Dragon dance is a traditional dance form in Chinese culture. The dragon represents wisdom, power and wealth. Like the lion dance it is most often seen in festive celebrations. It is believed that performing the dragon dance scares away evil spirits and all the bad luck associated with them, and brings in good luck and wealth instead. This is why the dragon dance is very popular during Chinese New year as well as during other auspicious occasions such as weddings and other festivities.
In the dance, a team of dancers carry the dragon – which is an image of the Chinese dragon – on poles. The lead dancers lift, dip, thrust, and sweep the head, which may contain animated features controlled by a dancer and is sometimes rigged to belch smoke from pyrotechnic devices. The dance team mimics the supposed movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The dragon’s body is made of fabric and bamboo and its length can vary, some reaching to 100 meters long, and held by many people. Today, most dragons are danced by 9 people.
Musical accompaniment during the lion dance is often supplied by a team of musicians, playing traditional drums, cymbals and gongs.
The dragon dance is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations held worldwide in Chinatowns around the world. Chinese people often use the term “Descendants of the Dragon” as a sign of ethnic identity.
History and Folklore
The Dragon Dance originated in China during the Han Dynasty(180-230AD) as part of the farming culture. The Dragon is an amphibian, able to move on land, able to fly in the sky and able to swim in the sea. As the dragon gives people a feeling of great respect, it is often called the Sacred Dragon. The emperors of ancient China considered themselves as the dragon. The Dragon is also the emblem of Imperial Authority. The appearance of dragon is frightening but it has a benevolent disposition. It symbolises supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and dignity. Although the dragon looks so fierce, it resembles various animals such as the horns of a stag, the head of a camel, the ears of a cow, the eyes of a rabbit and the scales of a carp.
The dragon dance was started by the Chinese who had shown great belief and respect towards the dragon. It is an important item of the Chinese Culture and tradition. Dragon Dance has spread throughout China and to the whole world. It becomes a special performance of arts in the Chinese physical activities. It symbolises the bringing of good luck and prosperity in the year to come for all the human beings on earth. According to ancient history, during the period of Chun Chiu, the learning of Chinese Martial Arts was very popular and in the spare time, dragon dance was also being taught to students to provide more encouragement.
In the ‘Ching’ Dynasty, the Dragon Dance team of the province of “Foochow” had been invited to perform in Peking and had been greatly praised and admired by the ‘Ching’ Emperor which earned great fame for the team.
The size and length of a dragon depends on the human power available, financial power, materials, skills and size of the field. Its length ranges from 7 sections to 13 sections long. Some dragons are as long as 46 sections. A small organisation cannot afford to run a very long dragon because it consumes great human power, great expenses and special skills which are difficult to manage. The normal length and size of the body recommended for the dragon is 112 feet and is divided into 9 major sections. The distance of each minor (rib-like) section is 14 inches apart therefore, the body has 81 rings. History tells us that the performances of dragon dance are in various different ways, types and colours. Green is selected as the main colour of the dragon which symbolises great harvest. Other colours include: yellow symbolising the solemn empire, golden or silver colours symbolising prosperity, red colour representing excitement while its scales and tail are mostly beautiful silver colours and glittering at all times which provides a feeling of joyous atmosphere. As the Dragon dance is not performed everyday, the cloth of the dragon are to be removed and to have a new touch of ultra-paint before the next performance.
The correct combination and proper timing of the different parts of the dragon are very important to make a successful dance. Any mistakes made by some of the performer of the dragon dance team would spoil the whole performance. To be very successful in the dance, the Pearl of the Dragon must be able to co-operate with the body of the dragon in good timing with very high skill in combination with the timing of the drum. The Dragon head weights 12 katis (14.4 kilos, almost 32 lb.) and the performer must be one who is energetic and full of stamina. The dragon tail also has an important role to play as it will have to keep in time with head movements. The fourth and fifth sections are considered to be the middle portion and the performers must be very alert as the body movements changes from time to time.
The patterns of the dragon dance are changed according to the skills and experiences acquired by the performers. Some of the patterns of the dragon dance are “Cloud Cave”, “Whirlpool”; Tai-Chi pattern, Threading the money, Looking for pearl, dragon vomiting the pearl, dragon encircle the pillar, etc. The movement “dragon chasing the pearl” shows that the dragon is continually in the pursuit of wisdom.
To perform an outstanding dragon dance, the performers of a dragon dance team must be able to run in the correct foot-steps which should neither be too quick nor too slow, be able to leap and crouch at the same time when the signals are given. The step to practice the dragon dance is to be able to change the position of the hands as the movements of the dance depends very much on the hands. The lowest position to hold the stick of the dragon will be at the waistline. Dragon dance is a team-work comprising of over 68 persons and each section of the dragon must have at least 4 persons to take charge. All the successful movements of the dances depend on the co-operation of the performers of the whole team and strict discipline. Every performer must play his role well in good timing and good combination with the other members’ actions.
The Dragon dance is always a grand performance which attracts great crowds. In Kuching, the activities of the dragon dance are greatly encouraged and taught by the Nanyang Wushu Federation of Sarawak.
~ from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_dance