Lion dance (simplified Chinese: 舞狮; traditional Chinese: 舞獅; pinyin: wǔshī) is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture, in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume. The lion dance is often mistaken as dragon dance. An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is operated by two people, while a dragon needs many people. Also, in a lion dance, the performers' faces are covered, since they are inside the lion. In a dragon dance, the performers can be seen since the dragon is held upon poles. Basic lion dance fundamental movements can be found in most Chinese martial arts.
Asiatic lions found in nearby India are the ones depicted in the Chinese culture. The lion dance is believed to be originated in India . The lion is traditionally regarded as a guardian creature. It is featured in Buddhist lore, being the mount of Manjusri. Shishimai is a version of the Lion Dance practiced in Japanese culture (shishimai originally included danced involving other animal symbols, including deer).
Lion dances can be broadly categorised into three styles, Chinese Northern , Chinese Southern , and Taiwanese .
The Chinese Northern dance was used as entertainment for the imperial court and elsewhere. The northern lion is usually red, orange, and yellow (sometimes with green fur for the female lion), shaggy in appearance, with a golden head. The northern dance is acrobatic and may include dangerous stunts.
The Chinese Southern dance is more symbolic. It is usually performed as a ceremony to exorcise evil spirits and to summon luck and fortune. The Chinese southern lion exhibits a wide variety of colour and has a distinctive head with large eyes, a mirror on the forehead, and a single horn at center of the head. Lion dance costumes are considered to be spiritually protective when used as they are traditionally blessed before usage.
The Taiwanese dance integrates with martial arts. The focus on martial arts is very different from the Chinese Southern dance whose fancy style is more suitable for circuit shows. In addition to dance steps, the differences between the Taiwanese and the Chinese Southern dance lie in the lion appearance and music. Unlike the Chinese Southern lion whose eyes and mouth can be moved, the Taiwanese lion is less elaborate and can be roughly divided into two categories: open-mouth lion and closed-mouth lion .
The Lion dance is often confused with the Chinese Dragon Dance, which features a team of around ten or more dancers. The Lion Dance usually consists of two people.
Chinese Northern Lion
The Chinese Northern Lion Dances are usually performed appear in pairs in the north China. Northern lions have shaggy orange and yellow hair with a red bow on its head to indicate a male lion, or a green bow to represent a female.
During a performance, northern lions resemble Pekingese or Fu Dogs and movements are very life-like. Acrobatics are very common, with stunts like lifts or balancing on a giant ball. Northern lions sometimes appear as a family, with two large "adult" lions and a pair of small "young lions". Ninghai, in Ningbo, is called the "Homeland of the Lion Dance" for the northern variety.
The Chinese Southern Lion in Seattl
Chinese Southern Lion
The Chinese Southern Lion dance originated from Guangdong, the homeland of the Chinese southern style lion. The Chinese southern horned lions are believed to be Nians.
The Guangdong's or Cantonese style can be further divided into Fo Shan (Buddha Mountain), He shan (Crane Mountain), Fo-He (minor style that exhibits a hybrid of Fo Shan and He Shan), Jow Ga (minor style performed by practitioners of Jow family style kung fu, exampled by the Wong People), and the Green Lion (Qing1 Shi1 - popular with the Fukien/Hokkien and Taiwanese).
The styles of lion dance do vary widely, but the lion head designs exhibit greater differences. The traditional Fo Shan lion has bristles instead of fur and weighs more than the current in-fashion ones. The tails are extremely long and are perpendicular to the head for three fourths of the tail's length, then it goes parallel to the head. The eyes also swivel left and right. On the back there are gold foiled rims and traditional characters saying the troupe's name. Older Liu Bei lions also have black in the tail while the new ones do not. The Gwan Gung has a red and black tail with white trim. The Huang Joon has a full yellow tail with white trim. The Zhang Fei is infrequently made, so details are unclear. All the traditional style Fo Shan have pop-up teeth, tongue and also the interior of the tail is white; the designs of the tail are also more square and contain a diamond pattern going down the back; it is also common to see and hear bells attached to the tail. Although most lion dance costumes comes with a set of matching pants, some practitioners use black Kung-Fu pants to look more traditional. The Wong people perform the lion dance using this type of lion. The newer styles of lions for Fo Shan replace all the bristles with fur and the tails are shorter. They eyes are fixed in place, and the tongue and teeth do not pop up. The tail is more curvy in design. The tail does not have a diamond pattern, and lacks bells. In addition, the dancers wear flashier pants which lack the ease of movement allowed when wearing Kung-Fu pants. Sometimes the newer versions use a sequin material over the traditional lacquer; even the new lacquer is shinier and does not last as long while the heavier ones do last longer with semi-dull lacquer. Recently, lion dance costumes are made very durable and some are even waterproof. Newer lions are made with modern materials such as an aluminium and laser stickers for the outer designs. While the traditional ones use bamboo and more durable layered cloth.
