What is lion dancing? Chinese New Year in London

 
 

Photo credit: Katie Chan on Wikimedia Commons

Chinese New Year in London means a host of colourful performances – with lion dancing one of the stars of the show. With Spring Festival fast approaching, we take a quick look at this traditional art form.

 

Where have I seen it?

You might have spotted lion dancers before in Chinatown London during the Chinese New Year celebrations. A festive lion costume steered by just one or two agile dancers inside, this colourful creature can often be seen dancing in parades and showing off its brightly-coloured coat.

 

Are they the ones that jump on the podiums?

They are! If you head to Trafalgar Square this Chinese New Year, you can catch a performance of lion dancers leaping between a series of poles put up for the occasion. It’s pretty impressive to watch!

 

Can I have a go?

Rather you than us! In Malaysia, championships are held every year to find the world’s best lion dancers. In a contest that makes the final of Total Wipeout look like a total breeze, competitors jump between podiums on 21 ‘jong’ poles, which can be up to 6 metres high.

 

Where does it come from?

There are different forms of lion dancing across China and Southeast Asia. Lions aren’t native to China though, so it’s thought that inspiration for the dance might have come from Persia through the Silk Road.

Within China, there are different regional varieties of lion dance, including ‘Northern lions’ and ‘Southern lions’. Some people say you can tell which is which by the style of masks used in the dance – Southern lion masks are said to be more meticulous and delicate, while Northern lion masks are seen as bolder and livelier.

 

Who’s pulling the strings?

That depends! Some lions are operated by two dancers: one supports the head, while the other is in charge of the tail. These are called ‘big lions’ or ‘great lions’. Meanwhile, lion costumes with just one person inside are called – you guessed it – little lions!

 

I’ve heard of dragon dancing – how’s that different?

Dragon dancing usually involves a parade of people holding up a dragon puppet mounted on sticks. Dragon dancing is alos a traditional Chinese New Year performance, and you’re likely to see it if you check out the London celebrations.

 

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