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Dragon & Lion Dances

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The magical, mysterious, playful and spectacular Dragon and Lion dances are an opportunity for martial artists to display their skills.
Dragon & Lion Dances

Chinese Dragon in a NYC Chinatown parade

Flickr Creative Commons (Global Jet)

Each of the fifteen days from New Year's Day to the Lantern Festival has particular activities associated with it. Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family: parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. In other words, it's a time to honor living ancestors (spiritual as well as biological).

New Year's Day parades are common, as are Dragon and Lion Dances. These dances are not only a form of entertainment, but also an opportunity for the dancers/martial artists who are performing the Dragons or Lions (often in two-person teams) to demonstrate their Kung Fu skill. The more elaborate the dances become, the greater the strength and flexibility and mental focus that is required.

The climax of the Lion Dance is called “Lion picking the greens.” At this time, the dancers search for and retrieve heads of lettuce – which are often placed in difficult-to-reach places. A successful retrieval of the “greens” means there will be a good harvest, i.e. that the New Year will be a prosperous one. The heads of lettuce usually contain a gift in a red envelop (Hong Bao) – offered in gratitude for the performance.

In the Chinese hierarchy of animals, dragons are considered the most sacred, and are a symbol of most-auspicious power. Dragons have the power to bring life-sustaining wind and rain (qi and jing) - though can also manifest in destructive ways (e.g. hurricanes) if not related to properly. The legendary Yellow Emperor - Huang Di - is believed to have transformed into a dragon at the moment of becoming an Immortal. For this reason, the Chinese sometimes refer to themselves as "the descendants of the dragon." In terms of yin and yang, the dragon is seen as the embodiment of yang or male energy. His yin/female counterpart is the Fenghuang - the phoenix.

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