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Ecology of the Dancing Chinese Lion

Chinese New Year is celebrated from January 25th until February 8th. Also known as the Spring festival, it welcomes the end of winter with longer days and warmer weather. Our ecologist Emma is a student of Hung Gar Kung Fu, studying under the instruction of Sifu Simon Hepple. The school recently celebrated the festival locally in Inverness, joined by fellow branches based throughout Scotland.

Lion dance is typically performed by kung fu practitioners as many movements incorporate the stances. As the Hung Gar style focuses on stance training, dancing presents schools the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and hard work in addition to having fun. Purpose of the dance is to bring good fortune to spectators and deter evil spirits. Habitat includes festivals, parades and other events such as weddings or business openings. While not performing, the lion can be found displayed in schools.

There are many ‘species’ of lion with various designs, meanings and stories; these lions pictured originate from Southern China. The type of lion can be distinguished from its head design or horn. The horn is a weapon used to defend against evil and misfortune. The ribbon determines whether a lion is awake or sleeping with colour indicating gender. Field signs include lettuce leaves, orange peelings, laughter and good fortune.

Behaviours or stages of dance include waking the lion, curiously parading and investigating objects (and spectators), and accepting offerings such as envelopes, oranges, or lettuce. Dances can be acrobatic or include a drunken section where the lion drinks ‘good chi’ from a bottle placed centre stage. Lions tend to be shy but friendly, and some may cheekily pose for photos.

Instruments including drum, gong and symbols perform alongside the lion as well as little lions (performed by children), dragons, and a Buddha to guide the lions and control crowds. Don’t confuse your lions with dragons; dragons use poles with multiple dancers whereas lions have a head and a tail.

For more information, check out the Yee’s Hung Ga Inverness website:


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