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Mt. Lebanon Public Library

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The Lion Dance Origins and History


Join Chris Young, owner of Gong Lung or Steel Dragon, a martial arts and lion dance studio in Ice House Studios in Lawrenceville, for an introduction into the origin and history of the Lion Dance. Chris teaches the Lion Dance to students in the Pittsburgh area. Young was introduced to the dance as a child in northern California. While shopping in San Francisco's Chinatown, Young often saw lion dances and developed a love for the art from as early as age 3 or 4.  Chris Young has been engaged in martial arts or gymnastics for nearly his entire life. He has over 20 years of Chinese martial arts experience in several styles. He started teaching over 10 years ago. While he teaches, Chris continues to train and improve his own kung fu and lion dance knowledge as well and studies Xing-Yi and Bagua in addition to Baiyuan Tongbei, Ying Jow Keun and Wu Tai Chi. He is a disciple of Master Zhang Yun of the Yin Cheng Gong Fa Kung Fu family, originally of Beijing, and his lion dance mentor is Corey Chan of San Francisco. Outside of the martial arts, Chris was also a Commissioner on the PA Governor's Advisory Commission for Asian American Affairs and the board of the National Association of Asian American Professionals - Pittsburgh Chapter.

The lion dance has a continuous history of over one thousand years, and its origins may reach back more than two thousand years. Many stories surround the lion dance and its origins. One of the more popular ones is that an Emperor of China had a dream where a creature resembling a lion saved his life from evil spirits. When he woke he declared the lion a symbol of good fortune. However, since lions are not native to China, artisans had no idea what they look like. As a result, they fashioned an animal with the attributes of other fortunate creatures: the dragon, the phoenix and the dog.

There is perhaps no art that encompasses Chinese culture, history and philosophy more comprehensively than lion dance. Over its long history, lion dance has incorporated elements of Chinese opera, classics of Chinese literature, Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian philosophies, Five Element theory, all sorts of varieties of symbolism from Chinese (and most specifically Cantonese) society, and Chinese martial arts.

The lion dance is now an integral part of not just Chinese culture, but of many Southeast Asian cultures such as Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. In fact, the most famous teams are probably from Malaysia.

There are many aspects to lion dance today, and lion dance has performed a number of different roles over history. For instance, lion dance was used to raise money and facilitate communication by revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Ch'ing, or Manchu, Dynasty. Today, a lion dance can perform many types of purposes, including ceremonial, entertaining, competitive or some combination.

The lion dance is used in ceremonies ranging from the more formal and solemn to the more informal and joyous. Either way, the lion's purpose is to bring good fortune and to drive away any malevolent spirits that might be hanging around. The lion is almost always associated with auspicious acts and events, and must obey certain rules of propriety. These types of events can include house and business blessings, weddings, and other joyous occasions. Lion dance is used to open up a New Year, so it is commonly seen in Chinatowns throughout the country during Chinese New Year celebrations.

A lion dance can also be used to tell a story and simply entertain. Often, there are one or more other characters who interact with the lion, and in fact there can be more than one lion in a performance. These stories are always uplifting and resolved positively, in keeping with the positive nature of the lion. There is no such thing as a lion dance tragedy! Finally, there are various forms of lion dance competition. Malaysia in recent years has dominated this sport, which is often performed on poles reaching up to 12 feet high.

A lion dance typically revolves around a cheng, or puzzle. The cheng sets up the challenge that the lion has to solve according to rules and protocols of lion dance. Often, the chengs have specific purposes or meanings. For instance, "Auspicious Lion Welcomes the Bride" is for bringing blessings upon a marriage and "Drunken Lion" celebrates the togetherness of strong friendship. Some chengs are designed to rid the sponsor of bad fortune as well. Sometimes chengs are just performed for entertainment outside of their particular meanings. In any case, there are hundreds of chengs and sometimes new ones are even created. Often different props such as swords, daggers and spears are used. Additionally, tight ropes, benches, tables and other items may be used as barriers or platforms for the lion. There are a lot of variations, and each team may have a little bit of different ways of solving a cheng. So, lion dance isn't just one standard routine. There are many different lion dance performances and styles you may see that are different of each other. The important thing is that protocols are followed and the chengs are solved correctly. -Gong Lung

This event is sponsored by the Friends of Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

This will be conducted via the free video conferencing software Zoom and a Library staff member will be supervising the session.  The Librarian coordinating the event will email each registrant a Zoom meeting invitation before the start of the program.  Zoom is available as a free desktop (for Windows, MacOS, and Linux Operating systems) and mobile application for Android and Apple iOS devices. Once Zoom is installed, you will be able to join the virtual Library program.

Registration is required.  By registering for this event you have agreed to comply with the library's patron behavior policy. All non-compliant participants will be immediately and permanently blocked from further participation.  Because the Librarian facilitating the event will not be able to provide live technical support during the virtual program, it is strongly encouraged you familiarize yourself with Zoom in advance of the program. You can also contact the Library’s Virtual Reference Service for assistance learning Zoom.  You can also join a test meeting to familiarize yourself with Zoom. For more in-depth instructions please visit the Zoom support page on joining a meeting.

Tuesday Jun 15, 2021  - Tuesday Jun 15, 2021

7:00 PM  -  8:30 PM

Mt. Lebanon Public Library    412-531-1912    events@mtlebanonlibrary.org


The registration period has ended.