Fierce and Majestic Art of Southern Lion Dancing
Sifu Jimmy Wong
from Internal Arts Magazine, 1990
fierce lion of heaven brings the fortunes
of good luck, prosperity, and happiness
to all those who are within the sound of his
Old Chinese Proverb
Lion dancing is one of the most remarkable traditional
arts depicting dignity, unyielding energy and
courage. When the lion roars, all other beasts
listen. The Chinese regard the lion as a good
omen representing happiness, well-being, and prosperity.
dancing is divided into two types: Northern Lion
dancing, also known as Golden Lion, in which the
two dancers are clothed in a complete body suit
with golden fur, and Southern Lion Dancing, called
Awakening Lion, in which the dancers are clothed
in a brightly colored costume attached to the
heavy paper mache lion's head and covering the
backs of the dancers like a cloak. The Southern
dancers also wear brightly colored leggings and
decorated shoes representing the lions paws.
of the Southern Lion:
Awakening Lion dates back long ago. There was
an ancient tale about a wicked beast that came
out in the New Year and killed innocent people.
In order to defend themselves, people used bamboo
rods and paper to make a fierce and colorful lion
accompanied by the loud sounds of drums and cymbals
to scare the beast away. As generations went by,
people began using lion dancing for the New Year
and festivals to celebrate as wellas to appeal
Kwantung, China, the Fo San (Buddha Mountain)
province is famous for its Southern Lion dance
costumes and routines. There are five types of
The seven color lion face has a yellow head,
white eyebrows and beard, with three gold
coins behind its head. This lion is called
"Liu Be" lion, symbolizing good
fortune, friendliness, gentleness, and harmony.
The red face lion has a black beard and eyebrows,
green nose and purple horns. It has a red,
black, and green coat and two gold coins behind
its head. Red face lion is known as "Kuan
Gong" lion, or Awakened lion, symbolizing
energy, honor, and loyalty.
The black face lion has black eyebrows and
a short beard. It has a green nose and horns
with one gold coin behind its head covered
with a black/white coat. Black face lion is
called "Zhang Fei" lion, symbolizing
bravery, fierceness, hot temper, a lion likely
to make trouble for a good cause.
The yellow face lion has a silver beard is
known as "Huang Chun" lion, symbolizing
experience and knowledge.
The green face lion, known as "Chao Yun"
lion, symbolizes fighting.
Dancing is Kungfu:
perform Southern lion, one has to pay special
attention to the waist, horse stance, leg kicking,
and lively kungfu-style jumps. Dancers must illustrate
how the lion comes out of its cave, passes over
a bridge, plays with a ball, knocks on doors,
and climbs stairs. The lion dancers have to be
highly skillful in their positioning, steps, and
turnings. The dancers' legs and arms must be strong
to withstand the rigorous steps and deep stances
while supporting the heavy costume. Only the dancers
with impeccable kungfu stances and power can make
a winning team.
dancers have to be careful in following the many
traditions and customs of lion dancing. Examples
are when passing a Buddhist temple. The lion must
stop and bow three times; on happy occasions,
the lion must go into homes and congratulate the
family; the lion must keep the drum quiet whe
passing by a funeral; when two lions meet, they
must bow to each other then let each other pass;
if a dragon and a lion meet, this means peace
in the world, and the dragon and lion therefore
dance to celebrate peace on earth.
(plucking or getting the green) is a special program
of Southern lion dancing. The meaning behind Cai-qing
was to resist the Ching Dynasty and restore the
Ming Dynasty. Nowadays, people use green lettuce
with "hong bao" (lucky money in a red
packet) in it to represent luck in making money.
Cai-qing must be experienced in kungfu, good reflexes,
and great knowledge. Types of Cai-qing include:
high rise, bottom of a bridge, a crab, passing
the poisonous snake, baqua (eight triagram) barricade,
etc. There are also different ways of playingthe
drum; each has its own style and characteristics.
lion dancing has a close relationship with Buddhism.
Before the lion performs its first dance, it has
a ceremony for its birth. This ceremony involves
every member of the lion dancing team. A highly
respected elder will lead the members in paying
hommage tho the Buddha and will be responsible
for lighting and bringing life to the lion's eyes,
nose, horn, ears, body, and legs. There will also
be gold flowers and leaves on the lion's head.
Whenever the lion group is ready to dance, they
have to perform a mantra-type ceremony for good
luck. The Southern lion is almost always accompanied
by a dancer in a paper mache mask representing
a smiling monk who leads the team.
there is a growing interest in lion dancing as
a sport by many American, European, and Asian
kungfu schools. Competitions are being held around
the world for lion dance teams.
Jimmy Wong is the founder of the America Chin
Woo Athletic Association, based in Dallas, Texas.