The Art of Southern Lion Dancing

The Fierce and Majestic Art of Southern Lion Dancing
by Sifu Jimmy Wong
taken from Internal Arts Magazine, 1990
The fierce lion of heaven brings the fortunes of good luck, prosperity, and happiness
to all those who are within the sound of his music.
– Old Chinese Proverb

Lion dancing is one of the most remarkable traditional arts depicting dignity, unyielding energy and courage. When the lion roars, all other beasts listen. The Chinese regard the lion as a good omen representing happiness, well-being, and prosperity.

Lion dancing is divided into two types: Northern Lion dancing, also known as Golden Lion, in which the two dancers are clothed in a complete body suit with golden fur, and Southern Lion Dancing, called Awakening Lion, in which the dancers are clothed in a brightly colored costume attached to the heavy paper mache lion’s head and covering the backs of the dancers like a cloak. The Southern dancers also wear brightly colored leggings and decorated shoes representing the lions paws.

History of the Southern Lion:
The Awakening Lion dates back long ago. There was an ancient tale about a wicked beast that came out in the New Year and killed innocent people. In order to defend themselves, people used bamboo rods and paper to make a fierce and colorful lion accompanied by the loud sounds of drums and cymbals to scare the beast away. As generations went by, people began using lion dancing for the New Year and festivals to celebrate as wellas to appeal for peace.

In Kwantung, China, the Fo San (Buddha Mountain) province is famous for its Southern Lion dance costumes and routines. There are five types of lion faces:

1) The seven color lion face has a yellow head, white eyebrows and beard, with three gold coins behind its head. This lion is called “Liu Be” lion, symbolizing good fortune, friendliness, gentleness, and harmony.

2) The red face lion has a black beard and eyebrows, green nose and purple horns. It has a red, black, and green coat and two gold coins behind its head. Red face lion is known as “Kuan Gong” lion, or Awakened lion, symbolizing energy, honor, and loyalty.

3) The black face lion has black eyebrows and a short beard. It has a green nose and horns with one gold coin behind its head covered with a black/white coat. Black face lion is called “Zhang Fei” lion, symbolizing bravery, fierceness, hot temper, a lion likely to make trouble for a good cause.

4) The yellow face lion has a silver beard is known as “Huang Chun” lion, symbolizing experience and knowledge.

5) The green face lion, known as “Chao Yun” lion, symbolizes fighting.

Lion Dancing is Kungfu:

To perform Southern lion, one has to pay special attention to the waist, horse stance, leg kicking, and lively kungfu-style jumps. Dancers must illustrate how the lion comes out of its cave, passes over a bridge, plays with a ball, knocks on doors, and climbs stairs. The lion dancers have to be highly skillful in their positioning, steps, and turnings. The dancers’ legs and arms must be strong to withstand the rigorous steps and deep stances while supporting the heavy costume. Only the dancers with impeccable kungfu stances and power can make a winning team.

The dancers have to be careful in following the many traditions and customs of lion dancing. Examples are when passing a Buddhist temple. The lion must stop and bow three times; on happy occasions, the lion must go into homes and congratulate the family; the lion must keep the drum quiet whe passing by a funeral; when two lions meet, they must bow to each other then let each other pass; if a dragon and a lion meet, this means peace in the world, and the dragon and lion therefore dance to celebrate peace on earth.

“Cai-qing” (plucking or getting the green) is a special program of Southern lion dancing. The meaning behind Cai-qing was to resist the Ching Dynasty and restore the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays, people use green lettuce with “hong bao” (lucky money in a red packet) in it to represent luck in making money. Cai-qing must be experienced in kungfu, good reflexes, and great knowledge. Types of Cai-qing include: high rise, bottom of a bridge, a crab, passing the poisonous snake, baqua (eight triagram) barricade, etc. There are also different ways of playingthe drum; each has its own style and characteristics.

Southern lion dancing has a close relationship with Buddhism. Before the lion performs its first dance, it has a ceremony for its birth. This ceremony involves every member of the lion dancing team. A highly respected elder will lead the members in paying hommage tho the Buddha and will be responsible for lighting and bringing life to the lion’s eyes, nose, horn, ears, body, and legs. There will also be gold flowers and leaves on the lion’s head. Whenever the lion group is ready to dance, they have to perform a mantra-type ceremony for good luck. The Southern lion is almost always accompanied by a dancer in a paper mache mask representing a smiling monk who leads the team.

