How the 1,000-12 months-aged lion dance has moved with the periods | Arts and Society News

Ora Sawyers

Taichung, Taiwan – Initially come the apply drills to warm up as a dozen youthful adult men – and one woman – kick, sweep and pirouette to the defeat of a massive traditional drum. Then they just take turns carrying out the exact same moves although keeping a huge lion mask – which threatens to engulf some of the young pupils entirely.

A couple then practice in pairs – a person keeping up the lion’s head though the other, bent over and lined in fabric, follows in step to generate the effect of an animal brought to daily life. Inevitably, the dancers will also need to manipulate the puppet’s facial area as they shift, so it blinks and opens its mouth like a actual animal. By the finish of every single two-to-three-moment regime, everyone is out of breath.

“This is blocked exercise. We instruct them a new movement and they practice 10 periods jointly,” said Chen Chung-yu, who chairs the office of bodily instruction at Nationwide Taiwan Activity College in addition to coaching college students in the lion dance.

The stage, he says, is to give college students a perception of how to improvise by screening out distinctive mixtures of actions.

Lion dances are a single of the most legendary performances in the Chinese cultural world and are held during the calendar year to mark religious festivals and carry luck. The Lunar New Yr, on the other hand, is the busiest time of the calendar year and with the start out of the Year of the Tiger, numerous performers have been making ready for weeks for back again-to-back performances.

Custom as a group sport

For quite a few of Chen’s college students, the lion dance is a cross among a team sport and dance class.

Taiwanese college students begin practising at a young age, much like tennis, football, or gymnastics.

“My family did not know what to do with me,” mentioned college student Chen Zhenyuan, describing his energetic persona as an eight-calendar year-old. So his mom and dad signed him up for lion dance.

His past training concentrated on variants of the lion dance from southern China like the iconic “Cantonese” fashion, whose furry, total-headed mask can be found on streets from Hong Kong to London chasing away poor luck. The effectiveness is often highly interactive, with the audience offering gifts to the lion as the performers make the animal flirt and pose to the defeat of the drums and the clash of the cymbals.

The Beijing-design (or northern) lion dance necessitates the dancers to perform across three lifted platforms [Erin Hale/Al Jazeera]

Now that he is older, Chen has at last begun understanding the more acrobatic northern Chinese or Beijing-style dance, where by a pair of performers soar alongside one another in unison on and off stacked table-like platforms, mimicking the movements of an agile and great major cat.

There are competitions from university up to the global stage with a Earth Championship in the Malaysian highland vacation resort of Genting each individual two several years.

The energy and agility demanded for some performances are 1 purpose why university scholar Qiu Zifang suspects she is a single of the several girls at follow outside of two feminine instructors. Qiu, who to start with saw the lion dance at a neighborhood temple in the vicinity of her dwelling, was influenced to be a part of her substantial school staff and received quite a few medals.

She suggests that “because this is a form of people tailor made, there are extra men”, in maintaining with the gender stratification observed throughout traditional Chinese tradition. In Taiwan, at minimum, this attitude has changed as lots of college teams now get government funding.

Lion dancer performers leap across tall poles in front of a crowdMalaysia’s Chinese local community created a variety of lion dance on large poles, profitable the world championships on a variety of situations [File: Ahmad Yusni/EPA]

Chen’s students also get the likelihood to study the Taiwanese Hoklo and Hakka styles, which arrive from two of the island’s to start with Chinese ethnic teams. Actions in each versions echo the dance’s martial artwork roots as it was once practised by early immigrants to continue to keep up their physical physical fitness and preventing competencies, substantially like the Taiwanese folk martial art Songjiang Zhen or the Songjiang Struggle Array, Chen claimed.


At competitions, performances are normally divided into “northern” or “southern” lion dance to standardise the judging, but there are a massive number of variations centered on locale, cultural qualifications, and even a unique lion dance master, reported Tsun-Hui Hung, a Taiwanese musician and academic who has created about the record of Taiwan’s lion dance for the scholarly non-gain Association of Asian Scientific studies.

