Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Lion Dance

Tradition and Symbolism

The lion dance has been part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years and is performed on auspicious occasions such as weddings, store openings, and various festivals and celebrations. The lion, a symbol of power, wisdom, and good fortune, chases away evil spirits and brings hapiness, longevity, and good luck. The lion dance is also performed at many business locations during the Chinese New Year's Celebration for the lion brings prosperity and good luck to the business for the upcoming year.


The Lion

The lion itself consists of a head and a body. The lion head is traditionally made of paper-mache, bamboo, and wire. However, the Jing Mo Kung Fu Club's lion is much heavier as it has been reinforced with fiberglass to make it more durable. Inside the head there are levers and pull-strings that are used to make the lion's eyes open and close, the ears twist and flap, and the mouth open and close. The head is painted in bright colors and decorated with string, tassels and bells.

The body of the lion is made from bright multi-colored cloth and is adorned with hair, bells, and other decorations.


© Kimberley Stickel
One of the Jing Mo Kung Fu Club lions
The Participants

Glen as lead lion dancer
© Kimberley Stickel
Glen Doyle performs as
the head of the lion
The Lion Dancers

Two Kung fu martial artists form the lion. The dance is based on traditional Kung fu footwork, kicks, and stances so both participants must have a solid background in Kung fu.

The head of the lion is the most prestigious position and requires strength, stamina, and versatility. This dancer must carry and balance the lion's head and control the lion's facial expressions (eyes, ears, mouth) with his upper body, while performing the cat-like movements (stances, footwork) with his lower body. It is this dancer that gives the lion its personality and attitude.

The second dancer follows the lead dancer and maintains a bent over position forming the body and tail of the lion.

Laughing Buddhas
(a.k.a. Funny People)

Often times the lion is accompanied by one or two Buddhas or funny people. The Buddhas wear a painted mask with a large smile and either a traditional Kung fu uniform or a monk's robe. Sometimes a pillow is placed under the robe for a more Buddha-like appearance.

The Buddhas are comic and acrobatic characters who interact with the crowd and tease the lion with a fan or a ball. The lion in turn will play with, chase, or even bite and kick the buddha depending on its mood. Because it is difficult for the lion dancers to see, the Buddhas also help the lions find their "food", etc.

The Buddha's movements are also based on Kung fu stances and moves as well as acrobatic and gymnastic moves.


Buddha Masks

Jing Mo funny people
© Sharon Stevenson
Jing Mo Club's funny people


The lion dance is usually accompanied by a musical ensemble consisting of a large chinese drum (called a da shih gu) played with two wooden mallets, a gong (called luo), and one or more sets of cymbals (called bo). The lion's dance is not choreographed to music; instead the musicians follow the lion's movements. Each of the lion's moods and moves has its own associated rhythm.

Jing Mo lion dance
© Kimberley Stickel
Jing Mo Kung Fu Club Lion Dance

The Dance

There are many styles of the lion dance that vary depending on the Kung fu school and the dancers. All of the dances simulate the movement of a lion and use the footwork, body movements, balance, and agility that are found in Kung fu.

The freestyle form of the lion dance is frequently used. In this form there is no standard set of steps. However, all of the movements imitate a lion's habits and expressions and the moves are all based on Kung fu. For example the dance might include any number of the following - walking, sniffing, pawing the ground, scratching, acting curious, acting mad, playing and interacting with the little buddhas and the crowd.

Jing Mo sleeping lion
© Kimberley Stickel
Jing Mo Kung Fu Club members
The Sleeping Lion Dance

The "Sleeping Lion" dance (Suai Si) consists of steps and movements that imitate a sleepy lion. The lion walks around and gets sleepy and stumbles waking himself up for a bit. Finally, the lion gives in to his sleepiness and falls asleep. Bothered by a flea, he then wakes up, scratches himself, falls back asleep, etc. These various movements continue until the lion finally wakes up for good and then grooms himself. Eventually, he realizes he is hungry and then the "lion eating" (choi chiang) dance begins.

Traditionally, the lion eats lettuce or bok choy but often times when the dance is performed in front of a crowd, the lion has been known to improvise and eat all sorts of things including baby strollers.

During the Chinese New Year, it is a tradition for the lion to go from business to business to perform. The business owners "feed" the lion with oranges, a head of lettuce or bok choy which includes a red envelope filled with money. This brings prosperity to the business for the upcoming year.

lion's puzzle
© Martha Cooper
Part of the fun in the feeding ritual is to place all sorts of obstacles in the path of the lion to get his food. Frequently the head of lettuce with the red envelope is hung up high in the doorway. The lion must use his skill to retrieve his food. There is also a long list of traditional methods to feed the lion which involve some type of puzzle. The ability of the lion to solve the puzzle is a testament to the quality of his Kung fu school. An example of such a puzzle is shown on the left.

Special thanks to Sheila H. for providing some of the background information.

-- Lisa T.


Back to:    Glen Doyle -- Home Page    |    Kung Fu Lesson Index