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Dragon Dance : A Spectacular Chinese Cultural Entertainment

Updated on January 26, 2018
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Strange creature, this dragon

The dragon to Westerners means a creature of destruction. To the Chinese, the dragon is the most auspicious and powerful of all creatures. I think although the English word “dragon” is used to describe the animal from both cultures, the two dragons are not at all similar in appearance. Is it a coincidence that both are fire-spewing and merely mythical creatures? Never mind; let’s concentrate on the topic of interest “dragon dance, a spectacular Chinese cultural entertainment”.

The dragon chasing the pearl of wisdom

Dragon in Chinese mythology

The Chinese dragon is a highly artistic interpretation of an enormous celestial creature bearing powerful features such as powerful claws, fiery head, long snaky body and fast sweeping tail. It is always portrayed above ground especially “flying” through the sky. Chinese dragons come in many colors. The most powerful of them all is the supreme yellow dragon. So powerful and exclusive that it was reserved to depict anything pertaining to the Imperial Throne. The exclusive symbol of the emperor was the yellow dragon. Such was the greatness of the dragon that anyone found depicting the dragon for other purposes would be beheaded immediately.

Even today, the Chinese have this entrenched belief that those born in the year of the dragon will be special in every way. If you can check on the population censors, dragon years account for more population increases in the Chinese communities.

The dragon dance

The dragon dance season

The dragon dance originated during the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD). As with most ancient traditional activities, lion dance was supposed to appease the gods and ancestors in return for peace and prosperity.

The dragon dance is usually performed during the Spring Festival period or more commonly called the Chinese Lunar New Year season. This festive season starts from the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year and stretches to the full moon night, a period of 15 days. This period usually falls in the month of February. We can safely guess that dragon dance is performed to usher in the Chinese Lunar New Year, for entertainment and to continue the traditional belief of chasing away bad luck and evil spirits, while welcoming peace and prosperity for the coming year.

The dragon of the dragon dance

The dragon of the dragon dance resembles the dragon depiction in the Chinese tradition. The most spectacular is the dragon head which resembles a combination of many animal features like the antlers and long whiskers. The length of the dragon varies from a few meters to a much longer length of 30 meters (100 feet). The longer the dragon, the more difficult it is to perform as it will require more people to manipulate the dragon movements with perfect coordination and synchronization. The dragon head also varies in size. The head can weigh as much as 15 kilograms which means the person handling the head has to be very strong and fit. The standard length of a dragon is about 34 meters (112 feet), and the whole dragon is divided into 9 sections. Each section requires at least 4 persons to manoeuvre. However, it will be more common to see a shorter dragon handled by 9 persons plus the "pearl of wisdom" pole leader.

The dragons come in different colors as well, each with its symbolizing meaning, like green for good harvest, gold for prosperity, red for good luck and yellow for greatness.

The dance of the dragon

The dragon dance is a very intricate and complicated performance. It requires the perfect coordination and synchronization of a team of performance stretching for 30 meters (100 feet). The dance is led by a person wielding a pole topped with a big “pearl” called “the pearl of wisdom”. He is like the drum major of a drum band. The perfection of the myriads of movements and formations of the dragon starts from his movements of the pole he is controlling. With the pole leading the way, the dragon head will follow the “pearl” as if to chase it, hence the term “chasing the pearl of wisdom”.

The dragon dance symbolizes the dragon in full flight in the sky moving freely and gracefully in all manners and forms, twisting through the clouds. In fact, the movements and formations of the dragon dance have different names to describe their significance, such as, cloud cave, encircling the pillar, whirlpool, and Yinyang pattern.

The drum accompaniment

As with all performing Chinese entertainment, there will be loud drum accompaniment. The dragon dance is accompanied by a big drum, a pair of cymbals and a gong, just like those in a lion dance, except that the drum beats are different. Nowadays, there are variations in the drum accompaniment. Some especially during competitions, will incorporate both the big drum and the small drum, together with the big and small cymbals, with Peking-opera style and the lion dance style of drumming. This makes it more melodious and interesting.

Let's watch the dragon dance videos

Mere words cannot describe exactly the gaiety and splendour of the dragon dance. There is nothing like watching a dragon dance in action. So let’s watch and enjoy the three youtube videos below.

Spectacular dragon dance at night in Thailand

2002 World Dragon & Lion Dance Championship

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