Chinese Music Showcase
The Chin Woo Lion & Dragon Dance Team is led by Kungfu and Tai Chi Master Jimmy Wong. He is the International Judge for the International Dragon and Lion Dance Federation headquartered in Hong Kong, and also the US representative for the committee. At the international level, the Team is credited with representing the US Team in Hong Kong for the 1995 World Lion Dance Festival. The Team is known as being the leading authority in Lion & Dragon Dance and has travelled all over the southwest region to entertain and ultimately educate the public about lion & dragon dance.
The objective of our team is to educate the public about lion and dragon dance through performances, lectures, presentations, and interaction. We feel that knowledge and understanding is a crucial element to appreciating the Asian arts and traditions, so we would like achieve this by being visible to the community as much as possible and providing noteworthy information about lion & dragon dance and explain how it associates with Asian culture and traditions.
The lion is an important Chinese totem, the symbol of power, majesty and courage, capable of warding off evil spirits. In Chinese legend it is said that the lion was the ninth son of the dragon and was the best employable guard, thus it was usually seen in front of royal palaces, offices and residences. Lion and Dragon dance is more frequently performed during the Lunar New Year and can be seen in all parts of the community including schools, birthdays, corporate functions, sponsored events, festivals, and even Bah Mitzvahs.
Where did the Lion Dance come from?
Hundreds of years ago, a small Chinese village was threatened on the eve of the lunar new year by local bandits who dressed themselves as strange beasts (nien). The beasts scared the villagers away and looted their homes and farmland. Frightened and discouraged from being left hungry and poor, the villagers decided to stand up to the unknown beast and crafted costumes that resembled a lion. These costumes were made of bamboo frames and covered with paper mache painted in bright colors and details. The dancers in the costumes would dance while others hit pots and pans to make noise. With all the commotion and costumed people dancing under the mysterious costumes, the villagers were able to scare away the bandits. This eventually led them to believe that the Lion Dance wards off bad luck, scares away evil spirits, and ushers in good luck. To commemorate the event, the dance was passed from generation to generation, gradually becoming a part of the Chinese traditional martial arts. Whenever the people celebrate, it was inevitable that the dance was performed as a form of thanks-giving. From that moment, the tradition of Lion Dance was born.
Although lions are not native in China, they came to this country via the famous Silk Road. Rulers in what is today Iran and Afghanistan sent lions to Chinese emperors as gifts in order to get the right to trade with Silk Road merchants. The lion dance dates back to the Han Dynasty (205 B.C. to 220 A.D in China) and during the Tang Dynasty (716-907 A.D.) it was at its peak. It was particularly performed during religious festivals. The lion dance was not only introduced in China, but also in Korea and Taiwan, where lions are not native as well. The dances are not exactly the same in these countries, but the symbolism is quite similar.
And What is the Lion Dance exactly?
Lion and Dragon Dance embraces the beauty, art, culture, traditions, and history of China. A good performance is believed to bring luck and happiness. Gestures and movements that closely mimick the emotions of the mystical animal tells the story behind the performance. Emotions and expressions portrayed by the dancers include excitement, caution, curiosity, playful, anger, sleepiness, confusion, happiness, and sadness, to name a few. In addition to this, acrobatic skills are sometimes displayed by the dancers to add excitement to the performance.
The Lion is made of paper mache and is controlled by two people. One person plays the head, and the other person plays the tail and they both choreograph their movements to the rhythm of a drum beat. The choreographed set usually takes place in a setting of a story where a hungry lion awakens and seeks out food most commonly in the form of lucky green lettuce. This lucky lettuce is offered by the people and is usually placed in a manner that the Lion must move about an obstacle in order to grab and eat it. Some of these obstacles require the Lion to climb, jump, or move about cautiously to check for traps and other ambushes to ensure a safe path to the lucky green.
What is the Dragon Dance?
The Dragon dance is always a revered performance that attracts great crowds. Dragon Dance is the fierce and explosive movement of several people controlling the massive body of the dragon. The serpentine movements require speed, coordination, and power, which in all bring the majestic creature to life.
Dragon Dance used to be called the “Dance of the Dragon Lantern”. It was a very gentle dance with few movements. Gradually, more dance steps were added, making it a robust and exuberant dance.
The Dragon is an amphibian, able to move on land, able to fly in the sky and able to swim in the sea. As the dragon gives people a feeling of great respect, it is often called the Sacred Dragon. The emperors of ancient China considered themselves as the dragon, the emblem of Imperial Authority. The appearance of the dragon is frightening but it has a benevolent temperament. It symbolizes supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and dignity.
The Chinese who have shown great belief and respect towards the mystical animal started the dragon dance. Dragon Dance has spread throughout China and to the whole world. It becomes a special performance of arts in the Chinese physical activities. It symbolizes the bringing of good luck and prosperity in the year to come for all the human beings on earth. According to ancient history, during the period of Chun Chiu, the learning of Chinese Martial Arts was very popular and in the spare time, dragon dance was also being taught to students to provide more encouragement.
The size and length of a dragon depends on the human power available, financial power, materials, skills and size of the field. Present day dragons come in various lengths and sizes. The earlier dragons followed standard of nine sections. Nowadays, the dragons can be of eleven, thirteen, fifteen, or even more than twenty sections. However, the longer or bigger the dragon, the harder it is to manipulate. History tells us that the performances of dragon dance are in various different ways, types and colors. Green is selected as the main color of the dragon, which symbolizes great harvest. Other colors include: yellow symbolizing the solemn empire, golden or silver colors symbolizing prosperity, red color representing excitement while its scales and tail are mostly beautiful silver colors and glittering at all times which provides a feeling of festive atmosphere.
The pearl of the dragon represents the sun and wisdom. The pearl is carried by a dancer and is used to lead and charm the dragon. The movement “dragon chasing the pearl” shows that the dragon is continually in the pursuit of wisdom.
How about the Drums…
When the Lion or Dragon performs its routines, it is accompanied by a Chinese Drum and a set of cymbal players. The Lion’s movements are choreographed to the music of the drum and cymbals.
The drummer is important in that he or she sets the rhythm for the lion and dictates the movements that the lion will perform.
The cymbal players stand on either side of the drummer and face towards the same direction of the drummer, who always keeps a watchful eye on the Lion.
The music of the performance is arranged in different patterns that the dancers must be very familiar with and be able to follow. Each pattern signifies certain movements and with each beat, the drummer can communicate to the lion or dragon as to which movement to do. The lion and dragon can communicate to the drummer by making subtle gestures since they cannot give audible signals to the drummer. With all elements in play, the performance displays a high degree of orchestration and effective story-telling.
The drum is made of a heavy wood shell covered with dried buffalo skin stretched over the top and pinned into the sides of the upper rim. Inside the drum are metal coils that provide resonance to enhance the deep sound of the drum.