The lion dance is a traditional dance performed in the Chinese culture. The performers mimic the moves of the lion inside a costume that looks in a way like a lion. Many people who are not very familiar with the Lion Dance often gets it confused with the Dragon Dance, since both are performed, for the most part, for the same occasions. It is simple to tell the two dances apart. The Lion Dance is performed most of the time with only two people. The Dragon Dance is performed with many people. In the Dragon Dance multiple people are inside the dragon costume holding up poles, whereas in the Lion Dance, there is someone holding the head of the lion and another person in the back of the lion costume acting as a rear of the lion.
Lions were not originally from China. They came there through what was called the Silk Road. The rulers in what is today known as Iran and Afghanistan sent the lions over to the Chinese emperors as a gift in exchange to get the right to trade with the Silk Road merchants.
This form of Lion Dance dates all the way back to the Han Dynasty, which was from 205 B.C.E. to 220 C.E. in China. The peak of the Lion Dance was during the Tang Dynasty, which was from 716 to 907 C.E. It was mainly danced during religious festivals to celebrate. The dance eventually became so famous that it was exported to Japan as a formal court entertainment. The Lion Dance soon made its way to Korea and Taiwan. The Lion Dance is not exactly the same in all the countries, but the meaning and symbol of the dance are similar.
There are many different stories of how the Lion Dance got its origins. One famous story is called “The Emperor’s Dream.” This story states how the emperor of the Tang Dynasty had a dream about how a strange creature came to his rescue. When he described his dream to some advisors, they told him that the creature he described resembled that of a lion, a creature from the Western Hemisphere. The emperor then created the lion dance to honor the creature which saved his life inside of his dream. Another story of how the Lion Dance got its origins is called “The Story of the ‘Nian’.” Legends say that there was a fierce monster by the name of “Nian” that liked to kidnap children. He attacked villages every year until one year, a lion defeated the “Nian” and chased it away. The monster promised that it will be back to seek revenge. This time the villagers did not have a lion to protect themselves. As a result, they solved the problem by creating a costume like that of a lion and two villagers wore the costume to scare “Nian” away. This is the reason the lion dance is performed every Chinese New Year, so that “Nian” would not come back. The legend also says that loud noises from the drum, other instruments, and firecrackers helped scare the “Nian” away. The color red is worn during the New Year’s celebration because it was also believed that the “Nian“, was afraid of the color red. The word "Nian," thought the yearly ceremony, has become the Chinese word for year. There are two different styles of the Chinese Lion Dance, the Southern Style and the Northern Style. The older and traditional form of Chinese Lion Dance is the Southern Style. The Chinese Southern Lion Dance originated from Guangdong, a providence of China. The costumes of Lion Dance vary widely, but the lion head designs shows much differences. The traditional Fo Shan Lion, has bristles instead of fur and weighs more than the current costumes. The tails are extremely long and are perpendicular to the head for three fourths of the tail's length. The eyes also move left and right. On the back of the costume, there are gold foiled rims and traditional characters saying the group’s name. Older Liu Bei lions also have black in the tail, while the new ones do not. The Gwan Gung has a red and black tail with white trim. The Huang Joon has a full yellow tail with white trim. The Zhang Fei has a black and white tail with white trim and...