With the Chinese New Year festivities fresh in mind, here is a look at that most challenging of pas de deux, the Chinese Lion Dance.
This traditional form of Chinese dance involves performers mimicking a lion's movements in an exaggerated lion costume. The dance form requires agility, grace, acrobatic skills and martial arts knowledge. As with many arts that have spanned great distances and timespans, a variety of different styles have evolved.
The earliest references to Chinese Lion Dance date back to the 3rd century BC early Ch’in and Han Dynasties when the colorful lions were created as a means of expressing joy and happiness through dance. . Originally intended for the imperial elite, by the time of the Tang Dynasty the Lion Dance had become a New Year custom for the entire countryside. Beginning in the Ming Dynasty the element of martial arts was introduced. The two styles are named North and South, referring to the geography on either side of the Long River.
Both South and North Lion are danced by two partners, one as the head and one as the hind. The North Lion's head is carved of wood and its body is covered with gold and red hair meatn to resemble a real lion. The northern lion has a mane and four legs and is generally more realistic than its southern counterpart. North style involves sophisticated elegant movments, especially somersaults and leaps.
The South lion has a fierce bearing and is made of five-colored cloth. This performance style emphasizes footwork and strength, either with 2 or 4 lion's 'legs'. Currently, the types of South Lion usually found in Hong Kong are either "Foshan Style" or "Heshan Style". Foshan Style lions have a large head and wide mouth, whereas Heshan Style lions have a narrow head and flat mouth.
In South lion dance, a "Big Head Buddha" with a palm-leaf fan in hand may tease the lion; while in North lion dance there may be a knight brandishing a bundle of flowers to draw the lion's attention. Gongs, drums and cymbals synchronise set the rhythm dance movements and actions and create the mood for the audience. The lion dance costumes used in these performances can only be custom made in speciality craft shops in rural parts of China, and have to be imported at considerable expense for most foreign countries outside Asia.
Both areas of the lion dance emphasize a certain theme. The focus of the South is "Green-Plucking". The "Green" in "Green-plucking" can be lettuce, which carries the auspicious meaning of prosperity and energy in Chinese. Plucking moves vary in difficulty based on where the items to be plucked are placed. North lion dance highlights Lion with Ball and Two Lions Dance routines, sometimes with a whole 'family' of lions.
Regardless of regional differences, styles and techniques, the Lion Dance remains one of the most colorful, exciting and whimsical forms of dance in China as well as the rest of the world.... Rowwwr!
prepare to be amazed