The Chinese Dragon Dance and Lion Dance

Words: 1154
Topic: Art & Design
Updated:

Introduction: Into the Primitive

People cannot live without rituals, which must be why dancing makes such a huge chunk of literally any culture. There is something entrancing in performing ritual motions. The Chinese Dragon Dance and Lion Dance are the exact representation of the above-mentioned; moreover, because their long Evo solution, they merged at some point, nevertheless, retaining their originality.

Thesis statement

Since initially, the primary focus of the Chinese nation was on the martial issues, and only further on, the focus was switched to the agrarian issues, the Lion Dance was bearing the meaning of a martial dance and gained the meaning of the dance of fertility, harvest and scaring the evil spirits away only later on, when it was starting to mix with the Dragon Dance, which was created later on, as the attention of the Chinese government switched to more peaceful field, where not the skills of a warrior, but wisdom and caution, which a dragon typically symbolizes in the Chinese mythology, are essential.

The Lion Dance: Moving Like the Silent Warrior

One of the first questions that pop into one’s head is why the Lion Dance was created first; indeed, granted that the Chinese people worship dragons, as well as the fact that a dragon is, in fact, the ancient symbol of China, it would have been much more reasonable to create the Dragon Dance prior to the Lion Dance, especially in the light of the fact that lions do not inhabit China.

Indeed, taking a closer look at the way in which lions are portrayed during the dance, one must admit that the masks, though very artistic, can hardly be considered the exact representations of how lions actually look. Thus, it can be assumed that the lion dance originated as a means to lift the spirit of the Chinese warriors and lead them to victory.

Indeed, according to the existing sources, in the given performance, the dancers “use a sequence of martial art steps in the performance of Chinese lion dance to illustrate the effectiveness of the system” (Li and Chen 551).

The Dragon Dance: In Search for the Wisdom of the Ancient

In contrast to its more bellicose counterpart, the dragon as the symbol of the dance of the same name was supposed to relate to the agricultural needs of rural China. As soon as the martial issues have been settled, the Chinese people realized that the Chinese lands are far from being fertile, which led to the idea that worshipping the spirit of fertility along with using the technologies of the time could be of some use (Assad 51).

The Dragon Dance, with its grandeur and magnificence, was the result: “Unlike the jealous, jewel-hoarding monster of medieval European lore, the Chinese dragon is a benevolent beast” (Dennis 8).

Considering the Dragon Dance a bit closer, one will see that not only the length of the beast but other elements as well, including the decorations, is considerably different from the one in the Lion Dance. Though the two dances doubtlessly share a range of similarities specified above, they have also been clearly designed to denote different issues and be used for different purposes.

The Transformation: Both Dances in the XXI Century

Needless to say, several centuries later, both dances have transformed considerably. However, both the Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance have changed surprisingly little in terms of their arrangement, decorations and the course of the ceremony. Instead, their meaning has transformed.

It is worth mentioning that the Lion Dance, which was originally supposed to denote the feast following a glorious victory in a battle, has become similar to the Dragon Dance in its meaning; to be more exact, both dances are nowadays related to as the means to honor the gods of fertility. As a result, the Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance are often confused: “They are not distinguished in the Surinamese Dutch term drakendans” (Fat 304).

The fact of the transformation of the meanings of these dances can be viewed in several ways. On the one hand, the fact that a great chunk of the Chinese traditions and history is being washed away by the sands of time is rather sad. However, the process of transformation should also seem like something natural. Like any other art form, dances evolve, either acquiring new expressive elements or brushing off the old and excessive ones.

In case of the Lion Dance, one must admit that its initial meaning changed dramatically as soon as it was split into two categories, i.e., the Northern and the Southern Lions. With the change in the main character of the ceremony, its entire course was changed and has been developing in two different directions since then: “There are male and female dragons, the males having concave undulating horns” (Bates 23).

Dragon dance, in its turn, has not evolved much compared to what it used to be in the era of the Han dynasty. Despite the centuries of change within the realm of the Chinese culture, the basic ideas behind the Dragon Dance remained intact, along with the traditional way in which the ceremony takes place.

It is worth mentioning, however, that in the course of its evolution, the Dragon Dace split into two different genres, i.e., the male and female Dragon Dance. The resulting differences in the manner of conducting the ceremony and the way in which the dance is performed are rather predictable; according to the existing sources, the male Dragon Dance is based on the concept of force and strength, while the female one is much more delicate and whimsical.

The given differences show that the development of the two dances was not linear; moreover, because of the change in the government policy, the Lion Dance, which was initially supposed to be used as a part of the Chinese martial rituals, transformed into another glorification of fertility along with the Dragon Dance. The latter, on the contrary, remained practically unchanged, though was eventually split into its female and male interpretations.

A couple of words must be said about the music. As for the musical part of the XXI century performance, one must mention that, to their credit, the Chinese made very few alterations to the traditional music; in the course of the festivals, the traditional musical instruments, such as gongs, drums, and cymbals, are used. The refusal of using modern instruments can be viewed as a way to pay homage to the ancient traditions of China.

Conclusion: The Tradition That Never Dies

Both the Dragon Dance and the Lion Dance have shaped considerably. The changes that occurred on the surface, however, never affected the meaning of significance of the dances and the music typically associated with them. Instead, the dances influenced each other. As a result, the Lion Dance was transformed into another fertility fest, while for the Dragon Dance, a female version was provided.

Works Cited

Assad, Maria L. Reading with Michel Serres: An Encounter with Time. Albany. NY: State University of New York Press. 1999. Print.

Bates, Roy. All about Chinese Dragons. Beijing; Lulu.com. 2007. Print.

Dennis, Laurine. “CAAM Dazzles with Dragon Dance.” Asian Pages, 10.22 (2000): 8. Print.

Fat, P. Tjon Sie. Chinese New Migrants in Suriname: The Inevitability of Ethnic Performing. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 2009. Print.

Li, Tsia’Yen and Je-Ren Chen. „Procedural Rhythmic Character Animation: An Interactive Chinese Lion Dance.” Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds 17 (2006):551–564. Print.