Today there is a growing interest in lion dancing as a sport by many American, European, and Asian kungfu schools. Competitions are being held around the world for lion dance teams.

About the Author:
Sifu Jimmy Wong is the founder of the America Chin Woo Athletic Association, based in Dallas, Texas.

Events Front Videos

Video: Trammel Crow Museum Show

Students of JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi Academy performing kung fu, tai chi, and lion and dragon dance at the Trammel Crow Museum of Asian Arts in downtown Dallas.

The JK Wong Lion and Dragon Dance Team is available to perform in a variety of occasions such as festivals, grand openings, weddings, diversity days, and other events.

For more information, please contact us by phone or email.


About JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi Academy
The JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi Academy offers classes in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, Wu (Hao) Tai Chi, Lion Dance, and Dragon dance. The JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi Academy is conveniently located in Richardson, Texas.

Video Production by Leon Truong.

Blog Front

Lui Wei Chang’s Take on Tan Tui

This is Part II of our series on Tan Tui. Click here for Part I of Tan Tui series.

Lui Wei Chang’s Take on Tan Tui
By Jimmy K. Wong and Patty Sun

Mr. Lu Wei Change, one of the 3 members who reopened the Chin Woo school following Grandmaster Huo Yuan Jia’s passing, emphasized the importance of Tan Tui in history books based on his own experienced. Mr. Lu was very weak when he was young, and often became sick easily. However, after 10 years of training the Tan Tui, he became strong and was even able to help protect the country.

In the beginning, his family discouraged him from training Tan Tui, telling him it was a waste of time. He refused to take their advice and instead trained very seriously for the next 10 years. Not only did he become strong, but he learned discipline and gained much wisdom. He became very alert and was able to “see” things better.

Mr. Lu noted how his first 3 days of training were the toughest. He was very sore and tired, and his family discouraged him from continuing. He refused to listened and continued to train even more seriously despite the pain. After 2 weeks of continuous training, he felt his energy become very strong. Curious, he asked his teach why this was. The teacher told him that his old weak muscles had been replenished by the new energized muscles and that was why he became stronger.

Mr. Lu did not fall sick as much as before, and his appetite improved. He not only started to develop stronger muscles, but his lungs also grew stronger, and he felt high in spirit. During his training, he found that he used a lot of force from the waist, and that he had to use his mind to control the waist and in turn to move his legs and hands simultaneously. This was the “spring” in Tan Tui. He also found his coordination improving, and therefore he was more alert – not just in training, but even in his everyday work.

Check back next week for our next for Part III of our Tan Tui series.

About JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi AcademyThe JK Wong Kung Fu Tai Chi Academy is a martial arts school located in Richardson, Texas. Our kung fu school offers kids and adult martial arts classes in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, Wu (Hao) Tai Chi, and performs Lion Dance and Dragon Dances in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex and cities within Texas.

Events Front News

Wushu Broadsword Workshop II

Announcing: Group Wushu Broadsword Workshop, Part II
Taught by Sihing Mukund Ramesh
Saturday September 21, 2:00pm-3:30pm
Price: $25

This workshop will be a continuation of the form taught in June. The session will be geared towards those who already learned Part I of the form.

Now that the students have had experience working with a broadsword, we will be able to teach the form much more quickly. We plan on making significant progress learning the form in this workshop. Please plan on attending if you wish to be a part of the performance team during the upcoming Lunar New Year performances.

We will be reviewing Part I of this form during this Saturday’s class, so please plan on coming to train.

Please sign your name on the sign-up sheet at the Academy if you plan on taking the workshop.


Notes from Part I:
In this workshop, we will teach a Group Wushu Broadsword Form.

Everyone is eligible to take this workshop, but the younger students will likely have a much harder time learning this form. The form will be taught relatively quickly, and students’ outside practice is expected. We plan on making a team of 4 or 6 students and turning this into a performance form which can be done during Lunar New Year shows and even in competition.

If you wish to take this workshop, you will need to have your own Wushu Broadsword. Our school carries adult sizes, but Kid sizes will need to be bought online.

The sword should be approximately one arm’s length; i.e. the length from the fingertips to the torso when measured under the arm when sticking out to the side. If you need help sizing yourself or your kids, please ask an instructor for help.

