History of Lion Dance

Lion Dance

Blue Lion

The lion dance has been part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years. The Chinese use the lion dance to spread all the good blessings of the Gods to the whole community. The lion, a symbol of power, wisdom, and good fortune, chases away evil spirits and brings happiness, longevity, and good luck. Firecrackers, loud gongs and cymbals are used to assist in chasing away these evil spirits. The lion dance is performed at many business locations during the Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations for the lion brings prosperity and good luck to the businesses for the upcoming year. It is done not only during the Lunar New Year celebrations but also on special occasions, like grand openings, weddings and represents the hopes and aspirations of the Chinese people for all the good things life holds. Lion Dance 1

Not an indigenous animal of China, the lion in Chinese legends, is said to have been the ninth son of the dragon and was the best employable guard. That is the reason it is usually seen in front of royal palaces, offices and residences. They supposedly possess mystical properties and is a symbol of power, majesty and courage, capable of warding off evil spirits. Lions are adorned with five colors (yellow, black, green, red and white) as the costume is colored, it is said to have control over the five cardinal directions (N,S,E,W & Center). The costume is composed of many symbolic shapes. The bird shaped horn represents the phoenix. The ears and tail are of the unicorn. The protruding forehead, adorned with a mirror, which deflects evil forces, and the long beard are characteristic of Asian dragons. The lion walks back and forth, in a zigzag path, in order to confuse evil spirits, which the Chinese believe move in straight lines. Finally, the act of eating and dispersing of the greens symbolizes the distribution of wealth and good fortune to all those present.

Black LionThe traditional southern style Lion Dance has become an extension of the Chinese Martial Art, and is always performed by Kung Fu students. The early martial artists, studying in Buddhist temples, imitated the fighting styles of the animals in nature that they observed such as the tiger and the crane other styles including the leopard, praying mantis, eagle, snake and dragon. The forms you will see imitate the movements and characteristics of these animals. The lion dance helps promote important skills in the student. The many steps of the lion are based upon Hung Gar’s horse stances, the lion’s expression and liveliness a reflection of the students' agility & skill he has mastered in Kung fu. The length & quality of the performance is a testament to his stamina & strength. The ability to follow the drummer and his crew or have the drummer follow him involves great team working skills

Lion on ShouldersBefore any lion can be used the eye dotting/opening ceremony or blessing has to be done. This is usually preformed by a high-ranking dignitary. Pig blood is used to dot the lion's mirror shield, situated on the Lion’s forehead. Evil spirits will be scared away upon seeing their own reflection and dotting the eyes so that the spirit can foresee good and evil. Small lights inside the lion's eyes are lit up to represent the presence of the religious spirit. The mouth, ears and horn followed by the rest of the body from the back of the head to the end of the tail. After the spirit has entered the lion's body, the eyes and mouth are opened. After a lion is blessed and awakened, a red ribbon is tied around the lion's horn as a symbol of courage and honor. The ribbon is a reminder for the lion to do only good things. Legend has it that the lion was once caught in an evil temptation and the gods punished it by cutting its head off. However, the goddess of mercy Kwan Yin, felt that the lion had learned its lesson and tied the head back on with a red ribbon. Therefore, when the lion is awakened and pays respect to the gods, it will be honored with the tying of a red ribbon around its horn.

Awakening a lion will see it from a sleeping position, gradually waking by scratching and biting itself. Just like you do, the lion will stretch and wash itself before finally becoming fully awake. Then you will see the power and skill of the lion dancers. When the lion is dancing, you will notice it does everything in 3’s, the bow, the patterns and also the drumbeats. That is because the Chinese are very superstitious and 3 “saym” & lettuce *sang choy" in Cantonese sounds Lion Dance 2like prosper “sang”. The team consists of a drummer, gong player, cymbalists, lion dancers and a person dressed up as a Buddha. During the dance the Buddha leads & teases the lion to the lettuce which is usually accompanied by a red envelope that contains the lucky money, called “lai see”. Choy Cheng or eating the lettuce and spitting it out is symbolic, to spreading wealth and prosperity. Therefore whomever or whatever gets hit by the lettuce is very lucky indeed. There are other routines the lion dancers can do including sleeping, eating a snake or solving a myriad of different puzzles. This is a test to the lion dancers and of the Kung Fu club. Next to the Lion head, the drummer is the most important player on this team. Playing a "saym or chut sing" (3 or 7) drum beat, following & leading a lion through its many routines. So when you are enjoying a Lion dance, remember the many hours of hard work that went in to bring you this lively and explosive performance of skill and martial art.

Talk to your Sifu about the Lion Dance Classes. You will need all your basic stances first!

Lion Dance Video