The Different Styles of Chinese Lion Dancing

By Sifu Tony Shiu of the West Coast Lion Dance Troupe

There are three different styles of Chinese Lion dancing. The first is the northern style, which is, in a way, similar to a routine dance set. The head and tail move as one. They both move step for step in sync with the music, just like a ballerinas do when performing their show. The northern Lion is also known as the Peking Lion, which is not seen quite so often. It is actually a uniform the dancers must fit into, which makes them as one because there is only a arm's length of distance between the head and the tail.

The southern style is the second. This style is seen more often because of it's popularity. There are two types: the Old and the Young. The older adult lions will have a long white beard and are very colorful. The multi-colored lion heads are senior of all the Lions. He will usually serve as the trademark of an older or more established school. The younger lions will sport a short black colored beard and fur, and is used more often by a school which does not have a long standing in the community. The black Lion is the most aggressive out of all the Lions and is always looking for a fight so he can show that he is the meanest around. He will shake his head with vitality whenever he meets up with an older Lion and will usually try to provoke the adult Lion. But the adult Lion is more docile, more wiser, and knows exactly how to show the youngster the meaning of respect.

The third is the southern style lion dancing in a northern way. This is a fairly new type of Lion dancing. This style is used a lot in Lion Dance competitions, which are held all around the world. The southern/northern style made its way to the United States in the late 1980's. The dancers must practice often with each other so that they both get to know the timings of each and every movement that will be made during the show. They must gain the trust of their partner. With this style, the tailman is very important and must be very strong. He must be able to support the other main person, the headman, who will be jump up and land on top of the tailman's leg, hip, or shoulders. The tail of these Lions are much shorter than the southern Lion, but are longer than the northern Lion. The dancers also wear pants that matches the tail.

The southern style dancing in a northern way is being used widely all around the world. Today, just about every Lion Dance school is using this style when performing, including the West Coast Lion Dance Troupe.

How Lion Heads Are Made

The Chinese Lion Heads are all individually handmade by skilled craftsmen. The making of a Lion Head takes many long hours to complete. The heads are made of wood, thin cloth, and paper mache. The craftsman must first make the frame of the head out of wood tied together with strips of bamboo. When the frame is completed, the next step is to cover and form it into a shell with a layer of durable paper, which is secured to the frame by a paste type glue known as paper mache. Then very thin cloth is used for the next layer, followed by more layers of paper mache. Once the shell is dry, a base coat of paint is applied. Then the fluorescent and glossy paints are hand painted on to what now looks more like a Lion Head. After the paint has dried, clear paint or shellac is brushed on to give the head a very shiny appearance. This also keeps the paint from running if it gets wet and prolongs it's strenth and durability. Finally, the fur, eyes, eye lids, ears, mouth, pom pom balls, and mirror is put on, resulting in the final product: the Lion Head.

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at
Back to the West Coast Lion Dance Troupe home page.