Lion Dancing Information
Our professional lion dance troupe has been performing at community and corporate events on the Gold Coast and interstate since 2003. We have been taught under the guidance of 9th Degree Grandmaster Henry Sue and his good friend Master Leung (a lion dancing championship winner from Hong Kong).
Many Kung Fu schools have lion dancing as an adjunct to their main training, but here at the Mudgeeraba Chinese Kung Fu Academy, we pride ourselves on regular commitment to improving our skills and routines on a weekly basis. This dedicated practice has lead to a more professional troupe and new and improved dance routines. Anyone can join our teams, you do not have to be training in our Kung Fu or Tai Chi classes, although those skills only enhance the quality of the dance. We now have an 18m dragon and are continually training this up to the standards of our lion teams.
Lion Dancing History
Many Kung Fu schools include the Lion Dance as part of their traditional training. This dance is part of the Chinese cultural heritage. Its origin is shrouded in myth and legend as much of ancient China is. The Lion is a well known part of Chinese New Year celebrations, often accompanied by great drums, cymbals, gongs, and firecrackers, and lead by the big headed, clown-like, smiling Buddha. Nowadays, there are teams who train for Lion Dancing competitions only. They give phenomenal performances on poles and cables many feet above the ground. Their commitment to their training is evident in the way they bring the lion to life! Those students that have a more martial training regime can learn much from these teams, but often find it hard to emulate the same finesse and skill.
It is considered a great honour to represent your Sifu and his style when given the privilege to perform under the lion. In the past, schools would pit their skills against one another while performing (and fighting) in the lion. Often weapons, like knives, would be used to damage the opposition’s lion and dancers.
In our school you begin training the basics of the lion and monk from an early stage. This allows students to become comfortable and proficient long before they are put under pressure and asked to perform a live dance. Below is information on the history of this traditional branch of Kung Fu training.
Lion Dancing Myths and Legends
Like dragons and unicorns, Chinese lions are creatures of myth and legend. The Chinese Lion is said to possess supernatural powers, and can ward off evil spirits and clear the way for good fortune and prosperity. The Chinese consider the Lion Dance to be a vehicle for dispensing all the good blessings of Heaven to the whole community. It is done not only during the Chinese New Year’s celebration but also on auspicious occasions, and represents the hopes and aspirations of the Chinese people for all the good things life holds. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, the Chinese lion is welcomed by businesses and homes. This is a time to re-establish and strengthen relationships with family and friends, to wipe your debts, “spring clean” the house or office, and to eat great food. The Chinese lion helps to clear away the old and introduce the new. It is a time of spiritual rejuvenation.
- Long ago a village was being threatened by a fierce lion-like creature that lived in the forest. The villagers would bang pots and woks together in unison to scare off the creature. They would dress themselves up like a lion to scare the creature into going away. Allegedly this was successful, so the villagers continued their tradition every new year.
- Another version says the village people were unsuccessful in their attempts to thwart the lion's attacks. Therefore, they hired a Buddhist monk to capture the lion. Being a Buddhist the monk could not kill the lion. So he trained it to become tame and helpful to the villagers.
- During the Five Dynasties, there is a text that records a beast that was 8 feet long, big headed, eyes like copper bells, a green face and a horn on its head. It would appear every New Year and destroy the crops. The villagers dressed up like it, banged gongs, cymbals, and drums to frighten it away.
- One day the Emperor dreamt about a colourful lion dancing with all sorts of movements and action. He was so captivated that he summoned his choreographer to recollect features of this dream lion and create the dance.
The Southern lion is an independent minded beast, that sometimes goes along with the monk's cajoling, but other times turns on him with playful aggression.
The lion supposedly possesses mystical properties : When paired with the five colors - yellow, black, green, red and white, as the costume is colored, it is said to have control over the five cardinal directions.
- The red lion is lucky, and represents happiness and prosperity.
- The black lion is the youngest, and represents strength and aggression.
- The gold (or multicoloured lion) is the oldest and the wisest.
The lion costume is composed of many symbolic shapes. The bird shaped horn represents the phoenix. The ears and tail are of the unicorn. The protruding forehead, adorned with a mirror which deflects evil forces, and the long beard are characteristic of Asian dragons. Finally, the act of eating and dispersing of the greens symbolizes the distribution of wealth and good fortune to all those present. These symbols combine to cure sickness, bless marriages and guard against misfortune.
