The dragon dance is a form of traditional dance and performance characteristic to the Chinese culture, being mostly seen in festive celebrations. Many Chinese people use the term “Descendants of the Dragon” as a sign of ethnic identity, as part of a trend that originated in the 1970s. Another derivation is from the descendants of Shennong, the legendary first king of the Chinese people, who taught them the foundations of civilization, agriculture, law and medicine.
The dance is performed in teams who mimic the supposed movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating way. The skilled team must bring the motionless body to life. Traditionally, the movements in a performance represent historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity. The dragon dance is a highlight of the Chinese New Year celebrations in particular, which are held worldwide in Chinatowns around the globe.
In the Chinese culture, dragons are thought to bring good luck and prosperity to people, which is reflected in their qualities. These include great power, fertility, wisdom, dignity, and auspiciousness. The appearance of a dragon is both bold and frightening, but it has a benevolent disposition. Therefore, the dragon eventually became a symbol to represent imperial authority.
In the performances, the dragon itself is a long serpent shaped body on poles, assembled by joining the series of hoops on each section and attaching the ornamental head and tall pieces at the ends. Traditionally, dragons were constructed of wood, with bamboo hoops on the inside and covered with a rich fabric. In the modern era, though the wood and heavy metal have been replaced by lighter materials such as aluminum and plastics.
The Chinese Dragon Parade, which concludes every Chinese New Year Parade, is customarily performed along with Lion Dancers, acrobats, kung fu masters, drums, and horns, all ending in a burst of firecrackers. It is quite a show!