Chinese folk dancing is a long, rich tradition that is not easily classified. There are literally hundreds of different styles of folk dances, which vary greatly from region to region across China. Most of the dances have ancient historical connections, many of them with nature, work, the weather and agriculture. Dancing was an important aspect of the community historically, so the dances reflect this communal feature of Chinese culture.
Many of the Chinese folk dances stem from the dozens of ethnic minority groups within the Middle Kingdom; for example, Axi Dancing to the Moon, which is a famous dance of the Yi ethnic group of Yunnan Province. In this group dance, male participants play stringed instruments or bamboo flutes, while their female counterparts join them in a playful dancing style with swinging arms and flowing turns, not unlike an American square dance.
Other folk dances trace their roots to specific dynasties or emperors, such as the Lion Dance, which is one of the most well known Chinese dances and dates to the reign of Emperor Shun during the Han Dynasty. Lion dancers wear brightly colored costumes consisting of large paper mache lion heads that are painted and adorned with fringe and fur. Lion dances are extremely energetic, with dancers doing leaps and jumps and sometimes performing acrobatic tricks and gymnastic feats. Lion dances are usually accompanied by banging cymbals and pounding drums and are performed during many Chinese festivals, such as Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Some of the most unique dance traditions to be seen in China are the stilt dances of Liaoning Province. For this, dancers costumed in gaping colorful trousers and impish masks skilfully swing and stomp on stilts to tell a lively story. Because of the dances’ vigorous characters, they are usually performed outdoors in a large open space, and are both charming and captivating to watch.
Folk dancing in China is vast and the types and traditions of dances that exist are widely eclectic. Some are performed for seasonal rites or harvest time, while others center on life changes and religious beliefs. Nowadays, Chinese dance has become popular the world over, and folk dancing troupes travel widely, spreading the beauty and historic charisma of Chinese folk dance.