Etiquette of the Chinese Lion Dance

A Chinese lion dance costume.

The lion dance plays a vital role in Chinese culture. (Image: via Pixabay)

The Chinese lion dance plays a vital role in Chinese culture. This dance is often featured during grand business openings, cultural and religious celebrations, and New Year’s. Therefore, it’s fulfilling to encounter a lion costume during events featuring beautiful dancers moving to a lively rhythm. 

In addition, you could view the Chinese lion dance as a mundane cultural event, but there is proper etiquette to observe if you plan on attending. So keep reading to learn how to participate appropriately in a Chinese lion dance event.

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The story of the Chinese lion dance

Several theories exist as to where the Chinese lion dance originated. Many tales have made their way into popular culture, including one about an emperor who dreamed of a creature sparing his life and described it as looking like a lion. Since then, people have begun associating good fortune with the lion.

Although there are many different stories, they all share similar characteristics. No one knew lions existed during the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – A.D. 220), so they were treated as legendary. Before the creation of the Silk Road, lions were unknown in the western areas of China; lions were then transported as presents to the rulers in the central plains.

The Chinese lion dance has progressed from humble beginnings to spectacular performances befitting significant festivals and events worldwide. (Image: via Pixabay)

After that, lions became a significant influence in shaping Chinese culture. Beginning in the Three Kingdoms Period and continuing through the Northern and Southern Dynasties (during which Buddhism gained popularity) and the Tang Dynasty (during which the lion dance became a popular court dance), human performers began taking inspiration from the appearance and behavior of lions in their performances. 

The lion dance has progressed from humble beginnings to spectacular performances befitting significant festivals and events worldwide.

What does the Chinese lion dance symbolize?

As a cornerstone of Chinese culture, the Chinese lion dance naturally carries a positive connotation. The lion is a powerful emblem, representing superiority, strength, and stability. Such persistent superlatives are well-deserved tributes to its regal character, and it makes perfect sense that it is held in high esteem as a bringer of fortune and prosperity. This makes it possible to do the Chinese lion dance.

This dance symbolizes good fortune, wealth, and prosperity. Furthermore, the noise is thought to chase away misfortune and evil spirits with its raucous, noisy clanging.

You may see the lion being given lettuce during the dancing performance. This distinctive element of Southern design is symbolic, as the Cantonese and Mandarin words for lettuce, sang choi, and sheng cai sound close to the terms for prosperity. Afterward, the performers spit the lettuce at the audience members to shower them with good fortune.

Three rules of the Chinese lion dance

The Chinese lion dance is a sight to behold and carries a wealth of symbolic significance. Two performers, dressed as lions, dance to the rhythm of the drums, demonstrating their agility and coordination as they attempt to pull down a talisman representing good fortune that has been suspended above them. You, the audience member, are entrusted with some essential duties.

1. Don’t touch the lion’s tail

Like with many other aspects of Chinese culture, the Chinese lion dance is filled with superstition. For example, you should not touch a lion during a performance. Apart from you possibly frightening the dancers, which would lead them to stop, in addition, some believe feeling the tail foreshadows your good fortune reaching rock bottom.

2. Don’t hop on the lion

It’s hard to resist the urge to run out and touch the lion dance costume when you see it in person. But even though it is tempting, especially if the lion’s costume is empty, you must not jump over the lion. This is a highly disrespectful thing to do during the Chinese lion dance considering the lion is your protector.

The Chinese lion dance is performed at different events to bring fortune and good luck. That's why it should be performed correctly and appropriately.
The Chinese lion dance is performed at different events to bring fortune and good luck. That’s why it should be performed correctly and appropriately. (Image: Donkeyru via Dreamstime)

3. Wear bright colors

When attending a performance, appearing in bright colors, especially red and fresh ones, is essential. This is because white and black are very unlucky colors in Chinese culture. It is because black and white are traditionally worn during grief or associated with death. That’s why wearing white or black around the lion is not a good idea.

Guidelines for the dancers

The Chinese lion dance is performed at different events to bring fortune and good luck. That’s why it should be performed correctly and appropriately. 

So the lion dance wouldn’t be executed without the dancers carrying out the lion costume. There are two parts to the costume — the lion head and the lion tail. There are guidelines for the dancers that will lead them to perform the lion dance well. For example, the head part performer should be lighter and quicker, and the tail part performer should be more robust and steadier. 

The dancer assigned to the head part must have a fast mind to establish the pace, be strong enough to lift the head, and needs to be agile. At the same time, the tail part dancer must be fluid because the dancer is from behind to imitate the lion’s tail and should assist the head dancer after jumping high to avoid falling.

Chinese lion dance: A great unifying art

The Chinese lion dance has reached its current acceptance and popularity in different countries. It is a recognized event that is performed now in the present during various celebrations for the reason of bringing good luck and fortune. 

The colorful performances always get your attention and others, thanks to the bright costumes and upbeat music. The universal appeal of the Chinese lion dance and partnered with lively music has the power to bring individuals of different backgrounds together.

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