Fo Shan is the style many Kung Fu schools adopt. It requires powerful moves and strength in stance. The lion becomes the representation of the Kung Fu school and only the most advanced students are allowed to perform.
The He Shan style lion, popular in many places, has grown to fame because of its richness of expression, unique footwork, magnificent-looking appearance and vigorous drumming style. The credit should go to the founder, the "Canton Lion King" ( Feng Geng Zhang). According to records, was born in "沙坪越塘大朗村" village in He Shan county. His father was a secular disciple of the Shaolin Temple, and instructed him in martial arts and lion dance at an early age. Later, he further studied martial arts and Southern lion dance in Fuo Shan with fellow villager (a famous physician and the creator of this dance), before returning to his hometown and setting up his own training hall, teaching and researching the art of lion dance with great devotion. Given his considerable martial ability, a result of hard and dedicated training, he was able to develop a unique and outstanding version of lion dance. was not only able to carry on the art, he was also particularly involved in creating new techniques through mimicking. Together with his junior 胡沛, he kept cats and studied their behaviour carefully; they were eventually able to incorporate from the "cat and mouse game" the various movements such as "Catching mouse, playing, catching birds, high escape, lying low and rolling". They also made changes to the body of the Fo Shan lion, making it more well-built and powerful in structure, but with agile footwork and eye-catching colours, and played to the rhythm of the "Seven Star Drums". In short, in terms of expression, dance steps, build of the lion and the drumming style, he created a whole new style of lion dancing which was considered high in entertainment value and visual appeal. There are many important points which also prove to have been the chief figure responsible for the creation of the He Shan style of lion dance. In the early 1920s, the He Shan lion dance was performed at Sun Yat-Sen's assuming office in Guangzhou, creating quite a sensational stir both within and outside of the province. Around 1945, He Shan lion performers were often invited to perform in many places within China and Southeast Asia during many celebratory festivals. The He Shan style was strongly favoured and sensational in Singapore, having been featured in many nationwide events, even gaining the title of "Lion King of Kings", with wide press coverage by both Chinese and English media. The noble bearing of the He Shan lion is still promoted as a tourist attraction in Singapore today, with a large banner featuring this style being placed on the tourist attraction of Sentosa. According to 冯昆杰, today's He Shan lions are the same as those created byby improvising on the Fo Shan lion; it is of a powerful and impressive build, with a "王" character on its forehead and a confident expression, and combined with the unique invention of 冯庚长, the "Seven Star Drum", the He shan lion displays a formidable show of power. When the Fo Shan lion dance was brought to Singapore, a lot of works have been done to make the lion more " cat-like". Master Ho Kai Seng of Singapore He Shan Association shortened the tail of He Shan lion so that it looks more like a cat. And master Liang Zhao Fu, who is wildly known as South-east Asia drum king, created Fo Shan 18 beats and devised a way to play the drum with not just rhythms but also gusto. The He Shan drum nowadays is composed by master Lu Xin Yao of Singapore He Shan Association.
There is three important and the first colors of the lions. The lion with the white colored fur is considered to be the oldest of the lions. The lion with the goldish yellowish fur is the considered to be the middle child. Not the youngest or the oldest. And the black colored lion is considered to be the youngest lion so when people use this colour lion it should move fast and quick like a young child.
When the dancing lion enters a village or township, it is supposed to pay its respects first at the local temple(s), then to the ancestors at the ancestral hall, and finally through the streets to bring happiness to all the people. There are three types of lions: the golden lion, representing liveliness; the red lion, representing courage; and the green lion, representing friendship.
Three other famous lion types can also be identified: Liu Bei, Guan Gong (Cantonese: Kwan Kung) and Zhang Fei. They represent historic characters in China that were recorded in the classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. These three were blood oath brothers that swore to restore the Han dynasty.
The Liu Bei (Cantonese: Lau Pei) lion is the eldest of the three brothers and has a yellow (actually imperial yellow as he became the first emperor of the Shu-Han Kingdom) based face with white beard and fur (to denote his wisdom). It sports a multi coloured tail (white underside) with black as one of them which encompasses the colors of the five elements, as it was believed that being the Emperor, he had the blessings of the heavens and thus control of the five elements. There are three coins on the collar. This lion is used by schools with an established "Sifu" (Martial art master) or organization and is known Rui shih (Shui Shi) or The Auspicious Lion.
The Guan Gong (Cantonese: Kwan Kung) lion has a red based face, black bristles, with a long black beard (as he was also known as the "Duke with the Beautiful Beard"). The tail is red and black with white trim and a white underside. He is known as the second brother and sports two coins on the collar. This Lion is known as Hsing Shih (Shing Shi) or the Awakened Lion. This lion is generally used by most.
