The Difference Between the Dragon Dance and the Lion Dance

The Lunar New Year ends with the lantern festival, signaled by the arrival of dancers. The most impressive is the Dragon Dance featuring a long serpentine dragon hoisted by many people. The other dance featured at the Lunar New Year is the Lion Dance, in which two acrobatic or martial arts trained people to delight the audience with their antics. These beasts, the dragon, and the lion are representations of the creatures. To an untrained eye, they are difficult to distinguish apart.

What is the difference? I’m here to help you know the difference.

The Dragon Dance ‟…is performed by a team of experienced dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a dragon using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the dragon. The dance team simulates the imagined movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner.[1]” The dragon must be very long and have an odd number of poles or segments for good luck. The fabricated dragon body is very long, writhing up, down, left, and right by the dancers. This is the most distinguishing feature of the two creatures. If there are many dancers hoisting poles, it’s a dragon.

Dragons represent wisdom, wealth, and power. They also drive away evil spirits and bad luck. Other performers play instruments such as drums, gongs, and horns. Colors are generally green or gold representing the harvest or the Chinese Empire respectively. Sometimes, the dragon will follow a man with a ball representing the pearl of wisdom.[2] I’ve been told it is very auspicious to watch a dragon dance, so take every opportunity to observe its presentation.

The Lion Dance is a much shorter animal. ‟[L]ions have two performers inside a costume (one controlling the front legs, head, and mouth and the other controlling the hindquarters)[4]” These performers must be even more acrobatic and playful because the lion is ‟…curious creatures with a penchant for mischief…[5]” and should be very playful in its dance. The lion performers are hidden by the costume while the dragon performers are visible beneath the dragon’s body.

When the Lion bats its large eyes at your, that signals your participation in the dance. Feed the lion’s mouth a red envelope for good luck. The lion chases away evil spirits and acts as a guardian of the local community.[6] Martial arts schools gain prestige by providing dancers for the Lion Dance. We should create a team in our school to dance around town.

I hope you enjoyed our second article about the Lunar New Year and the Dances. The next article will cover the Chinese Zodiac Animals and how they play into the cycles of the years.

[1] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_dance

[2] The Chinese Dragon Dance, https://www.china-family-adventure.com/dragon-dance.html

[3] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/special-report/chinese-new-year/new-year-dragon-dance.htm

[4] Trip Savvy, https://www.tripsavvy.com/chinese-lion-dance-or-dragon-dance-1458310

[5] Ibid.

[6] Quick Concepts, http://quickconcepts.org/