Would you know what to do if you saw a colourful Chinese lion with huge blinking eyes coming closer to you? (see fact #10 below)
If you don’t, fret not! Neue has got you covered.
The Neue team was invited to enjoy a lion dance performance at the Lambak Kanan showroom of Indera Motors – the sole distributor of Jaguar (@jaguarbn) and Land Rover (@landroverbn) vehicles in Brunei Darussalam – last Thursday morning (February 7).
At Indera Motors’ Open House event, guests were treated to a lion dance performance that featured not 1, not 2, but 9 lions and a skilled troupe of performers.
Here are 10 fire-cracking facts to bring you up to speed on all things related to lion dances:
#1. North vs South
Generally speaking, there are 2 types of Chinese lions – Northern and Southern.
Northern Lions (pictured above) are typically red and orange in colour. According to a report, they have a long fur (because it is cold in the North) and a golden head. The Northern Lion dance style is more acrobatic and was performed as entertainment in the Imperial courts of China.
On the other hand, Southern Lions (pictured below) come in a wider variety of colours. These include bright colours such as yellow and white, or darker colours such as black. The Southern Lions have shorter “fur”, large eyes and a horn at the centre of its head. They often come in pairs.
The Southern Lion dance is the more popular style performed in this part of the world. It is often associated with driving out bad luck and bringing in good fortune. This is ideal if you are looking for an auspicious start to the New Year or a new business venture.
Southern lions may be further sub-divided into either the ‘Fut San’ or ‘Hok San’. The ‘Fut San’ lion dance pre-dates the ‘Hok San’ and because of that they are more martial-arts oriented while the ‘Hok San’ is more entertaining and focuses more on the artistry and movement.
#2. Drums = Heartbeats
A drum, a gong and cymbals will accompany lion dances. The drum stands for the pulse of the heart beat of the lion. A particular rhythm is associated to every steps and routines of the Lion. It’s interesting to note that each school has its own rhythms. The gong and cymbals stand for the thoughts of the lion. With the drum, they accompany, they create the music of every routine.
#3. Origin & History Of Lion Dance
Opinions about the origin of Chinese lion dance are widely divided.
However, according to a report by ChinaHighlights, the most reliable one is this: In traditional Chinese culture, the lion, like the Chinese dragon, was only an animal which existed in myth, and there were no actual lions in China. Before the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), only a few lions had reached the Central Plains from the western area of ancient China (now Xinjiang), due to Silk Road trade.
At that time, people mimicked the appearance and actions of the newly arrived lions in a performance, which developed into the lion dance in the Three Kingdoms Period (220–280) and then became popular with the rise of Buddhism in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589). In the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the lion dance was one of the court dances.
After that lion dances continued to become a popular performance among the people, to pray for good luck during the Spring Festival or during other celebrations.
The lion dance is an excellent example of Chinese folk culture, which has spread across the world with Chinese immigration. Overseas Chinese in Europe, America, etc. have established many lion dance clubs, performing on Chinese festivals or big occasions, particularly Chinese New Year.
#4. High Pole Lion Dance
High pole lion dance performances these days are quite impressive to watch in competitions, but believe it or not, the standards for international competitions these days were actually pioneered by lion dance associations in Malaysia.
According to a report, the idea of performing on poles was inspired by Mei Hua Quan, a style of kung fu performed on pillars, but it was Malaysia that began increasing the height of the poles in competitions to about 2 to 3 metres tall. Many countries later began to follow these standards.
#5. What’s On The Lion’s Head?
On the forehead of every lion is a mirror, or shield, which is used to repel negative energy, spirits (which disappear after looking into the mirror and seeing their own, frightening appearance) and evil. According to a report, other head ornamentation you may find on a lion is a horn, which is also used to fight evil, and a red ribbon, which signifies that the lion is “awake”. Lions without ribbons are deemed “asleep”, meaning they aren’t to be used in performances.
#6. It’s A Real Sport
In Malaysia, lion dance is legally recognised as a sport. According to a report, the first Malaysian lion dance examination was conducted by the International Sar Ping Lion Dance Confederation in 2013. It’s also accepted as a competitive sport in many other countries including England, Myanmar, Scotland, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States.
#7. What’s Up With The Colours?
The lions are usually symbolised by 5 colours – yellow, black, green, red and white. The colours are meant to represent the elements of earth, water, wood, fire and metal.
#8. It Was Not Always Friendly
According to a report, lion dances acquired a somewhat unsavoury reputation in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s when rival troupes associated with martial arts groups and triads would battle each other to prove their supremacy. Some participants even concealed daggers amid their costumes to slash their opponents mid-competition, and lion dancing was banned for a time by the government. Although the ban was ultimately lifted, it remains illegal to perform a lion dance in the city without a permit from the police.
#9. Good Fortune
Lion dances are common at the opening of lion dances in this context is “Cai Qing”, which translates as the “plucking of greens”. In Chinese, different pronunciations of “Cai” can mean either “pluck”, “vegetable” or “fortune”, according to another report. The dancers will then pluck apart fruits and vegetables such as pomelos, oranges and lettuce, arrange them decoratively on a tray, and hand them back to the business owner, which symbolises the passing of good fortune to the business owner.
#10. Feed The Lions
Since I was a kid, whenever there was a lion dance performance, my parents would encourage me to “feed” the lion with an “Ang Pao” (red money packet) for good luck. (Click here to read Neue’s past article – CNY Ang Pao Rates For 2019). Don’t worry, this is one lion that won’t rip your arms off!