A common sight during the Chinese Lunar New Year, festive occasions and at the opening of new businesses, the lion dance is often performed to ward off evil spirits and usher in good fortune, happiness and prosperity.
How it all started
While its exact origins remain unclear, history has shown that lion dancing dates back close to 2,000 years ago in ancient China. During that period, the famous Silk Road was a great attraction to traders around the world and countries were eager to do business with Silk Road merchants. Although lions are not native to China, they were first introduced to the country by a Persian ambassador, bearing gifts to the emperor in the hopes of building trade relations with China.
Popular legends about lion dance
Throughout the centuries, many legends and myths abound about the origins of lion dance. One of popular story attributes its creation to a Tang Dynasty emperor, who dreamt of a strange creature saving his life and carrying him to safety. Wondering what the dream meant, he spoke to his advisors who concluded that the creature resembled a lion. The emperor then commissioned his ministers to create the lion in his dreams, proclaiming it a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
Another version tells the story of a terrible beast terrorizing a village in China. Tired of living in fear, the villagers devised a plan to beat the evil beast. Armed with a paper mache beast, gongs and cymbals, the villages created a ruckus and scared the beast away for good. Heady with success, the villagers celebrated with firecrackers and from then on, lion dancing was believed to bring good fortune and prosperity while driving away evil.
Types of lion dance
|The lion dance is a time-honoured tradition in the Chinese culture, where performers mimic a lion's movement in costume. There are however, two distinct styles of lion dance, the Northern lion dance and the Southern lion dance. |
One distinct difference is the appearance of the lions. Northern lions are often said to resemble a Pekinese dog, and are usually gold and red, with a shaggy appearance. Their style of performance also places more emphasis on jumping and playing with props, e.g. walking on balls.
Unlike the Northern lion, the Southern lion is more colourful and less shaggy in appearance. The Southern lion dance also has a greater focus on style and footwork and is usually performed to summon good fortune.
"In Singapore, we usually perform the Southern lion dance," explains Jason Ng, a trainer at Kim Long Lion Dance Troupe. "Unlike the Northern lion dance which is more thematic, the Southern style is more dramatic and exciting," he adds.
I want to be a lion dancer
Lion dance is a relatively popular sport in Singapore and there are many associations and lion dance troupes that take in members. Prior experience is not needed, assures Jason, who adds that discipline, passion and determination are more important qualities to possess.
Training sessions for beginners usually last about three months, with practices held twice a week. So if you fancy learning a sport deeply rooted in tradition, then lion dancing might just be up your alley.
Where do I sign up?
Most associations and lion dance troupes welcome new members so do not be afraid to look them up.
Kim Long Lion Dance Troupe is located at 1068 Sembawang Road. For more information, contact Jason Ng at 9029 1212.