January 21, 2021
This time of year, you might see lions roaming the streets. They prance to the beat of a drum.
They aren’t real lions: They’re dancers in colorful lion costumes. They’re celebrating a tradition that originated in China. It’s meant to bring good luck in the coming year. In many Asian countries, the new year is celebrated with the new moon that occurs in late January or early February. This year, the holiday begins on February 12.
Typically, a lion is made up of two dancers. One dancer controls the head. The other controls the tail. There are different kinds of lion dances. The most spectacular might be jong, or pole, jumping (pictured above). The dance combines martial arts skills and acrobatics.
“I think of it as a sport,” says Anthony Huang, 15. He’s a dancer at the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club. Anthony has performed as the lion’s tail. This is his first year controlling the head. It can weigh 20 pounds.
It’s important to Anthony to pass on this historical dance form. “This tradition really represents me,” he says.
Lion dances were once performed mostly by males. These days, the activity is more inclusive .
LionDanceMe is a group in San Francisco, California. On its teams, boys and girls work together. Anyone can take up lion dancing, says team member Ananda Tang-Lee, 16. “You have to have confidence that you can do it,” she says.
During the pandemic, LionDanceMe has recorded performances to show online. The group is excited to perform in person again, when it’s safe. “It’s a different performance in real life,” says Isabella Yu, 16. She plays drums, cymbals, and gong. “We bring a lot more than just the performance. We bring energy and excitement, too.”
Lion dancing will likely continue to evolve. But a team’s sense of community will never change. “We call it a family,” Ananda says. “It’s really great, because we always have each other’s backs.”