The Zhang Fei (Cantonese: Chang Fei) lion has a black based face with short black beard, small ears, and black bristles. The tail is black and white with white trim and a white underside. Traditionally this lion also had bells attached to the body, which served as a warning like a rattler on a rattle snake. Being the youngest of the three brothers, there is a single coin on the collar. This Lion is known as the Fighting Lion because Zhang Fei had a quick temper and loved to fight. This lion is used by clubs that were just starting out or by those wishing to make a challenge.
Later an additional three Lions were added to the group. The Green faced lion represented Zhao Yun or Zhao (Cantonese: Chiu) Zi Long. He has a green tail with white beard and fur and an iron horn. He is often called the fourth brother, this lion is called the Heroic Lion because it is said he rode through Cao Cao’s million man army and rescued Liu Bei’s infant and fought his way back out. The Yellow (yellow/orange) face and body with white beard represented Huang Zhong (Cantonese: Wong Tsung) , we was given this color when Liu Bei rose to become Emperor. This lion is called the Righteous Lion. The white colour lion is known as Ma Chao (Cantonese: Ma Chiu), he was assigned this color because he always wore a white arm band to battle against the Emperor of Wei, Cao Cao, to signify that he was in mourning for his father and brother who had been murdered by Cao Cao. Thus this lion was known as the funeral lion. This lion is never used except for a funeral for the Sifu or some important head of the group, and in such cases it is usually burned right after. Even if it is properly stored, it is not something one would want to keep, as it is symbolically inauspicious to have around. It is sometimes though, confused with the silver lion which sometimes has a white like colouring. These three along with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were known as the “Five Tiger Generals of Shun,” each representing one of the colors of the five elements.
 Taiwanese Lion
There are various Taiwanese Lions. They are different from the Chinese Southern Lions in various aspects. The lion styles can be roughly divided into open-mouth lions (開口獅) and closed-mouth lions (閉口獅). It is known that the Taiwanese lion heads are very colourful, and have large eyes, a mirror on their forehead and horns, while the heads of the Chinese Southern Guangdong-style lion, firstly introduced in Taiwan after the invasion of Kuomingtang's Republic of China in 1949, are decorated with fur around the eyes and the forehead. Unlike the Chinese Southern Guangdong-style lion whose eyes and mouth can be moved, the Taiwanese lion is less elaborate. The Taiwanese dance also integrates with martial arts to a greater extent (less like circuit tricks). In addition to dance steps, the Taiwanese lion dance also uses different musical instruments and tempo.
The eight trigrams lion dance is the tradition of Beigang (北港) , where Chaotian Temple (北港朝天宮) is visited by more than one million pilgrims every year.
Many Taiwanese schools nowadays provide lion dance trainings, and Jiu-Ru Primary School in Pingtung County (屏東縣九如國小)  and Da-Shiang Primary School in Chiayi County (嘉義縣大鄉國小)  are two of the many active school lion dance teams in Taiwan.
Festival of Miyazaki Shrine, JapanJapan also has a tradition of lion dance throughout the nation, dancing in pace with the music. Known in Japanese as "Shishi-mai," the roots of the Japanese lion dance are said to be from China or India. The style of dancing and design of the lion differs by region. The lion dance has been completely absorbed into Japanese tradition and is used even in religious Shinto festivals aside from new year celebrations.
The Japanese lion consists of a wooden, laquered head called a "shishi-gashira" (lit. Lion Head), and a characteristic body of green dyed cloth with white designs. It can be manipulated by a single person, or two people, one who manipulates the head. As with Chinese lions, the make of the head and designs on the body will differ from region to region, and even from school to school.
In Okinawa, a similar dance exists, though the lion there is considered to be a legendary shisa. The heads, bodies and behavior of the shisa in the dance are quite different than the shishi on mainland Japan. Instead of dancing to the sounds of flutes and drums, the Okinawan shisa dance is often performed to folk songs played with the sanshin.
Buckcheong Saja-noriIn Korea, the lion dance survives in a tradition called "Saja-nori." Although there are several other lion dances as part of Korean mask plays, Bukcheong Saja-nori is peculiar in that it is exclusively composed of lion dance, unlike other mask play traditions. In addition, it requires special attention because it is not at all similar in shape or technique with those of other Asian countries, such as China and Japan.
The Korean lion, or "saja," is a costume manipulated by two or three performers. The head of the lion consists of a flat, round, grotesque-looking mask with bells hanging from it. Like its Chinese and Japanese counterparts, it is performed during the lunar new year celebration to scare away evil spirits and beckon good luck.
