The Lion Dance is an integral part of the Chinese culture and it is most commonly seen during Chinese New Year. Traditional dances with dancers donning animal masks or costumes have long been practised since the ancient China dynasties, but it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty that detailed descriptions of Lion Dance started making its appearance in Chinese literature. There are two main types of Lion Dance differentiated based on the region it originated from, which are the Northern Lion and the Southern Lion. The Lion Dance that we are familiar with in Malaysia is of the Southern variety, which originated from Guangdong and is associated with the ancient mythical monster, “Nian”. The Northern Lion, on the other hand, resembles the Pekingese dog and is more common in mainland China. What is so unique about Lion Dance is that although it is classified as a type of Chinese traditional dance, it is not so much of a dance as kung fu movements are actually incorporated to accentuate the expression and strength of the Lion Dance. This is especially true for Southern Lion Dance as it is essentially a combination of the mimicry of the movement of a lion and that of different kung fu styles, namely Foshan and Heshan styles.
In Malaysia, Lion Dance is usually performed during Chinese New Year or the grand opening of a Chinese-owned establishment as a symbolism of bringing in good luck and fortune. It is also performed to honour the celebration of major religious events. Although it is definitely not something foreign to all Malaysians, how much do you ACTUALLY know about Lion Dance in Malaysia?
1. We have our very own association JUST FOR lion dance!
There are multiple national and regional lion dance associations all over Malaysia, representing states or regions like the Federal Territories and Selangor, Muar, Sibu, Alor Setar, Kuching and more. Some of our lion dance troupes were even best known for consecutively snatching the championship at national AND international competitions!
2. And of course, we have our very own WORLD RENOWNED lion dance championship!
The Genting World Lion Dance is a major biannual event that attracts lion dance troupes from all over the world. It is also regarded as the most respected and recognised championship in the lion dance industry! The 13th Genting World Lion Dance Championship which took place last year even attracted troupes from 13 other countries, including the United States of America, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand and more!
3. High pole lion dance is actually a Malaysian invention!
Ever seen lion dancers jumping from one high pole to another on television? This form of lion dance performance was actually pioneered by the Malaysian lion dance associations, which also subsequently established the standards for international lion dance championships. The high pole lion dance was inspired by a kung fu style which was also performed on pillars, known as Mei Hua Quan (梅花拳). Another thing that Malaysia was also to be credited for the creation of high pole lion dance was increasing the height of the poles in international championships. The initial height of the poles was much shorter when it first started and was later increased to 3 metres tall, to as high as 6 metres later on! This range of height was even used as the standard of pole height in international lion dance championships worldwide!
4. Age and gender limit were once imposed for lion dance performers
Circa 1970s, only men aged 21 and above are allowed to join lion dance associations in Malaysia. This may have been due to the historical origin of Lion Dance as most of the traditional forms of martial arts and lion dance were only performed by males back in the days. This age-old rule was eventually lifted and now, Malaysians are free to join these associations regardless of age and gender! (There are even members as young as 7 years old!)
5. Made-in-Malaysia lion head masks
Back in the days, lion head masks were imported from China as they were traditionally made over there. As lion dance becomes a staple of the Chinese communities all around the world, local lion head mask makers began learning the craft as a means of cutting down the cost of import.
The Lion Dance is not just an important element of the Chinese culture, it is also an integral part of Malaysian culture! Take a look at these heartwarming moments showcasing our beautiful multicultural harmony in which Lion Dance played a role in:
Muslim lion dance troupe members
Malay wedding featuring lion dance
Lion dance opening for an Indian Muslim restaurant
Were you surprised by these facts? Share your thoughts with us at the comment section down below!