Snow Lions And Unicorns: What Lion Dances Look Like In Different Parts Of The World

So different, yet so beautiful.

Cover image via Japan Update , Bincent Booooo/Blogspot ,

The lion dance is a tradition to commemorate the defeat of 'Nian', a mythical beast that came to attack villages in China every new year

According to ancient Chinese legend, when the villagers in China learned that the beast was afraid of loud noises and the colour red, they painted their houses red and put up firecrackers on every first day of the lunar calendar. The news spread, and everyone commanded the ways of defending against the beast.

The lion dance is performed to tell the origin story of Chinese New Year and celebrate the festivity.

It is believed that the lion dance will bring good luck and fortune to the premise where it is performed, which explains why the lion dance is often performed on important occasions such as weddings and business opening ceremonies.

While we Malaysians are familiar with the yellow-red-costumed lion dance, we are also the one who popularised the acrobatic lion dance on poles

The acrobatic lion dance on poles is called High Pole Lion Dance.

It's a Muar-born tradition and has been recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), according to theSundaily.

The Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance troupe performing at Mid Valley Megamall.

Image via New Straits Times
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Image via Sheng Wai

However, do you know that the Chinese communities around the world have lion dances of their own?

All of them have a distinctive style. In some cultures, the lion dance is also performed outside of new year celebrations.

Below is a list of how the lion dance looks like in five different countries:

1. Japan

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Known in Japanese as 'shishimai', the lion dance is performed during Kanegusuku Shishimai Festival, which falls on the full moon of every September, according to local travel site Okinawa Information.

It is believed that the dance can cast away evil spirits and it is performed with high energy and elegance. Instead of dancing to drums, shishimai is performed to folk songs played from a sanshin, a three-string musical instrument.

Furthermore, Japan Update noted that the style of dancing and design of the lion differs from other regions. It is also performed during religious Shinto festivals.

2. Korea

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The lion dance in Korea is called the 'bukcheong lion dance'.

According to, the lion dance is commonly catogerised as a folk play, whereby the lion will dance to jaunty melodies played on a six-holed bamboo recorder, called a tungso.

Unlike lion dances in other regions, the bukcheong lion dance is not patriarchal in nature as it is danced along with two women, called the geosa dance. The performance is also joined by a masked person, called the hunchback's dance, as well as a dance with children on adults' shoulders.

Not only is the dance is meant to ward off bad luck, it also acts as a prayer for a bountiful harvest and prosperity for the villages when it is performed during the first lunar month.

3. Tibet

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The 'snow lion dance', or known locally as Singi Chham, is a lion dance in the Ladakh region, the mountainous region in the north of India, Tibet, Xinjiang (China), and the north of Pakistan.

According to a Kickstarter project webpage, which aimed to help Tibetan youths preserve the snow lion dance tradition while raising money to purchase lion dance costumes, the dance tells the story of a family of lions and a famished man.

In the story, the lions came to offer a man milk as he was mediating in hunger. The man restored his physical health after that. The dance is to commemorate the relationship between humans and nature.

The Off, a Himalayan travel site, wrote that the snow lion is a mythical creature that exemplifies enlightenment and fearlessness. It is learned that a snow lion dance costume weighs up to 20kg.

A black costumed yak dances along with the snow lions during the performance too. There is also a standalone yak performance, which is aptly called the 'yak dance'.

The yak dance.

Image via Tibetan Review

4. Indonesia

The 'Barong dance' is a famous lion dance of the tourist-loved island, Bali, Indonesia.

According to Indonesia national travel site Wonderful Indonesia, the Barong dance is often performed during ritual ceremonies and the dance is a classic portrayal of 'good versus bad'.

In Balinese mythology, Barong is a prominent character taken the form of a lion. It is the King of the Spirits and is deemed as a guardian angel. During the performance, Barong faces up with the Queen of Demons, named Rangda, which in Javanese means 'widow'.

The Barong costume is covered in white thick fur, adorned with gold jewellery and pieces of mirrors. Just like the Chinese lion dance, the Barong dance requires two people dancing in synchronisation to portray the lion in action.

5. Vietnam

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There are two kinds of lion dances in Vietnam, reported Cinet.

In the northern Vietnam, it is called the lion dance, while the southern Vietnam, it is called the unicorn dance.

The lion dance is performed during 15th day of the eight month of the Lunar Year, some time around autumn. The lions come out at dusk along with a group of young performers who hold lanterns suspended on long poles. The lanterns take the shape of various animals like rabbits, dragons, and fish.

As for the unicorn dance, it is performed during the Tet holidays, which falls on the same day as Chinese New Year. The dance revolves around men taking turns to handle the unicorns and they do not cross each other's territory during the performance. They dance to drums and cymbals.

Stylistically, the Vietnamese lion or unicorn dance is very similar to the lion dance in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Aquaria KLCC performed an underwater dragon dance this year:

Here are some stories to help you prepare for Chinese New Year:

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