Dragons are one of the most powerful symbols in all of Chinese culture. Thought to be benevolent, auspicious beings and the masters of rain, many Chinese hold to the belief that they are descended from dragons. Images of the dragon date back to ancient China, when they were primitive forms of several animals, including the bull, tiger, stag, rabbit, serpent and fish mixed together. These features allowed the dragon to move through water, land and air and gave him command over the weather.
The dragon dance is a traditional performance included in many Chinese festivities, not the least of which is Chinese New Year. The dance is executed by a group of performers that each hold sections of the dragon and manipulate him to undulate, bounce and move. The dragon itself is a long serpent-like body traditionally made from bamboo and wood, though today most dragons are composed of plastic or aluminium. The body is divided into sections that are upheld with long sticks or poles that the performers hold and use to bring life to the body during the dance. The dragon’s head and tail are connected to the body and are the most active during the dragon dance. The longer the dragon, the luckier he is, so most dragon dance dragons are at least 100 feet long, and sometimes much longer!
Dance dragons come in several auspicious colors. As one of the most popular colors selected for dragons, green represents a great harvest. Red stands for the excitement of the dragon itself, golden or silver both represent prosperity and yellow symbolizes the formal kingdom. The dragon’s tail and scales are typically adorned in silvery colors that constantly gleam and glitter as the dragon moves, enhancing the feeling of cheer and merriment inherent to the dragon dance.
Dragon dances can be performed at night or during the day and are accompanied by pounding drums and clanging symbols, which help the dragon ward off evil spirits. If performed at night, the dragon is led by a torch, providing a bright and exciting guide for the tingling dance.