head is adorned with brightly painted designs symbolizing celebration. The lion's body is also a canvas of vibrant colors sewn from silky material in bold patterns. Modern lions often feature furry materials like wool. Older heads would use real rabbit fur. Some Lion heads even incorporate led lights into their eyes.

Two Dancers, One Lion

A lion dance always involves two dancers: one controls the head and the other controls the tail. Both roles demand extreme physical endurance and skill. Imagine being hunched over as the tail while jumping for 20 minutes straight!

The head player must lift it explosively to give the lion expressive movements. The tail player must always maintain a low, hunched position to provide the illusion of a body and back legs. The tail dancer also lifts the the head player during stunts or tricks.

A pulley system using strings and elastic allows the head player to manipulate the lion's eyes and ears. Whenever the string is pulled the lion will blink its eyes. The best players create an illusion where the mannerisms and expressions of emotions are so real that sometimes people forget that there are two people in the costume and it is not an actual animal!

When there is seamless teamwork between the head and tail players, the result is a truly convincing animal.

Evolving Styles and Colors

In its early days of lion dancing. Most manufactures of Lion Dance costume only featured two primary colors: black and white. The Lions with the black fur, symbolized a younger, more spirited lion. The Lions with white fur, represented an older, more experienced lion.

Over the years, lion costume manufactures have evolved to now include a wide variety of colors and designs.

Lion Dance Beyond Celebrations

The significance of Lion Dancing extends beyond just Chinese new year celebrations. During the Chinese Revolution of the Qin Dynasty, lion dancing served as a covert method of delivering secret messages. Messages were hidden in the lettuce that the lion dancers would "eat" during their routines.

Revolutionaries against the imperial government used the code word "chouchou," which meant "get the green," to signal the presence of important information in the lettuce.

A Test of Skill and Strength

Lion dancing isn't just a cultural dance. Lion Dancing is a display of fantastic athleticism. Most average people would not have the strength or endurance to perform this dance. So the responsibility for performing this fell to the members of the local Kung Fu club or association. Lion dance footwork is deeply rooted in kung fu stances.

Historically, lion dancing even served as a competition to determine the best martial arts school. This competition was a safer alternative to actual fighting. Challenges between martial arts schools often resulted in severe injuries or even death among the school's top students.

Modern Lion Dance Stunts

Today, lion dance teams incorporate dangerous stunts into their performances to showcase their skill.

These stunts include jumping and climbing on high poles called "jongs" to reach the lettuce. These elaborate routines on poles are spectacular to say the least. In many eastern Asian regions lion dancers are not just cultural performers; they are considered star athletes.

Chinese Lion Dance Video

The Origin of "Chinese Lions"

But why are they called Chinese lions instead of Chinese dragons? The dragon is a completely different costume and is performed by running and carrying a pole attached to a small section of the lion body. 

Chinese dragons, in contrast, are much longer and more slender. A lion dance only requires two dancers. A dragon dance can involve anywhere from ten to over a hundred dancers. Dragons in Chinese culture symbolizes power and authenticity. 

Chinese Dragon Dance

The Symbolism of Lion Dancing

According to Chinese legend, the lion is a powerful creature that repels evil spirits using the mirror on its forehead. Evil entities see their reflection in the mirror are frightened of their own ugliness and flee. This brings good luck and prosperity. Lion dancing is considered an essential requirement whenever starting something new. Examples include the New Year celebrations, weddings, or the launch of a new business.


Bottom line is…

Lion dancing is an ancient custom that no one really knows the origin of. It has evolved in countless ways throughout the ages. It's a dynamic and challenging activity. It is also a rich cultural art that carries centuries of history. 

A lion dance will captivate people of all ages. It combines athleticism, craftsmanship, and storytelling.

Well, you made it to the end of this article so you must have a high interest in the Chinese lion dance. So why not take the next step and actual try out ACTUALLY performing the dance?

We are constantly looking for people to join our lion dance team. It is free to join, you just need to purchase a uniform. It is really fun and you will make a lot of friends by being part of our team. Give me (Instructor Kevin) a call at 702-336-1095. I can tell yo0u all about it in person!