A lion team consists of 5 members, one each in the head and tail of the lion, a drummer, cymbalist, and a gong player. The musicians are shown below practising at our school for an upcoming demonstration.
The original Lion Dance begins in a cave, behind a closed portal, with a sleeping lion. An overweight Buddhist monk enters, looks around and prepares the shrine. He lights a lantern, opens the portal's double doors, sweeps away the dust and leaves, and lights candles and incense burners. He wakens the lion with a drum and gong and they play. Eventually the monk tries to entice the lion to pray before the altar, but the lion has other plans.
The lion walks back and forth, in a zigzag path, in order to confuse evil spirits, which the Chinese believe move in straight lines. The head and tail move in coordinated unison, bringing the animal to life. The lion's spirit is brought out by the character, footwork, movement, and tricks the lion team produce. Movement should be symmetrical and life like. The footwork should be strong showing good martial training, including horse stance, bow stance, low crouches, jumps, great balance, and high stance. The head requires strong purposeful movement at times, but also delicate, lively, inquisitiveness, and observation. The music and lion movements should blend together for a seamless performance. There are eight basic moods of the lion:
Joy Anger Sad Happy Frightened Suspicious Inquisitive Mischievous
Eating the greens is usually the climax of the performance. The lion approaches the greens warily before taking it into his mouth, chewing it, and spitting out the leaves in 3 goes. These greens are lettuce or cabbage that the business or home owners supply as symbolic sustenance for the lion. A red lucky money packet is hidden in the greens for the lion. This also brings good luck and fortune to the business or home for the coming year. Firecrackers go off in a huge cacophony leaving red paper strewn across the sidewalk and front steps of the restaurant. The noise scares aware evil spirits and clears any bad luck from the previous year. The red paper represents the increase in money earned for the business in the upcoming year.
The Lion Dancing Tricks.
The Lion is assessed on categories like presentation, costume and uniforms, sportsmanship, attitude, professionalism, wake up and finish of the dance, and overall ability. The Lion team should be very skilled, flexible, almost acrobatic to perform high quality tricks. A great trick that fails is a lot worse than a good trick that works. During a dance there are many patterns and tricks that can be performed. Some of these include : -
- The Wake Up
- Bowing to the Four Directions
- High Stance Bows
- Star Jumps
- Inside Outs with the Tail
- Cleaning and Scratching
- One Legged Jumps
- Sideways Walk
- Stand on Thighs
- Sit on shoulders
- Stand on Shoulders
- Climbing a Mountain
- Crossing a Bridge
- Playing with a Ball
- Playing with Water
- Double Legged Kick Outs
The Lion and Martial Arts
The Southern style Lion Dance has become an extension of the Chinese Martial spirit, and is always performed by students of Kung Fu. Following the Lion Dance, you will see forms, or choreographed routines, performed by the Lion Dancers. The early martial artists, studying in Buddhist temples, imitated the fighting styles of the animals in nature that they observed such as the tiger and the crane. Other styles include the leopard, praying mantis, eagle, snake and dragon. The forms you will see imitate the movements and characteristics of these animals. The Southern Lion is strong with martial arts influenced footwork, low stances, and quick, powerful head movements.
The Lion Dance is an extension of Chinese martial arts and is always performed by martial artists. All the movements of the Lion are based on stances and positions from Kung Fu. Lion dancing develops strength, flexibility and endurance as well as the ability to work in team and overcome obstacles through group effort. Not only do the performers display strength, coordination, agility, and endurance. They also exemplify the martial spirit in the "Ssu-wei", or the four basic supports of a State : "Li," or decorum; "I" uprightness of mind ( morality ); "Lien," honesty; and "Chih," a sense of honor.
Feeding the lion red lucky money envelopes brings good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
Information taken from
i. Kelly, P. ( 1997 ). New Traditions for an Old Dance. Inside Kung-Fu. September. P.42-45.
ii. Tan, L.H. ( 2005 ). The Southern Lion Dance. Retreived from www.rising-dragon.co.uk/articles/martial-arts/southern-style-kung-fu-lion-dance.htm
iii. Webster, M. ( 1993 – current ). Lion training under Grandmaster Henry Sue and Master Leung.