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Long 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 another!  Today, 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 Year. 

The dragon in China was first known as a river spirit.  Actually, 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 perform.  The "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 creatures! 

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 tandem.  The 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 at night.

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Bronze Dragon ~ 7.25 Inches
Bronze Dragon ~ 7.25 Inches
Jade ~ Boy & Two Dragons
Jade ~ Boy & Two Dragons
Brass Dragon ~ 4.75 Inches
Brass Dragon ~ 4.75 Inches
Dragons ~ Bead Embroidered Silk
Dragons ~ Bead Embroidered Silk
Dragon & Phoenix ~ 8 Inch Bowl
Dragon & Phoenix ~ 8 Inch Bowl

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