China's modern mascot may be the panda. However, the country's emblem, representing the heavenly power of the emperor is the dragon. For over 2,000 years, the dragon has stood as a symbol of deity, and imperial power. The Dragon Dance, accordingly, has been elevated from praying to the gods for rain to expressing people's courage, pride and wisdom.
The Dragon Dance enjoys a vast diversity of models and forms. As a totem of the Chinese nation, among farming communities, it is still heralded as a token of the coming spring rains. It is also danced to drive away ghosts.
The dragons come in various forms, such as the cloth dragon, the grass dragon, the fire dragon and the segment dragon, and the dance varies from form to form. The cloth dragon has a visibly separated head and body, connected by cloth. The longer the dragon is, the more performers are involved. One person leads the dragon, guiding at whim the beast's rise and fall, from rapid undulations to slow ripples. It will alternately seem to fly up to the sky or hide under the ocean, imitating the movement of breaking waves.
The fire dragon takes its name from the candles placed along each section of the dragon body. When performed at night, firecrackers are set off, adding to the fiery surroundings of the sinuous puppet.
The grass dragon, also called "burning incense dragon", is built from rice straw and green vines, with burning incense contained inside it. Deployed during summer nights, the dragon is like a meteor attracting a lot of insects. When the performance is over, the dragon is lowered into a pool to drown the insects.
Usually, the Dragon Dance is performed by many people using stage props. The song and dance end as the stage props come together to form the head and tail of a dragon. The dance ends with the symbolic ascension of the dragon, pervading the audience with its elegance and uniqueness.
(China.org.cn February 13, 2007)