About the Lion Dance Troupe
Founded in 1983, hailed as "one of the five most prestigious performing ensembles in the state of Michigan" by the Michigan Council for the Arts, the Award-winning Asian Martial Arts Lion Dance Troupe is made up of members chosen from within the kung-fu program. Along with regular martial arts training, they join special weekly classes in the art of Chinese lion dance. It must be noted that Chinese lion dancing is an extension of the Chinese martial arts, and traditionally is always performed by martial artists. The dancers go through extensive training in the many intricate steps and body movements that form the basis of the lion dance, as well as the use of various percussion instruments and their traditional rhythms which accompany the dance.
Kung-fu members interested in participating in the Lion Dance troupe are encouraged to talk with their instructors.
People interested in scheduled performances of the Lion Dance Troupe should call the dojo at (734) 994-3620.
About The Lion Dance
Chinese Lion Dancing has two traditions, the Northern style and the older Southern style. At the Asian Martial Arts Studio of Ann Arbor, we perform the Classical Chinese Lion Dance of the Southern Style. Although the lion is not native to China, Buddhists and many others use it to represent courage, energy and wisdom. In this context the Chinese consider the lion to be a peaceful creature, unlike the fierce tiger which is native to the middle kingdom.
The Narrative of the Lion Dance
The Lion Dance begins in a cave, behind a closed portal, with a sleeping lion. An overweight Buddhist monk enters, looks around and prepares the shrine. He lights a lantern, opens the portal's double doors, sweeps away the dust and leaves, and lights candles and incense burners. He wakens the lion with a drum and gong and they play. Eventually the monk tries to entice the lion to pray before the altar, but the lion has other plans. When the lion gets bored, the monk teases him with some greens, which makes the lion angry, so he subsequently bites the monk. The lion then takes the greens from the monk and eats them. Sometimes additional greens are hung out of the lion's reach. Three times the lion disperses the greens onto the audience, giving them the blessings of wealth and good fortune. After a nap, the lion is ready to play again, but the monk has left, leaving the lion to dance by himself before backing into the cave.
The lion supposedly possesses mystical properties: When paired with the five colors (yellow, black, green, red and white) as the costume is colored, it is said to have control over the five cardinal directions. The costume is composed of many symbolic shapes. The bird-shaped horn represents the phoenix. The ears and tail are of the unicorn. The protruding forehead, adorned with a mirror which deflects evil forces, and the long beard are characteristic of Asian dragons. The lion walks back and forth, in a zigzag path, in order to confuse evil spirits, which the Chinese believe move in straight lines. Finally, the act of eating and dispersing of the greens symbolizes the distribution of wealth and good fortune to all those present. These symbols combine to cure sickness, bless marriages and guard against misfortune.
The southern style Lion Dance has become an extension of the Chinese Martial spirit, and is always performed by students of Kung Fu. Following the Lion Dance, you will see forms, or choreographed routines, performed by the Lion Dancers. The early martial artists, studying in Buddhist temples, imitated the fighting styles of the animals in nature that they observed such as the tiger and the crane, the primary styles taught at the AMAS. Other styles include the leopard, praying mantis, eagle, snake and dragon. The forms you will see imitate the movements and characteristics of these animals.
The Chinese consider the lion dance to be a vehicle for dispensing all the good blessings of heaven to the whole community. It is done not only during the New Year's celebration but also on auspicious occasions, and represents the hopes and aspirations of the Chinese people for all the good things life holds.
The lion dance is an extension of the Chinese martial arts and is always performed by martial artists. All the movements of the Lion are based on stances and positions from the Kung Fu taught at AMAS. Lion dancing develops strength, flexibility and endurance as well as the ability to work in team and overcome obstacles through group effort. Not only do the performers display strength, coordination, agility and endurance, they also exemplify the martial spirit in the "Ssu-wei", or the four basic supports of a State: "li," or decorum; :"i,, uprightness of mind (morality); "lien," honesty; and "chih," a sense of honor.