According to experts, lion dance originated over 1500 years ago. The lion itself it not native to China.
The first one was brought to China as a tribute during the reign of the Emperor Shun (126-145) of the Han dynasty,but China no Zoos, and very few people had actually seen a lion. So how did they go about imitating the lion in their dance?
“By looking at the animals around them “Chinese lion dance can be divided into two broad categories,
The Northern style imitates the dog and the Southern the cat. The Northern or Beijing version is short, stocky and furry, much like an oversized Pekinese. It is mainly used by chinese circuses & acrobats entertaining audiences with their humor mannerisms.
There are two styles of southern lion dance, one style is from Fujian and the other is from Guangdong (Canton). Which is also the most popular. The cantonese lion can be divided into two styles, one is Foshan, which is very popular among Hong Kong & chinese communities around the world.
The other is the Heshan, popular among Malaysia, Singapore with competition teams.
Lion heads are constructed of paper-mache applied over a frame of wicker and rattan, some of the modern heads use aluminum and a plastic in their construction. The heads are then painted different colours used to signify different characters, but like women who wear make up so the heads have become colorful. Here are the colours of the heads & which characters they signify:
Yellow – Liu Bei
Red – Guan Gong
Black – Zhang Fei
(The above are all characters from “The Three Kingdoms”)
Northern Lion dance or the Peking is popular in the northern parts of China has its with its mane resemble like a real lion. The performers of the northern lion dance are completely dressed up in a costume with a shaggy yellow fur and red highlights.
The gold color head of the northern lion is smaller than the southern one. It has a less moveable mouth, square jaw with a red beard.
The lion with the red ribbon on the head represent male while the lion with green ribbon represent the female.
Historically, the northern (Beijing) lion was performed by acrobats. It is to entertain the government officials and the emperor, the style of dancing is more acrobatic and theatrical. The music sounds more northern which is influenced by Beijing Opera.
Today the easiest way to see northern lion is to watch an acrobatics show. The movement of lion are smooth, playful including many acrobatic manoeuvres.
Unlike its southern cousin, the peking lions has own set of performing props and tradition. While the northern lion stands on a giant ball and rolls over huge benches, upside-down pots or the upright legs of an overturned table.
Northern lions often appear happily bouncing, tilting its head and wagging its tail. They usually are performed in family or groups of three. The group is often accompanied by a lion tamer, usually a woman or young boy. The tamer holds a small ball aloft to entice and tease the lion. Encouraging it to perform more difficult acrobatic manoeuvres.
Southern lion dance or Cantonese lion dance originated in the southern provinces of China. The lion’s head is made of paper mache and wood, elaborately painted and decorated with strings, fringes, tassels and bells. The head can weigh more than 40 pounds. Attached to the head of the southern lion with a red ribbon is a pierce of colourful material that represents his body under which the person portraying (The body and tails must be crounch).
The two types of Southern lions commonly known are the young lions. The old lion is multicolored and has a long white beard. He usually serves as the trademark of an older, established school. The young lion has black hair and a shorter black beard and is representative of a school thad does not have such a standing in the community. The young lion is very aggressive and always picks a fight.
The dance steps of Cantonese lion are performed with wide stances, slow and deliberate footwork and stylized movement of the head. There are certain parts that a dance must contain.: greeting, walking, eating, climbing a stage etc.
In all special moves, the lion must dance in the right rhythm, but the music must follow the moves of the lion. (The drum follows the lion the cymbals and the gongs follow the drum player). This means that lion and the musicians have to work out what are going to do. Every kind of moves has its own specific musical rhythm, and on every rhythm there are certain alternatives, some go for all kinds of moves, there are certain alternatives one at a moment better than the others.
Here are some examples of the lion dance