About Lion Dance

The lion dance has a continuous history of over one thousand years, and its origins may reach back more than two thousand years. Many stories surround the lion dance and its origins. One of the more popular ones is that an Emperor of China had a dream where a creature resembling a lion saved his life from evil spirits. When he woke he declared the lion a symbol of good fortune. However, since lions are not native to China, artisans had no idea what they look like. As a result, they fashioned an animal with the attributes of other fortunate creatures: the dragon, the phoenix and the dog.

There is perhaps no art that encompasses Chinese culture, history and philosophy more comprehensively than lion dance. Over its long history, lion dance has incorporated elements of Chinese opera, classics of Chinese literature, Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian philosophies, Five Element theory, all sorts of varieties of symbolism from Chinese (and most specifically Cantonese) society, and Chinese martial arts.

The lion dance is now an integral part of not just Chinese culture, but of many Southeast Asian cultures such as Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. In fact, the most famous teams are probably from Malaysia.

There are many aspects to lion dance today, and lion dance has performed a number of different roles over history. For instance, lion dance was used to raise money and facilitate communication by revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Ch'ing, or Manchu, Dynasty. Today, a lion dance can perform many types of purposes, including ceremonial, entertaining, competitive or some combination.

The lion dance is used in ceremonies ranging from the more formal and solemn to the more informal and joyous. Either way, the lion's purpose is to bring good fortune and to drive away any malevolent spirits that might be hanging around. The lion is almost always associated with auspicious acts and events, and must obey certain rules of propriety. These types of events can include house and business blessings, weddings, and other joyous occasions. Lion dance is used to open up a New Year, so it is commonly seen in Chinatowns throughout the country during Chinese New Year celebrations.

A lion dance can also be used to tell a story and simply entertain. Often, there are one or more other characters who interact with the lion, and in fact there can be more than one lion in a performance. These stories are always uplifting and resolved positively, in keeping with the positive nature of the lion. There is no such thing as a lion dance tragedy! Finally, there are various forms of lion dance competition. Malaysia in recent years has dominated this sport, which is often performed on poles reaching up to 12 feet high.

A lion dance typically revolves around a cheng, or puzzle. The cheng sets up the challenge that the lion has to solve according to rules and protocols of lion dance. Often, the chengs have specific purposes or meanings. For instance, "Auspious Lion Welcomes the Bride" is for bringing blessings upon a marriage and "Drunken Lion" celebrates the togetherness of strong friendship. Some chengs are designed to rid the sponsor of bad fortune as well. Sometimes chengs are just performed for entertainment outside of their particular meanings. In any case, there are hundreds of chengs and sometimes new ones are even created. Often different props such as swords, daggers and spears are used. Additionally, tight ropes, benches, tables and other items may be used as barriers or pllatforms for the lion. There are a lot of variations, and each team may have a little bit different ways of solving a cheng. So lion dance isn't just one stanrdard routine. There are many different lion dance performances and styles you may see that are different of each other. The important thing is that protocols are followed and the chengs are solved correctly.

Typically, lion dance teams are either associated with a kung fu school or are independent. They have also been associated with benevolent associations and other groups as well. Good lion dance depends upon strong stances and foot work and athleticism. This is why kung fu training is an integral part of good lion dance training. Lions also require the development of tsan, or spirit, as well as endurance which is why many kung fu schools use lion dance to enhance their kung fu training, as we do here at Steel Dragon.Gong Lung Sing Si Deui... the Steel Dragon Lion Dance Team

The Gong Lung Sing Si Deui training requires Ying Jow Kuen kung fu training as a basis, and then lion dance, tumbling and drumming. The kung fu training provides much of the basis for the lion dance. Strength, flexibility and endurance are developed as well as awareness and the ability to work as a team.

We currently perform blessings and other ceremonial performances as well as the more generally entertaining lion dance routines. While we do not currently compete, it is we expect to start sometime down the road.

We perform a number of different cheng, are are always working on new ones. Some of the chengs we do include "Auspicious Lion Welcomes the Bride", "Drunken Lion", "Five Elements", "Fierce Tiger Gazes at the Moon" and "Blossoms Opening in Four Seasons". If you have a specific cheng and purpose for which you need a lion dance, please let us know.

For more information on booking a lion dance see "Booking" and our currently scheduled and confirmed performances see "Performance Schedule".

Assistance starting Gong Lung Sing Si Deui generously provided by the Sprout Fund