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January 27, 2009

The Beautiful Lion Dance

The lion dance originated in India or China. The lion is traditionally regarded as a guardian creature. It is featured in Buddhist lore, being the mount of Manjusri. There are different variations of the lion dance in other Asian cultures including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sydney, and Singapore, with each region possessing their own styles.

Chinese lion dances can be broadly categorised into two styles, Northern (北獅) and Southern (南獅). Northern dance was used as entertainment for the imperial court. The northern lion is usually red, orange, and yellow (sometimes with green fur for the female lion), shaggy in appearance, with a golden head. The northern dance is acrobatic and is mainly performed as entertainment. Sometimes, they perform dangerous stunts.

Southern dance is more symbolic. It is usually performed as a ceremony to exorcise evil spirits and to summon luck and fortune. The southern lion exhibits a wide variety of colour and has a distinctive head with large eyes, a mirror on the forehead, and a single horn at center of the head. The lion dance also symbolises the myth of the Chinese new year

The Lion dance is often confused with the Chinese Dragon Dance, which features a team of around ten or more dancers. The Lion Dance usually consists of two people.

The lion dance has close relations to kung fu and the dancers are usually members of the local kung fu club. They practice in their club and some train hard to master the skill.

The lion dance is an important tradition in China. Usually the dance is part of festivities like Chinese New Year, the openings of restaurants and weddings. If well-performed, the lion dance is believed to bring luck and happiness.
The lion is enacted by two dancers. One handles the head, made out of strong but light materials like paper-mache and bamboo, the other plays the body and the tail under a cloth that is attached to the head. The 'animal' is accompanied by three musicians, playing a large drum, cymbals and a gong. A Little Buddha teases it with a fan or a giant ball. The head dancer can move the lion's eyes, mouth and ears for expression of moods.
The lion dance combines art, history and kung fu moves. Normally the performers are kung fu practitioners. Every kind of move has a specific musical rhythm. The music follows the moves of the lion: the drum follows the lion, the cymbals and the gong follow the drum player.

Quite often people observing the dances think that they are looking at dragons. The main difference between lion dance and dragon dance is that the latter is performed with more people than two.

Source: Wikipedia and World Online

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