Here Comes the Fire Rooster: lion dance at the Heathrow

Happy New year! 恭喜发财! The Lunar New Year, aka Chinese New Year, took place on the 28th of January. This year marks the year of the Fire Rooster. Lion dancing is a traditional form of celebration, which usually happens for the New Year, and special occasions such as weddings and birthdays. This year I got to participate in a lion dance, as a percussionist, at the Heathrow Airport.

The Lions

There are two types of lions: Northern lions and Southern lions, originated from the North and South of China respectively.  The Northern lion resembles the Chinese dog Pekingese, which is more shaggy looking. The head of the lion was traditionally made of bamboo painted in gold. The whole lion tends to be yellow, orange and red in colour to signify good fortune.

Whereas the Southern lions are smaller in size and more delicate in appearance. They can come in many different colours: black, red, green… (I will write about Southern lions in a later article, keep your eyes peeled).

The type we used was the Northern lion, from my hometown area of China. Lion dancing is performed by two people, one as the head, the other as the tail. It requires incredible coordination between two people. It is often only performed by martial art schools by the best Kunfu masters. The best of the best can nimbly jump between pillars elevated a few meters above the ground. The dance style we adopted was less about kungfu, but more showy, known as the ‘civil lion dance’.

The lion grooming himself

Surprise! Yes, the lion was performed by a non-Chinese dancer. Ready for more surprise? Rory only had one day of intensive lessons, now he is a fully-fledged lion dancer. And let me assure you, he was very good.


The Music

It would not be called a dance without some accompanying music. Four main types of Chinese instruments are used: a drum, cymbals, a big gong, and a small gong. The drum and the cymbals are the core elements. So here we were, my opera friend and I were the percussionists for the day.

The perfusionists are often required to wear clothes matching the lion

My friend and I have been the golden partners for many Chinese opera performances (posts to follow soon). We have acted together many times and have been very close friends. We were only too happy to be able to do the percussion together. She has given me permission to use the photos, but would like me to block her face. So her wish was respected, but I can tell you that she is a very pretty lady.

The guy in the middle is in fact our instructor: Mr Wan. Let me tell you a bit more about him. He studied music composition and can play many instruments, ranging from Western ones to the ancient Chinese instruments. His personal collection of instruments amounts to over forty pieces. He is also an avid lion dancer. On the day, he was called to play the ‘Money God’, so he instructed Rory to be the lion head.  There was also the tail, in case you wonder, but unfortunately I couldn’t obtain any good photos.

Well, here is something for you. If you would like to hire us to do the lion dance for you for any occasions, then get in touch. More photos from this year’s performance will follow. Happy New Year!