BAND DETAIL: Chinese Music Showcase
The Chin Woo Lion & Dragon Dance Team is led by Kungfu and Tai Chi
Master Jimmy Wong. He is the International Judge for the International
Dragon and Lion Dance Federation headquartered in Hong Kong, and also
the US representative for the committee. At the international level, the
Team is credited with representing the US Team in Hong Kong for the 1995
World Lion Dance Festival. The Team is known as being the
leading authority in Lion & Dragon Dance and has travelled all over the
southwest region to entertain and ultimately educate the public about
lion & dragon dance.
The objective of our team is to educate the public
about lion and dragon dance through performances, lectures,
presentations, and interaction. We feel that knowledge and understanding
is a crucial element to appreciating the Asian arts and traditions, so
we would like achieve this by being visible to the community as much as
possible and providing noteworthy information about lion & dragon dance
and explain how it associates with Asian culture and traditions.
The lion is an important Chinese totem, the symbol of
power, majesty and courage, capable of warding off evil spirits. In
Chinese legend it is said that the lion was the ninth son of the dragon
and was the best employable guard, thus it was usually seen in front of
royal palaces, offices and residences. Lion and Dragon dance is more
frequently performed during the Lunar New Year and can be seen in all
parts of the community including schools, birthdays, corporate
functions, sponsored events, festivals, and even Bah Mitzvahs.
Where did the Lion Dance come from?
Hundreds of years ago, a
small Chinese village was threatened on the eve of the lunar new year by
local bandits who dressed themselves as strange beasts (nien). The
beasts scared the villagers away and looted their homes and farmland.
Frightened and discouraged from being left hungry and poor, the
villagers decided to stand up to the unknown beast and crafted costumes
that resembled a lion. These costumes were made of bamboo frames and
covered with paper mache painted in bright colors and details. The
dancers in the costumes would dance while others hit pots and pans to
make noise. With all the commotion and costumed people dancing under the
mysterious costumes, the villagers were able to scare away the bandits.
This eventually led them to believe that the Lion Dance wards off bad
luck, scares away evil spirits, and ushers in good luck. To commemorate
the event, the dance was passed from generation to generation, gradually
becoming a part of the Chinese traditional martial arts. Whenever the
people celebrate, it was inevitable that the dance was performed as a
form of thanks-giving. From that moment, the tradition of Lion Dance was
Although lions are not native in China, they came to
this country via the famous Silk Road. Rulers in what is today Iran and
Afghanistan sent lions to Chinese emperors as gifts in order to get the
right to trade with Silk Road merchants. The lion dance dates back to
the Han Dynasty (205 B.C. to 220 A.D in China) and during the Tang
Dynasty (716-907 A.D.) it was at its peak. It was particularly performed
during religious festivals. The lion dance was not only introduced in
China, but also in Korea and Taiwan, where lions are not native as well.
The dances are not exactly the same in these countries, but the
symbolism is quite similar.
And What is the Lion Dance exactly?
Lion and Dragon Dance embraces the beauty, art, culture,
traditions, and history of China. A good performance is believed to
bring luck and happiness. Gestures and movements that closely mimick the
emotions of the mystical animal tells the story behind the performance.
Emotions and expressions portrayed by the dancers include excitement,
caution, curiosity, playful, anger, sleepiness, confusion, happiness,
and sadness, to name a few. In addition to this, acrobatic skills are
sometimes displayed by the dancers to add excitement to the performance.
The Lion is made of paper mache and is controlled by
two people. One person plays the head, and the other person plays the
tail and they both choreograph their movements to the rhythm of a drum
beat. The choreographed set usually takes place in a setting of a story
where a hungry lion awakens and seeks out food most commonly in the form
of lucky green lettuce. This lucky lettuce is offered by the people and
is usually placed in a manner that the Lion must move about an obstacle
in order to grab and eat it. Some of these obstacles require the Lion to
climb, jump, or move about cautiously to check for traps and other
ambushes to ensure a safe path to the lucky green.
What is the Dragon Dance?
The Dragon dance is always a revered performance that attracts great crowds. Dragon Dance is the
fierce and explosive movement of several people controlling the massive
body of the dragon. The serpentine movements require speed,
coordination, and power, which in all bring the majestic creature to
Dragon Dance used to be called the "Dance of the
Dragon Lantern". It was a very gentle dance with few movements.
Gradually, more dance steps were added, making it a robust and exuberant
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
emblem of Imperial Authority. The appearance of the dragon is
frightening but it has a benevolent temperament. It symbolizes
supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and dignity.
The Chinese who have shown great belief and respect
towards the mystical animal started the dragon dance. Dragon Dance has
spread throughout China and to the whole world. It becomes a special
performance of arts in the Chinese physical activities. It symbolizes
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.
The size and length of a dragon depends on the human
power available, financial power, materials, skills and size of the
field. Present day dragons come in various lengths and sizes. The
earlier dragons followed standard of nine sections. Nowadays, the
dragons can be of eleven, thirteen, fifteen, or even more than twenty
sections. However, the longer or bigger the dragon, the harder it is to
manipulate. History tells us that the performances of dragon dance are
in various different ways, types and colors. Green is selected as the
main color of the dragon, which symbolizes great harvest. Other colors
include: yellow symbolizing the solemn empire, golden or silver colors
symbolizing prosperity, red color representing excitement while its
scales and tail are mostly beautiful silver colors and glittering at all
times which provides a feeling of festive atmosphere.
The pearl of the dragon represents the sun and
wisdom. The pearl is carried by a dancer and is used to lead and charm
the dragon. The movement "dragon chasing the pearl" shows that the
dragon is continually in the pursuit of wisdom.
History of the Dragon Dance.
The earliest records of
the dragon dance were in the Western Han dynasty about 200 BC. The
dragons are considered as the governors of rainfalls in Chinese culture.
They have the power to decide where and when to have rainfalls. The
kings of the water dragons live in the dragon palaces under the oceans.
The dance was done to beg for rain during a malicious drought, by groups
of males after a three-day purifying fast.
The Chinese people from the beginning of time had
shown a remarkable ability to understand the intricate working of nature
and the relationship between rain and oceanic wind pattern. They know
that water vapor were originated from the sea and endowed the dragon
with rain making ability. Chinese dragon is compassionate in their
spirit and benefits the people - contrasting to the western myth of a
cold vicious lizard-like dragon.
Legends in China described the dragon as an
extraordinary animal with fish scales and long beards. As time went on,
it became more and more embellished in the minds of the people,
acquiring the antlers of the deer, the mane of the horse and the claws
of the eagle - in short, appropriating the distinctive features of other
creatures until it became what we see today.
How about the Drums...
When the Lion or Dragon
performs its routines, it is accompanied by a Chinese Drum and a set of
cymbal players. The Lion's movements are choreographed to the music of
the drum and cymbals.
The drummer is important in that he or she sets the
rhythm for the lion and dictates the movements that the lion will
The cymbal players stand on either side of the
drummer and face towards the same direction of the drummer, who always
keeps a watchful eye on the Lion.
The music of the performance is arranged in different
patterns that the dancers must be very familiar with and be able to
follow. Each pattern signifies certain movements and with each beat, the
drummer can communicate to the lion or dragon as to which movement to
do. The lion and dragon can communicate to the drummer by making subtle
gestures since they cannot give audible signals to the drummer. With all
elements in play, the performance displays a high degree of
orchestration and effective story-telling.
The drum is made of a heavy wood shell covered with
dried buffalo skin stretched over the top and pinned into the sides of
the upper rim. Inside the drum are metal coils that provide resonance to
enhance the deep sound of the drum.