The Bukcheong Saja-nori lion dance tradition has been kept up in the county of Bukcheong-gun, Hamgyungnam-do, located in the northern end of Korea until the 1930's. Around the Korean War in 1950, North Korean performers came down to the south and endeavored to preserve it. It is currently assigned as Korean Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 15.
 Music and instruments
Accompanying the lion dance
Musicians accompanying lion dance at Seattle's Chinatown-International District Night Market, Hing Hay Park (2010)
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Lion Dance is performed accompanied by the music of beating of drums, cymbals, and gongs instruments synchronise to the lion dance movements and actions.
The lion dance costumes used in these performances can only custom made in speciality craft shops in the rural part China and imported at considerable expense for most foreign countries outside Asia. Funds raised through subscriptions and pledges made by members of local cultural and business societies. For country like Malaysia with a essential population of Chinese origins, local expertise may still available in making the "lion" costumes and music instruments beside importing them from China.
 Association with wushu/kung fu
The lion dance (especially the Taiwanese Lion, 臺灣獅) has close relations to Kung Fu or Wǔshù (武術) and the dancers are usually martial art members of the local kung fu club or school. They practice in their club and some train hard to master the skill as one of the discipline of the martial art . In general, it is seen that if a school has a capable troupe with many 'lions', it demonstrates the success of the school. It is also generally practised together with Dragon dance in some area.
Lion Dance on Chinese New Years and festivals
During the Chinese New Year, lion dancer troupes from the Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guild and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai ching" (採青), literally means "plucking the greens", a quest by the 'lion' to pluck the auspicious green normally 'vegetables' like lettuce which in Chinese called 'cái'(菜)that sound like 'cái'(财)(fortune) and auspicious fruit like oranges tied to a "Red Envelope" containing money; either hang highly or just put on a table in front of the premises. The "lion" will dance and approach the "green" and "red evelope" like a curious cat, to "eat the green" and "spit" it out leave it in a nice arrangement, like a auspicious character but keep the "red envelope". The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business and the troupe is rewarded with the "red envelope".
Different types of vegetables, fruits, foods or utensils with auspicious and good symbolic meanings; for instance pineapples, pamelos, bananas, oranges, sugar cane shoots, coconuts, beer, clay pots or even crabs can be used to be the "greens" (青) to be "plucked" to give different difficulty and challenge for the lion dance performers. But the difficulties of the challenge should comes with the bigger the rewards of the "red envelope" given.
The lion dance sometime along with the dragon dance are also usually performed at many other important grand occasions, including Chinese traditional, cultural and religious festivals, business opening events, birthday celebrations, honour guest welcoming and wedding ceremonies by the Chinese communities.
Red Chinese lion dance performing a "cai ching" in the Vancouver suburb Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.
Second Red Chinese lion dance performing a "cai ching" in the Vancouver suburb Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.In the old days, the lettuce was hung 15 to 20 feet above ground and only a well-trained martial artist could reach the money while dancing with a heavy lion head. These events became a public challenge. A large sum of money was rewarded, and the audience expected a good show. Sometimes, if lions from multiple martial arts schools approached the lettuce at the same time, the lions are supposed to fight to decide a winner. The lions had to fight with stylistic lion moves instead of chaotic street fighting styles. The audience would judge the quality of the martial art schools according to how the lions fought. Since the schools' reputation were at stake, the fights were usually fierce but civilized. The winner lion would then use creative methods and martial art skills to reach the high-hanging reward. Some lions may dance on bamboo stilts and some may step on human pyramids formed by fellow students of the school. The performers and the schools would gain praise and respect on top of the large monetary reward when they did well. Nowadays, performances to attain the red envelope are not as rigorous but lion dance troupes still have the onus of making a good show or face the consequence of an unhappy client.
During the 1950s-60s, in some areas with high population of Chinese and Asian communities especially the Chinatown in many foreign countries abroad China in the world; people who joined lion dance troupes were “gangster-like” and there was a lot of fighting amongst lion dance troupes and kung fu schools. Parents were afraid to let their children join lion dance troupes because of the “gangster” association with the members. During festivals and performances, when lion dance troupes met, there would be fights between groups. Some lifts and acrobatic tricks are designed for the lion to “fight” and knock over other rival lions. Performers even hid daggers in their shoes and clothes, which could be used to injure other lion dancers’ legs, or even attached a metal horn on their lion’s forehead, which could be used to slash other lion heads. The violence got so extreme that at one point, the Hong Kong government had to put a stop to lion dance completely. Now, as with many other countries, lion dance troupes must attain a permit from the government in order to perform lion dance. Although there is still a certain degree of competitiveness, troupes are a lot less violent and aggressive. Today, lion dance is a more sport-oriented activity. Lion dance is more for recreation than a way of living. But there are still plenty of troupes who still practice the traditional ways and taboos of the lion dance as it is practiced in the past.