Okay, we know. “Lion dance” isn’t exactly a “dance” in our usual context, but we thought we’d put it in the spotlight in conjunction with Chinese New Year, because it’s an art given physical form all the same. And one cannot argue that it doesn’t take tremendous skill, effort and physical exertion to pull off lion dances! So, here we go with some lion dance fun facts (though not all will be related to movement)!
1. There Are Two Different Styles
The two different lion dance styles are simply known as Northern and Southern. We usually see the Southern lion dance here in Malaysia, and the dance is based on the study of a lion’s behaviour with emphasis of its actions. Scratching, shaking of body, blinking and licking of fur are just a few things Southern lions do. Generally, Southern lions are more fun and playful. On the other hand, Northern lions focus more on technical deliverance, as it is closely associated with the Chinese martial arts, or kungfu. Northern lions have longer manes, and this is just a personal opinion: they look a little fiercer than Southern lions.
2. Being Trained In Martial Arts Is Helpful
In relation to the above, a lion dancer’s performance is greatly boosted if one has a foundation in martial arts, regardless of Northern or Southern styles. You could probably tell that being a lion dancer is no easy feat, whether being the head or tail, and requires tremendous amounts of discipline, effort, training, stamina and skills to pull off a solid performance. Training of martial arts usually encompass perseverance, dedication and discipline – all of which would be helpful for lion dancing.
3. The Head & Tail Are Equally Important
Some say the head is more difficult and some say the tail. We say they’re just as important, because you can’t have one without the other. The “head” performer has to actually carry the head, lead the tail, blink its eyes and sometimes “interact” with the audience among other things. The “tail” performer on the other hand, has to crouch in what clearly is an uncomfortable position, follow the head closely and also act as a base for the head if there are stunts involved. Not to mention both the head and tail performers have to be totally in sync, and that takes chemistry, understanding, and a whole lot of practice – corps dancers would know, wouldn’t you? Put one toe out of line and…
4. The Music Matches The Movements
Call us outdated, but we didn’t know that the music follows the lion. We always thought that the lion danced according the the music. In fact, the musicians have to have a very sharp eye to keep track of what the lion is doing at all times, because they have to match their musical rhythm to the lion’s movements. Each movement has a specific rhythm to match, and this is how it goes. The drums follow the lion, and the cymbals and gong follow the drums in turn.
5. Lion Dances Can Be Improvised Or Choreographed
Again, we always thought they were choreographed, but turns out they could be improvised as well. (Double duty on the musicians and big props because they really have to keep an eye on the lion.) Usually, street walkabouts are improvised, which makes sense, because they have to take into account the crowd and whatnot, but those with the stunts are set. Again, makes sense, as one would have to practice the stunts over and over again to make no room for mistakes.
6. Lion Dances Symbolise Power, Wisdom and Superiority
Besides creating a festive atmosphere, lion dances are also widely believed to bring good luck and prosperity, while chasing away evil spirits. Sounds good to us! It’s not uncommon to see lion dances during the Chinese New Year period, as well as during shop openings or business launches to signify good luck and fortune.
All in all, the lion dance is an art form, and we are taking this opportunity to create a little bit more awareness for the lion dancers out there. They represent not only art, martial arts and a little bit of athleticism, but the Chinese culture as well. If there are any lion dance troupes reading this, thank you & keep the spirit alive! Happy Chinese New Year, and keep dancing!
Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.