A Bright Celebration of Chinese Culture
Words by Alexandra Gath
“A colourful, cultural expression of history”
An instantly recognisable part of Chinese culture, the Lion Dance is a colourful, cultural expression of history, ritual and belief. It is most often performed at Chinese New Year, but can also be performed during other cultural or religious festivals, or even at special events such as weddings or the opening ceremony of a business. The Lion Dance is easily confused with the Dragon Dance, but there are several key differences. Whereas the Dragon Dance is performed by many dancers whose faces can often be seen, the Lion Dance incorporates only two people almost entirely hidden under the colourful lion.
The Lion Dance originated in China, but has since spread throughout the world as cultures and peoples have shifted around the globe. Versions of the Lion Dance can be found in Japan, Indonesia, South-East Asia and there are even variations on the dance within China itself. The origins of the Lion Dance are fascinating, given that the lion is not native to China, but entered along the Silk Road. Lions, in Chinese culture, represent strength and power; this is the reason the Lion Dance is always performed at the New Year. The Lion Dance is designed to ward off evil spirits and provide an auspicious start to the New Year.
The lion costumes are handmade and require the work of many people. In China, whole communities contribute together to craft the costume, and there are specialty craft shops dedicated to creating these intricate ensembles. Outside of China, the fashioning of the costumes is still community-based. Either they have to be expensively imported from China, requiring a fund-raising effort, or are handmade by members of the Chinese community, wherever they may be.
The Lion Dance is a bright celebration of Chinese culture, one that is just as important in Chinese-Australian culture as it is in native China.