Here is a link to buy the sword.

We recommend not purchasing the “Super Grip.” It is better to buy a ‘not too sticky’ tennis racket grip and wrap the sword handle yourself. For more information, please talk to an instructor.

We will have a sign up sheet in class to see who is interested in taking the seminar.


The 10 Forms of Chin Woo

The Ten Chin Woo Forms

  1. TANTUI (Springing Legs)
  2. GONG LI QUAN (Strength Boxing)
  3. DA ZHAN QUAN (Big Fighting)
  4. JIE QUAN (Connecting Fist)
  5. BA GUA DAO (8 Diagram Broadsword)
  6. QUN YANG GUN (Sheep Flocking Pole)
  7. WU HU QIANG (5 Tiger Spear)
  8. TAO QUAN (Combination Fighting Sets)
  9. JIE TAN TUI (Springing Legs Applications)
  10. DAN DAO CHUAN QIANG (Single Broadsword versus Spear)

Lion and Dragon Dance Drumming

When the Lion or Dragon performs its routines, it is accompanied by a Chinese Drum and a set of cymbal players. The Lion’s movements are choreographed to the music of the drum and cymbals.

The drummer is important in that he or she sets the rhythm for the lion and dictates the movements that the lion will perform.

The cymbal players stand on either side of the drummer and face towards the same direction of the drummer, who always keeps a watchful eye on the Lion.

The music of the performance is arranged in different patterns that the dancers must be very familiar with and be able to follow. Each pattern signifies certain movements and with each beat, the drummer can communicate to the lion or dragon as to which movement to do. The lion and dragon can communicate to the drummer by making subtle gestures since they cannot give audible signals to the drummer. With all elements in play, the performance displays a high degree of orchestration and effective story-telling.

The drum is made of a heavy wood shell covered with dried buffalo skin stretched over the top and pinned into the sides of the upper rim. Inside the drum are metal coils that provide resonance to enhance the deep sound of the drum.


Why We Practice Tan Tui

Chin Woo’s Springing Legs
By Jimmy K. Wong and Patty Sun

Tan Tui, or “Springing Legs”, is a famous fist form that came from the northern part of China. Practitioners can learn different kinds of fighting methods and train their steps to become stable. Tan Tui was selected as the basic kung fu lession for learning advanced level kung fu. It covered the basic training for hands, eyesight, movement, and steps to develop strength and agility. After completing the 12 basic subroutines, further study of different sets of kung fu can be made depending on personal preference and ability.


Tan Tui is the very first of the ten fundamental sets of the Chin Woo routines. It is used by Chin woo as a beginner routine to improve stances and stamina and to perfect punching basics. Tan Tui is said to be named after the Long Tan Temple of Shandong province. It is famour for its unique feature of kicking, which is the chun tui (inch kick). In fact, this routine is a classic example of a typical Northern-style noutine, which places much emphasis on the art of kicking.

Tan Tui is performed with broad stances and is majestic in style. The moves may look simple but in truth contain numerous subtle changes. Each step of the routine is clear-cut and rhythmic, requiring a smooth and continuous display coupled with a well-controlled release of strength. It demands not only stability in stance but also agility in movement and precise articulations. Therefore, hand-eye-body coordination becomes a critical requirement when practicing Tan Tui.

The Tan Tui taught by Chin Woo has twelve subroutines, and each subroutine contains, on average, three combinations of punches and kicks. The twelve subroutines are repeated alternately right and left in an orderly manner. One can practice Tan Tui alone or by sparring with a partner. The sparring routine is known as Jie Tan Tui (Springing Legs Applications) and is particularly good for exercising agility, sharpening the senses, improving combat skills and increasing comprehension of the practical use of each step.

The name of the twelve subroutines are:
1. Chong Cui (Strong Blwo)
2. Shi Zhi Tui (Cross Kicks)
3. Pi Za (Spread and Hit)
4. Zhang Cha (Support and Pierce)
5. Jie Da (Block and Hit)
6. Xuang Zhan (Double Spread)
7. Dan Zhan (Single Spread)
8. Deng Chuai (Tread)
9. Peng Suo (Knock and Lock)
10. Jian Dan (Arrow Kick)
11. Gou Gua (Hook and Lift)
12. Pi Shen (Spread Body)

Check back next week for our next for Part II of our Tan Tui series.