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The dragon dance

Approximate duration: 2 lessons


Key competencies:

  • Managing self
  • Relating to others
  • Participating and contributing

Effective teaching:

  • Facilitating shared learning
  • 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 4) Chinese New Zealanders and other New Zealand cultural groups pass on and sustain their culture and heritage in different ways and for different reasons.

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

The teacher shows the students photos of the dragon dance. As a class discuss the following questions:

  • Why use a dragon as the creature of the dance?
  • What special qualities might the dancing dragon bring?
  • Why do you think the Chinese emperors from ancient times told their people they were incarnations of real dragons?
  • What do you need to make a dancing dragon?
  • Several features of other animals are combined in a dragon. What other creatures might be part of the dragon?
  • How many people are inside the animal helping it to dance?
  • How do the dancers work together?

Talk about the dragon dance and look for evidence in the dragon photos for these characteristics of the dragon dance.

Split the students into dragon teams. Begin with very small teams – 3 or 4 members. Ask each team to work out a sequence of six moves involving steps and leaps that can be forwards, backwards or sideways. Explain that they must co-ordinate their movements and move in a steady rhythm. It may be a good idea to assign a choreographer for each group.

Give time for rehearsals and then beat the drum. Start with six slow and even beats and then try a faster sequence. Get each group to add another four movements to their dance and then once again add the beats. Now get each group to work on a final movement – a grand step that will bring their dance to a close. Give one or more dancers (or the choreographer) a drum to keep their own beat. Each group needs to rehearse their dance and then perform it to the class.

The teacher and students select one of the dances for a whole class dragon dance. Decide on a choreographer and drummers and give it a go.

The teacher may want to share the following information with students:

  • The size and length of a dragon depends on the human power available as well as the skill and space available for the dance.
  • The dragon’s length ranges from 7 sections to 13 sections long but some dragons are as long as 46 sections.
  • The normal length and size of the body is 34 metres and it is divided into 9 sections.

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