“Chinese society is not just a person major society, it’s a lot more like an umbrella term. So, you have something named the ‘lion dance,’ but then the decorations and the way they do the ways are so diverse from place to site,” she explained from her dwelling in Hawaii, in which she is also a properly-acknowledged musician who performs the erhu (a regular two-stringed instrument performed with a bow) and frequently performs alongside lion dancers.

“In Taiwan, back in the 1800s, folks practised lion dance since they desired to have physical training, but then for other locations, they seriously just want to (perform) to convey fantastic luck for to local community, so they all have various good reasons,” Hung stated.

A close up of the lion's mouth with a yellow fringe and white teeth,. The dancer inside is counting tips that the audience stuff into the lion's mouth The lion dance is well-liked with ethnic Chinese communities throughout the world all through Lunar New 12 months and performances are hugely interactive. In this article a dancer from a Bangkok troupe collects tips the audience set in the lion’s mouth [File: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA}

The progress of the 1,000-yr-outdated lion dance has benefitted from the huge Chinese diaspora, with abroad Chinese and Taiwanese maintaining the tradition of lion dance alive when it was banned through China’s Cultural Revolution, while also adding their possess spin.

Malaysian and Singaporeans masks are valued by quite a few performers because they are designed with lighter elements than the originals, though Malaysians are greatly credited with acquiring a stunt wherever performers soar among large, narrow poles – from time to time about water.

After a functionality staple in Southeast Asia, the well known trick is done in competitions all-around the entire world and has even produced its way back to China.

Taiwanese melting pot

Numerous Taiwanese troupes also have a unique flavour of their have many thanks to the island’s distinctive immigration styles, claimed Wang Qing-zhong, who heads the four-generation Ching Ho Kuang Lion Dance Troupe in Taipei’s Wanhua district.

Taiwan’s 1st immigrants at first hailed from Fujian but, at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, millions of refugees fled to the island, bringing with them cultural techniques from across the nation. For the 1st time, individuals who experienced been isolated in distinctive provinces suddenly found by themselves dwelling facet by aspect for the 1st time.

As the to start with in his family to examine lion dance, Wang’s father realized a hybrid type from the southern Guangdong and Guangxi provinces mainly because its founding associates – two armed forces officers trying to get to continue to keep match – established a single hybrid troupe that united designs from different provinces.

While the founders initially taught only students born in China, they sooner or later allowed in Taiwanese users like Wang’s father as aged and new arrivals began to blend jointly, not only in cultural actions but also across Taiwanese culture.

The Ching Ho Kuang Lion Dance Troupe has continued the Guangdong-Guangxi tradition even nevertheless their spouse and children originally came from elsewhere in China, but Wang states a comparable pattern was repeated across Taiwan as types grew to become “mixed up together.”

Wang Qing-zhong, who heads the Ching Ho Kuang Lion Dance Troupe in Taipei displays one of his troupe’s lion masks. It has fluffy yellow eye lashes, red and black eyes rimmed in white and a yellow fringe moustacheWang Qing-zhong, heads of the Ching Ho Kuang Lion Dance Troupe in Taipei displays one of his troupe’s lion masks  [Erin Hale/Al Jazeera]

This mixing and cultural trade between lion dance troupes continue on to the current working day, thanks to technological innovation.

From sharing VHS tapes of performances in the 1980s to the arrival of the world wide web in the 1990s and 2000s, the lion dance has kept evolving.

“The observe is proliferating since you can look at a YouTube movie of this and master how to do it and it’s seriously simple to go on-line and invest in the gear, while before you had to go in particular person to uncover somebody to educate you,” Wang stated.

In Taiwan, the technique of selection for finding out lion dance even now appears to be becoming a member of a troupe or studying it in college, but as the Year of the Tiger receives less than way, each and every type of lion dance will be on exhibit all-around the planet.

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