Lion Dance

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Lion dance performances are a common sight in Singapore during Chinese New Year and other Chinese cultural and religious festivals as they create a festive atmosphere and are believed to bring good fortune. Lion dance in Singapore is believed to have traditions originating from the Southern provinces of China, in particular Foshan (佛山) and Heshan (鹤山).

Lion DanceNine Emperor Gods Festival Documentation Project, supported by National Heritage Board's Heritage Research Grant.

Each lion dance performance involves mimicking the moods and physical gestures of an actual lion’s behaviour, while combining it with martial art moves. A lion dance performance typically involves eight to ten performers comprising two lion dancers and six to eight performers playing percussive instruments.

Dressed in lion dance costume, the performer controlling the lion’s head (shi tou, 狮头) will be responsible for the movement of the head, eyelids, ears, mouth and front legs, while the performer controlling the lion’s tail (shi wei, 狮尾) will be responsible for the movement of the lion’s back, tail and hind legs.

The lion dance performance may include props and sets that symbolise mountains and river crossings. A special routine will be “plucking the green” (cai qing, 采青) which symbolises good fortune. This involves the acrobatic act of “plucking” a green vegetable that is suspended from a height.

During Chinese New Year, there is also the practice involving the peeling of oranges, where orange slices laid out in auspicious words or numbers for the audience, to signify good wishes and prosperity. The lion dance troupes would often be given red packets for their performances, which help in sustaining the troupes’ operations.

In Singapore, there is also the unique practice of hiring lion dance troupes to perform during Qing Ming (清明) and Chong Yang (重阳) festivals. In recent years, lion dance troupes in Singapore have become increasingly multi-racial with some troupes comprising Malay and Indian members.  

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