The Chinese New Year Dragon Dance is an ancient symbol synonymous with great celebration as many have witnessed the colorful dancing dragon make its way down the streets to ring in the new year.
History of the Chinese New Year Dragon Dance
The Chinese people have held a great respect for the dragon for centuries. Traditional Chinese legend has it that people are descendants of this powerful and mystical animal, and it is considered to be good luck to the Chinese people in terms of fertility, social graces and prosperity.
The dragon dance is considered the highest method of expressing gratitude to the dragon himself. However, the dragon dance started out as a ritualistic Chinese folk dance long before it became the showy display now found at every Chinese New Year celebration. Dragons are believed to control the rainfall, and since so many people in China rely upon agriculture to survive, the dragon dance was first designed to appease the dragon and release rain onto the land. In more traditional villages, this dance is still performed during a dry season. Of course, the much more popular form of the dragon dance is the entertainment featured every Chinese New Year. It is also much more recognizable to Westerners, who have come to enjoy the celebration and tradition of the dragon as much alongside their native Chinese friends.
How to Perform the Dragon Dance
The dragon dance is usually performed on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year celebration. It is part of the lantern festival, and is greatly anticipated by the crowds who gather to watch the parade. The dragon itself is made out of a variety of materials, including plastic, metal, fabric, paper-mâché, plaster, sequins, jewels, and whatever else the dragon builders selected for embellishments that year. Since a long dragon symbolizes greater luck to a region, many Chinatown communities attempt to have the longest dragon dancing down their main street during the Chinese New Year parade.
The Chinese New Year dragon dance is performed by a large team of dancers who are trained to carry the dragon on special poles. The leaders of the dance team control the head, causing it to sweep, swoop and dip up and down. The head may also be manipulated to look animated by incorporating special features such as blinking eyes, which are also controlled by the precise movement of the dancer in charge.
The remainder of the dance team dips their bodies up and down to mimic the movements of winged flight as the dragon makes its way down the street. The team may choose to stay on a straight path down the main drag, or they may interact with the admiring crowd as they march on by. The dancers are almost always escorted by musicians playing traditional Chinese drums and gongs to help keep the beat of the dance as spectators enjoy the long good luck charm of the dragon.
Colors and Tradition
The head and body of the dragon is traditionally gold, green or bright red. These colors stand for good harvest, prosperity and excitement. Dancers dress to match the body of the dragon, often wearing long pants that match perfectly in color because they are made from the same material. Each section of the dragon measures between five and seven feet, with some sections combining to reach over 100 feet of dance space.
The Chinese New Year dragon dance is almost always performed at night, so that the lanterns and torches that accompany it can add a spectacular finishing touch to the dragon and the dance. Performers who will be executing the dance underneath the large dragon rehearse for weeks, and sometimes even months, before the performance in order to ensure fluid, realistic movements at the celebration.
Celebrating Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is traditionally held between January 21 and February 19, and many major cities throughout the United States celebrate with a lantern festival and dragon dance in their Chinatown district. This celebration is almost always open to the public, and you can also enjoy the rest of traditional Chinese culture, such as food, Chinese ballet and acrobatics as you are waiting for the dragon to perform its signature dance as the main feature of the parade. A symbol of good luck, the dragon is one of the most important symbols in Chinese culture and dance.