Lion Dance

NYC Chinese New Year Lion Dance

NYC Chinese New Year Lion Dance



Lion dance is an important ritual in Chinese tradition believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits on auspicious occasions. A good performance has the ability to bring good luck and happiness. Chinese associations and kung fu schools use Lion Dance to display the organization’s character and strength.

Today, Lion dance is typically seen during:

  • Chinese New Year

  • Grand Openings

  • Weddings

  • Parades

  • Festivals

  • Cultural Celebrations

A traditional Lion Dance performance includes Lions, an instrumentals team, and a clown.

Lions come in two distinctive styles: Northern and Southern

Northern Lions

Norhern Lions are modeled after native dogs in Northern China and may be referred to as Guardian Lions or Foo Dogs. Mostly in Northern China - Lions are emblematically displayed in front of Chinese imperial palaces, emperors' tombs and government offices today for power and protection. Performances of the northern style Lions can be seen usually at festivals, Chinese circuses, opera and New Year’s celebrations.



Southern Lions

Southern Lions are native to the Guangdong province. Southern style Lion heads can be divided into 3 categories: Lau's, Kwan's and Cheung's, all famous generals in China from the epic story: ‘Romance of Three Kingdoms’. There are 3 main color combinations of those Lions: Lau’s – yellow (wise Lion), Kwan’s - red & black (courageous Lion), and Cheung’s are black and green (fighting Lion).

A Lion consists of a team of two people:

  • Head player controls the eyes, ears and mouth of the Lion - exhibiting the emotions and character.

  • Tail player matches the head player’s steps, wags the tail and lifts the head player.

Each of the Lion's moves has its own associated rhythm and is supposed to match with the music. Musical ensemble accompanying the Lion dance consists of:

  • Drum player

  • Gong player

  • Cymbal players

A Buddha/Clown player provokes emotions and plays with the Lion while communicating proper directions during the dance.

NYC Chinese New Year Lion Dance

NYC Chinese New Year Lion Dance


Dating back over a thousand years in China, legend has it that the Lion was the ninth son of the dragon and served as the King's most fearless guard. Lions are a mascot symbolic of courage and power – in Chinese culture they are usually seen in front of royal palaces, offices and residences all over the world. An example of this homage can be seen at the Marco Polo Bridge in China where 485 Lions are lined up symbolic of China’s entry into the Second World War.

Symbolic sequences in the Lion dance include: waking, sniffing, bowing, playing, searching, fighting, eating, licking, lifting and sleeping.

The number three is significant in the Lion dance especially for a reason. Three shoots, three kicks, three bows and the eating ritual is traditionally performed in sets of three (Once to the left, right and then the middle in order to acknowledge all sides).


Three Bows

In a traditional performance, the first sequence the Lion performs is to bow three times in a symbol of respect and honor. In Chinese culture, three bows are a sign of the deepest reverence for someone, or something.


The Lion may then express a number of different emotions: curiosity, happiness, hunger, fear, respect and anger. After showing respect to the object being blessed, the Lion begins to dance. During this sequence - you may see the Lion striking kung fu poses, rolling on the ground, playing with the clown, and performing lifts. When the Lion is done playing, he gets hungry and searches for food. This represents the spiritual battle - the Lion must now be fed in order to be satisfied and to achieve its goal.

Eating Ritual

The eating ritual consists of three symbolic items that satisfy the Lions hunger:

  • Oranges - symbolizes longevity and health with its spherical shape

  • Lettuce - symbolizes wealth and luck

  • Red Envelope – symbolizes good fortune

The Lion eats the oranges first and spits it back out - its good luck for whoever is able to catch an orange with their hands. Lettuce is eaten next and splattered everywhere, symbolic of spreading wealth to all who are witnessing the ritual. The final piece for the Lion to eat is the red envelope. Good fortune is obtained by the host when the Lion consumes a red envelope.