Lion Dance for a New Year

The lion dance is performed during Chinese New Year or any happy occasion. It is believed that when the lion performs, it will bring to the place and the people happiness and luck and will drive away the evil spirits. The lion is a holy animal and has been mentioned in the Chinese mythology.

The lion dance consists of the head, tail, percussion and Buddha. The head is made of paper and wood, elaborately painted and decorated with strings, fringes and tassels. The head dancer decides whether to show the lion’s youth with vitality or its maturity with docility; while the tail dancer must follow the drumbeat and the head dancer while crouched in an uncomfortable position under the long piece of silk representing the lion’s body. The dance is traditionally accompanied by gongs, drums and firecrackers, representing the descent of good luck.

There are two styles of lion dance. The lion dances of Northern China and Southern China have great differences in that of their appearance and the art of demonstration. The Northern China style closely mimics the movements of the lion, whereas the Southern China style emphasizes the power of arms and legs and therefore the dance is predominantly performed by martial artists.

During the Chinese New Year, lion dancers from martial art school will visit the store front of businesses to "choy chang" (Cantonese採青 lit. picking the greens). The business would tie a red envelope filled with money to a head of lettuce and hang it high above the front door. The lion will approach the lettuce like a curious cat, consume the lettuce and spit out the leaves but not the money. The lion dance is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to the business and the dancers receive the money as reward. The tradition becomes a mutual transaction.

In lion dance tradition, a new lion should not be used without going through the Hoi Gong ceremony. Hoi Gong (Cantonese 开光)/(点睛 Mandarin Dian Jing) means eye opening or eye dotting. It is a ceremony where a special person is assigned to dot the eyes of the lion. This person is usually the owner of the shop or restaurant where the event of the Hoi Gong ceremony is taking place, or the leader of the dance troupe. As the lion dance is performed to bring good luck and fortune, a new lion that has not undergone this ceremony must not be used because it will bring bad luck and misfortune. The purpose of Hoi Gong ceremony is to awaken and bless the spirit of the new lion. It is akin to giving life and taming the new lion.