before the literature of the Western hemisphere gave us
tales of knights in armor gallantly fighting fire breathing
dragons, the Chinese dragon had become a popular and well
beloved figure. It
is interesting that the same creature depicted good
qualities in one culture and was quite a nasty beast in
we associate the Dragon Dance as the highlight of the
Chinese New Year celebration.
Chinese communities spend months training their
dancers and preparing their dragon costumes for the New
The dragon in China was first known as a river
dragons were thought to inhabit all water, including rain.
Additionally, dragons were linked to the ancient
Chinese pearl of wisdom.
This legacy is important to the Dragon Dance, as you
shall see! Unlike
their European cousins, Chinese dragons were regarded as
good, helpful and friendly spirits with nothing but positive
qualities. Dragons were known for their intelligence, fortitude, and
wisdom along with possessing the quality of longevity.
In Chinese astrology, being born in the Year of the
Dragon was special and highly desirable.
People with the good fortune to be born in this time
period were considered to possess the good qualities of the
dragon spirit. Since
the dragon year only comes around once every twelve years,
we are lucky that the Chinese astrological chart has plenty
of other great animal representatives with good and
desirable qualities. Recent
dragon years include 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976 and 1988.
The Dragon Dance was first used as a way to stop the
spread of epidemics. Historians
are not sure when the Dragon Dance was first performed -- we
only know that it dates back to ancient China.
We do know that by the time of the Sung Dynasty,
which was from 960 to 1279 AD, the Dragon Dance had already
evolved beyond its origins as a method of healing and was a
popular folk activity.
The Dragon Dance requires a team of dancers to
"dragon" is made of a mask head and a long body
that is supported by poles and carried by the dancers.
The movement of the dance is sinuous, twisting like a
snake, which is meant to honor the Dragon's origins as a
river spirit! The
lead dancer holding the dragon mask head will dip, jump and
twist as he or she leads the procession.
The dragon mask heads are beautiful and intricate,
and usually colored red, green or gold.
The number of body sections varies though true to
form, these dragons are on the large side.
The sections are about 5 to 6 feet in length each!
The total dragon costume used in the dance may have
as many as 25 sections.
Part of the myth of the dragon is that the longer the
creature, the more luck it would bring. That is why communities work to have the longest dragon, and
biggest dance team possible ready for the New Year festival.
The Dragon Dance is an ancient skill, and requires
that the dancers be in top shape, well trained and practice
a lot. Not
everyone can step into the shoes of these magnificent
Some Dragon Dances have special features such as
animation on the dragon mask head and even fire works!
Special celebrations may involve twin dragons: two
teams of dancers with two separate costumes dancing in
Dragon Dance can be performed day or night since there is no
tradition one way or the other.
However, because nighttime comes with the opportunity
for creative ways of illuminating the costume, most people
would agree that the best and most spectacular displays of
this mythical creature and traditional dance are to be found