Legend has it that on the eve of every Chinese New Year (CNY), an unknown animal would destroy the fields, crops and animals belonging to the farmers of a village in China. Villagers could not identify the beast and decided to name it Nian, which meant, “year” in Chinese.

The situation was such that villagers made a model of the animal out of bamboo and paper accompanied by the loud beating of instruments to stop damages within the village.

However, there are many versions of this tale. Someone believed that villagers made a model of a lion out of bamboo. As they discovered that Nian was afraid of lions and accompanied by the loud beating of pots and pans.

Villagers would wait patiently for the eve of CNY to drive the Nian away with their methods. Hence, the born of “Lion Dance” that is practice till today, in fact, performed annually on CNY with drums, cymbals and gongs.

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In fact, in Singapore, we don’t just perform Lion Dance during CNY but also for opening ceremonies, welcoming of important persons and other occasions.So yes, if you knew about the Nian legend, you are probably local. This legend is a common story told in schools during Chinese New Year celebration. Today, many schools in Singapore even adopt Lion Dance as a CCA. Core curriculum activity, meaning everybody has to learn it.

You must probably be wondering, what exactly is this Lion Dance?

Well, the dance requires two persons, one to manipulate the paper-mache head of a lion and another to act as its hind legs – both are joined by a colourful cloth body.

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Not only does this dance require a lot of stamina, strength and coordination. The chemistry between the two persons has to be in sync. Growing up, watching lion dance has been a common scene. Normally the troupe would arrive in a lorry filled with players hitting the cymbals and drums, loud enough to wake you up from your deep sleep. Interestingly, every gesture from the lifting of a leg to the fluttering of an eyelid is choreographed to a particular beat in the music.

Apart from the acrobatic act that would involve steps and poles, the “lion” would distribute hongbao (red packets) or just sweets for the case of a school setting. As the dance gains popularity over the years, more and more challenging task is performed to continue providing entertainment.

So if you are in town during CNY period, be sure to catch the lion dance performance, as they would be performing non-stop. Apart from chasing the Nian away, it is believed to bring good fortune and wealth!

And that’s a culture bite from me!

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