The lion dance is most commonly associated with the Chinese
Lunar New Year, although it is performed throughout the year at many celebrations,
holidays and festivals. In the Chinese tradition, the lion dance is essential to
ensure harmony and prosperity. In its early history, lion dance was performed
by actors and dancers. Today, this ancient custom is mainly kept alive
by martial artists from traditional kung fu schools. Due to numerous
championships in Asia and North America, lion dancing has now reached
new heights in its popularity. Traditional lion dancing has evolved into
a spectator sport replaced
by dare-devil acrobatic feats, rivaling any circus performance. There
is even a movement to include lion dance competition as an Olympic event.
Legends of the origins of lion dancing can be found in
ancient Chinese literature. Although there are many accounts, the following
version is the most familiar. It relates to three hundred years
ago in a small Chinese village terrorized by an unusual creature that always appeared on New Yearís Eve. Frightened of the beast, villagers
confined themselves to their homes while the beast foraged through their
fields. One year, the villagers retaliated by making their own version
of a beast, made up to look like a brightly colored lion. As New Yearís
Eve approached, two men maneuvered the man-made lion while other villagers
followed, beating on metal pots and pans to scare away the beast. As the legend
commotion caused the beast to retreat back to the mountains, never to be
seen again. The scene would be recreated by the villagers every New Yearís
Eve in commemoration. This custom was later adopted by others and came
to symbolize the cleansing of evil spirits lingering from the old year,
bestowing only good fortune in the new year.
Martial artists have their own account of the origins
of lion dancing, also dating back to the mid 18th century. Their version
takes place in the southern Guangdong (Kwangtung) province of China, where
a fierce lion would appear out of the mountains, terrorizing the villagers
and causing great destruction. The villagers sought the help of masters
from many martial arts systems throughout the neighboring villages. Expeditions
into the mountains were organized to fight off this enemy lion. As with
all accounts, good eventually overcomes evil, and they gained victory.
In celebration, they constructed a lion costume. The masters wore the costume
and incorporated their martial arts skills into a victory dance. This account
supports the close association of lion dancing and martial arts.
While lion dancing takes on many forms today - folk custom,
dance drama, and competition, it is the martial arts form that continues
to entertain while it imparts life's lessons. To the martial artist,
it is an extension of the arts and incorporates various skills and techniques.
The lion dance identifies survival and the
balance of hardship and joy. The performers' goal is
to consume "the greens", generally a head of lettuce. This is accomplished
through complicated staging representing the obstacles one faces in life
to reach fulfillment. The lion, portraying the human spirit must
contemplate and find a successful route in seeking its goal. In an uplifting
exhibition, the lion proves success through ingenuity and perseverance.
Calvin Chinís Martial Arts Academy offers traditional
lion dance classes as a unique cultural enrichment program. This comprehensive
program is for youths and adults enrolled in Kung Fu or Tai Chi at the
academy. It involves learning the choreographed sequence, performing in
a costumed lion head, as well as practicing the traditional Chinese instruments
that accompany the lion. Participants train for performances at various
functions and festivities.
Hear the lion dance drumming