The Lion dance of China, commonly referred as ‘Barongsai’, is a traditional dance that began in China around 420-589 BC during the Bel Nan Dynasty. Dancers, wearing a lion’s costume, mimic a lion’s movements which were used to symbolize success and good fortune while getting rid of negative spirits and bad luck. This dance is not only found in China but in other countries like Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. But the most famous lion dance that is recognized by most people is the lion dance of China.
There are two different styles of the Lion dance in China. The northern Lion dance was used to entertain emperors and their guests. Each movement was performed to look like the natural movements of a lion. The southern lion dance became a symbol of nature which was performed in a traditional ceremony to get rid of evil desires and spirits thus bringing good luck and fortune. The Lion dance has become an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebration.
The Chinese believe the lion is a wild animal that must be tamed. And the way to tame the power of the lion is through communicating with the spirit world. Thus, before the lion dance begins, they will hold a ceremony and pray to the gods to give and bestow spiritual life to the lion which will provide good luck and happiness.
The lion costume is made of paper-mache and is comprised of five different colors. These five colors symbolizes the five types of wind direction and five elements of earth, namely yellow (earth / center), black (water / north), green (wood / east), red (fire / south) and white (metal / west). The nose of lion usually has a green color which symbolizes luck and prosperity. The forehead of the lion is decorated to scare off the evil spirits with a mirror or silver paper.
The Lion dance is performed by a team of five to six people. Two members perform in the lion costume, one person at the head and one person at the tail. Two to three other members accompany the lion on musical instruments. The lion dance performance should be compact and match the beat of the drums. The drums, made from shell wood, are covered with dried buffalo skin. In addition to the drums, this dance is also accompanied by the sound of cymbals and a gong.
There are some basic patterns in the lion dance:
- Sleeping is the initial opening of this dance. The dance begins with a sleeping lion that starts to awaken symbolizing something new is beginning. After waking up, the lion will cleanse its body symbolizing ridding itself of dirty, negative spirits.
- Opening is the lion movements to begin the dance by nodding three times as a symbol of thanks and tribute to the spirits.
- Playing is when the lion starts playing with all things around it like jumping over high objects and dancing around. Usually the players of lion dance have kung fu training. They must agile, strong, and acrobatic.
- Searching is when the lion begins to search for foods.
- Fighting is done when there are two lions in the show competing for a prize.
- Eating is when the lion will eat the food which is usually hung in artificial branches or hung above the doors of businesses and homes. The foods that are usually given are leaf lettuce and tangerines. Leaf lettuce is a symbol of wealth and good fortune, while tangerines (yellow) symbolize longevity. A red purse, containing money, is hidden in the food and the lion gets to keep the purse. The Chinese believe that if the lion eats their food it will bring them good luck.
- Closing is when the dance is coming to an end and the lion as brought good fortune to those who have given it food. The lion begins to clean itself again and nod three times, indicating the end of the performance.
- Sleeping is when the lion goes back to sleep and everything calms down. The bad spirits have been scared away while good luck and fortune remains.
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