Chinese Dragon Dance

 

Dragon danceThe Chinese Dragon Dance

Its Origin and Meaning

The Dragon Dance, the twirling and twisting, swinging and swaying, jumping and shaking of the great dragon’s body, is a tradition of Chinese folk culture, and makes an appearance on every Chinese festive day.

Traditionally the dragon is the one to bring peace and a good harvest, both important aspects of a good life. The dancing, swinging and swaying movements of the dragon are said to make the prayers of the people more effective.

Both the Dragon Dance and Lion Dance, have been the major festivals of the year since ancient times. Chinese immigrants have taken it to the rest of the world, and it has come to symbolize Chinese culture right through Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and the United States, Australia and New Zealand where Chinese communities have settled.

The Origin of the Dragon Dance

The dragon is the first of the four spirits of China (the dragon, phoenix, unicorn, and turtle are the four Chinese spirits) respected and feared by the Chinese people.four spirits

The dragon is the auspicious spirit, the one who brings success, the master of the wind and rain, but also the devil of the waves. The most ferocious beast cannot match the dragon’s strength.

The master of the water, the dragon is regarded by Chinese fishermen as the one who orders the weather, and so the myth of the dragon is particularly widespread in the coastal areas.

The History of the Dragon Dance

The Dragon Dance is performed through the movement of the human body, bringing it alive in all its majesty and fierceness. The lively display of the contorting dragon body is impressive.

China is the world’s most populous country, and wherever Chinese people have settled in other parts of the world, they have taken the “dragon” with them as their symbol of success.

The “dragon” is the totem of worship of the Chinese people, and it is the custom for it to appear at all festive events from blessings to exorcisms, sacrifice, and temple worship, etc.

In ancient times, the Chinese people believed the “dragon” would bring the rain for a successful and fruitful harvest. For thousands of years, the Chinese people’s descendants called themselves “the descendants of the dragon.”

After thousands of years, there are now hundreds of dragon dances throughout China with diverse forms of performance. The Chinese people love the Dragon Dance so much that it has become inseparable from any form of entertainment.

If there is something to celebrate, you can be sure the dragon will appear. As few as one or two can make a small dragon (though no less fierce), or as many as hundreds of people can join to make a huge dragon, making for great entertainment.

The Fire Dragon is the most popular dragon dance, often performed at night accompanied by lots of smoke and lights.

The Dragon Dance is full of action! Dozens of men hold up the dragon’s body jumping up and down, whirling the dragon’s body through lights and smoke, and the beat of the drum and gong. The roar of firecrackers, the grand show of fireworks lighting up the night sky above a crowd of people never fails to create a great carnival atmosphere.

This magnificent and energetic scene of the Dragon Dance stirs the emotions and reflects the heroic spirit of China’s warring days.

Spring Festival Dragon DanceFestival Dragon Dance

During the Spring Festival and the Lantern Festival, China’s vast urban and rural areas come alive with the custom of the Dragon Dance. Throughout China’s history, it has become customary to pray that the dragon would bring peace and a good harvest.

After thousands of years playing the dragon has become a traditional lively and graceful performance.

The Legend of the Spring Festival Dragon Dance

Legend has it that the Dragon King was plagued by severe back pain and there being no cure in the palace, he disguised himself as an old man to seek medical help. When the doctor listened to his pulse, he realized it was abnormal and told the Dragon King it was not the pulse of a mortal.

Being found out, the Dragon King panicked, but he could not hide the truth. He revealed his true identity to the doctor and told him he came to seek his help. The doctor examined him and found a centipede under one of the scales on his back.

He removed the centipede, and the Dragon King was cured of his back ache. To thank the doctor, the Dragon King promised to bring a good harvest. Every spring since, the Chinese people danced the Dragon Dance to pray for a good harvest the following year.

There are two main Spring Festival Dragon Dances, the South Dragon and the North Dragon.

The South DragonThe South Dragon

The South Dragon developed from the Jiangnan area. The South Dragon’s body is heavy emphasizing the whole of the dragon’s body. Its style is all in the momentum and movement of the large body, and so the focus is on the physical strength of the dancers, rather than a fancy appearance.

The North DragonNorth Dragon Dance

The North Dragon developed in the Jiangbei area.

The North Dragon’s body is relatively small and light weight, traditionally made of paper joints, or sections, to allow flexible movements such as somersaults, etc.

Different from the South Dragon, the North Dragon’s action is fine so not as much physical strength is required.

The North Dragon is more popular in other places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore where the Dragon Dance is often performed.

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