Toronto Hong Luck Kung Fu and Lion Dance and Dragon Dance
Toronto Chinese Lion Dance

Etiquette and Protocols of Lion dancing

Types of lions

Northern and Southern lions differ somewhat is their attire and behaviour. Both types of lions have heads that are made of paper mache and bamboo. The bamboo frame is held together with twine or wire.

The Northern lion resembles the animal itself. Its body is covered with golden or red coloured hair, which covers the performers fully. The movement of the Northern lion bears similar characteristics as an actual lion.

The Southern lion, on the other hand, has a multi-coloured head and long linen tail that drapes over the performer. The colour of the lion is determined by which character it portrays from the story of "3 Sworn Brothers", from the novel of the Three Kingdoms. General Liu Bei, the first and oldest brother, is the most auspicious, revered, and sincere. General Kwan Kung, the second brother, is dignified, loyal, and courageous, while General Chang Fei is the most ferocious and brave hearted, with a love for battle. A lion that portrays General Liu Bei has a golden-yellow face, white beard, and brightly coloured tail which usually combines yellow, green, light blue, and bright red. A lion portraying General Kwan Kung has a red face, black beard, and a red and black coloured tail. The General Chang Fei lion has a green or black face with black beard, and usually boasts a black and green, or black and white, coloured tail.

Amongst these variations, there are 2 styles of lion heads. The one that has a curve shaped mouth and a large face is the "Fut Shan" style lion head, while the one with a flat or duckbill shaped mouth is the "Hok Shan" style lion head.

The Liu Bei lions are most often used for performances to bring good luck and prosperity in various events, functions, new business opening, etc.

See some Lion Dance Pictures.
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Performing the lion dance

The lion dance is performed by 2 dancers: one dancer is carries the lion head and the other dancer goes behind the head to form the tail. The quality of the lion head performance entirely depends on the skill of the dancer. The dancer under the head has to manipulate strings and levers to blink the eyes, flutter the ears, and open the mouth. The combination of these actions brings the lion head to life. The movement of the head must be coordinated with the footwork. Simultaneously, the dancer underneath the tail, whose back is bent, has to coordinate his steps with those of the lion head performer, and must flutter the body of the lion to add life. All this footwork and movement must be done in correct rhythm to the beats of the drum, gong, and cymbals. The lion dancers can display different emotions of a lion: sleeping, waking up, scratching, stretching, playing, eating, jumping, and resting. These movements require a great deal of physical ability, balance, agility, and stamina. In some schools, a teaser (dai to fut) is used to play with the lion and takes the lion through its tricks. The tricks can vary in difficulty. It can be as simple as roaming the streets, and as challenging as picking the green or cheng from as high as the 2nd floor of a building. 'Picking the Green' (choi cheng) is the climax of any lion dance event. "Cheng" or "Green" refers to a vegetable that is bound together with a piece of string or cord to a red money envelope. To pick the Green dangling from the 2nd floor of a building requires a lot of skill. This is the time when the skills and prowess of a kung fu school are tested. There are occasions where the lion is presented with obstacles, like picking the green out from water, or eating the green which may be surrounded by snakes. The solution to these obstacles must follow the etiquette and protocol of lion dancing. One must be knowledgeable to execute the procedures and sequences.

Etiquette and Protocols of Lion dancing

  • The lion must perform three bows at the beginning and at the end of each lion dance performance. Bowing is a sign of courtesy.
  • If the lion comes across an ancestral altar in any occasion, the lion must perform three bows to salute the altar.
  • Lions of different kung fu schools are considered as lions from different clans, as in nature. On an occasion when a lion encounters another face to face not in its clan, each lion must lower their heads in order to avoid conflict between the schools. Usually, the teacher (sifu) of each school will push each of their lion heads down while walking past the other lion. Raising the lion head in the presence of another lion from a different kung fu school is considered to be a sign of disrespect to the other school.
  • While roaming the streets, the drum must be sheltered from enemies. Traditionally, the drummer carries a knife for protection.
  • When the lion comes across a doorway, it must sniff the doorframe to ensure that it is not a trap.

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