A trip to China: What about The Dragon Dance?

Dragon is a symbol of China that symbolises wisdom, power and wealth, and they are believed to bring good luck to people.

Image ref: China Daily

The dragon dance has been indispensable to Chinese festivals since ancient times. With the spread of Chinese people and culture all over the world, the dragon dance has been brought to every corner of the world where there are overseas Chinese gathered. It has become a symbol of Chinese culture.

Why is this so?

Let’s take a look at the origin of the Chinese Dragon Dance which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). It was then used in a ceremony for worshipping ancestors and praying for rain, and it gradually developed into an entertainment activity.

By the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the Song Dynasty (960–1279), it had become a common ceremonial activity in festivals like the Chinese New Year.

Something really interesting is the odd numbers of the dragon’s joints which are regarded as auspicious. So, people often make a 9-jointed dragon, an 11-jointed dragon, a 13-jointed dragon, or even a 29-jointed dragon.

How the dance takes place?

Image ref: Dramaxlmaier Group

The dragon’s body is woven in a round shape of thin bamboo strips, segment-by-segment, and covered with a huge red cloth with dragon scales decorating it. The whole dragon is usually up to 30 meters in length — and people hold rods every 1 to 2 meters to raise the dragon segments.

The dragon can range in length from as little as two meters operated by two people for small displays and up to 100 meters for larger parades and ceremonial styles. People believed that the longer the dragon is, the more luck it will bring. The dragon dance costume consists of two parts, the dragon body (including a tail) and the dragon head.

Another kind of dragon, called the ‘Fire Dragon’, is very eye-catching at night because candles or oil lamps are suspended inside it. Thin bamboo strips are woven into several cylinders, making up the body of the dragon, and covered with beautiful transparent cloth or paper — the skin of the dragon. At night it looks like a dragon full of fire.

Dragon Dance Types:

There are two main types of dragon dance in China, Southern Dragons and Northern Dragons. Different dragon dance types can be identified from performance styles and costumes.

Southern Dragon (南龙 nán lóng):

Image ref: WBUR

This is a type of dragon dance that originated from the south of the Yangtze River. It is popular in Hubei Province. Since the head of the southern dragon is large and heavy, the performance style is focused on momentum and strength rather than trick movements. As the southern dragon is not focused on flexible movements, the dragon’s body could be very long. It usually requires more than nine dancers to operate.

Northern Dragon (北龙 běi lóng):

Image ref: Nexter.org

This is a type of dragon dance that originated from the north of the Yangtze River. It is popular in Fujian Province, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. The head of the northern dragon are made of paper or plant fibres, which makes it smaller and lighter. The performance style of the northern dragon is focused on flexible and fancy movements, so it is more playful than the southern dragon. Northern dragon dance can be performed in a dark environment, so the costumes of the northern dragon are usually made of fluorescent materials or even decorated with coloured lights.

The best moment to witness this dance is during the Chinese New Year period, where you’ll see the streets filled with lanterns and Spring Festival rhymes and riddles, representing good luck, to show people’s happiness.

Do you have a unique dance in your community that the world should know about? Do share with us in the comment section.

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