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The lion dance

Approximate duration: 1–2 lessons


 Key competencies:

  • Using language, symbols and texts
  • Relating to others

 Effective teaching:

  • Creating a supportive learning environment
  • Providing sufficient opportunities to learn

 Links to social inquiry processes:

  • Finding out information
  • Exploring values and perspectives


 Conceptual understandings/learning intentions: Today we are learning that...

  • (Level 2) Chinese New Zealanders express their customs, traditions and values through their own cultural practices.

Why is the lion dance performed during the Chinese lantern festival and how does the lion move?

The teacher shows the students photos and video clips of the lion dance. As a class discuss the following questions:

  • What is the animal in the images?
  • How many people are inside the animal helping it to dance?
  • How do the dancers work together?
  • Why do you think it is a lion and not another animal like a mouse or a goat or a possum? - the lion is an important Chinese totem, the symbol of power, majesty and courage, capable of warding off evil spirits.

Talk about the lion dance and look for evidence in the photos of some of the things below:

  • A well performed lion dance is believed to bring good luck and happiness.
  • Two dancers are inside the lion. One handles the head, made out of strong but light materials like paper-mache and bamboo. The other person moves the body and the tail under a cloth that is attached to the head.
  • Three musicians help the lion dance. One plays a large drum, another plays the cymbals and the third a gong.
  • A little Buddha teases the lion with a fan or a giant ball.
  • The head dancer can move the lion’s eyes, mouth and ears to show its moods.
  • The performers are usually very good at kung fu and every kind of move has a specific musical rhythm.

For more details about the lion dance look here.

The teacher and students make up several simple movement techniques to a steady drum beat. Students practice the movements in pairs. The teacher or a selected student can be the drummer with the “lions” moving around the room.

The teacher explains to the students that in a real lion dance the drummer follows the movements of the lions. The students work in groups of 3 – two dancers and a drummer. Get the two dancers to make up their own movement sequence with the drummer following the moves of the lion.

Extend this idea further by getting students to work in groups of 5 – two lion dancers, a drummer, a cymbal player and a gong player. The drummer follows the moves of the lion. The cymbals and the gong follow the drummer.

Groups can perform their lion dance to the class.

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