Every Chinese New Year a mythological figure takes over the streets of Lima. The legendary dragon comes to life thanks to a group of dancers, who manipulate a puppet to simulate the undulating, agile and elegant movements of this mythical being that is believed to drive away evil spirits to bring prosperity and good luck to those present.
The dragon dance usually consists of at least 11 dancers: ten to control the figure’s body using poles placed at regular intervals, and one to move the pearla sphere that is chased by the dragon and that represents wisdom.
The origins of the dragon dance go way back in Chinese history. According to Dr. Patricia Castro Obanto, we began to see this mythological figure from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), where this activity was a ritual dance used to worship ancestors and ask for rain for crops. Later, In the Tang (690-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, the dance became a cultural event, linked to the Royal House, but also very popular among peasants thanks to its relationship with the crops.
More difficult to specify when this dance began to be performed in Peru. The historian Miguel Situ pointed out that, although this activity probably arrived with the Chinese migration to our country in the mid-nineteenth century, it was not until the third decade of the 20th century that we see evidence of its practice in Chinese community magazines and newspapers of the time. By 1971, the dragon dance was already enjoyed throughout the capital, with El Comercio reporting in July of that year an imposing oriental allegorical parade with a dragon more than 25 meters long that toured the center of the city.
It should be noted that not all dragon dances are the same. “It is not possible to make a generalization and say that the dragon is like that, because its characteristics change from town to town in China and through time, which also leads to aesthetic differences in the dance.”, indicated to Trade Dr. Castro Obando. “What does not change is its role, since the dragon has to open and close the activities of the Chinese New Year”, he emphasized.
Nor should we think that the dragon’s movements are random. These follow established choreographies with names such as “moon cave” or “the dragon chasing the pearl”, which are guided by the rhythm marked by the musical instruments that accompany them, such as the gong and the cymbal.
The dragon dance is usually accompanied by the lion dance, to the point that it is frequently confused by those who do not know the subject. LThe most noticeable difference is that the lion dance is usually performed by only two dancers, who control the head and tail of the animal.
“The lion dance is also associated with the theme of Chinese folk religion. It basically means the meeting of cultures, both that of Buddhism and the popular beliefs of the country.”, says the historian Miguel Situ. “That is why the climax of the dance is when the lion takes the lettuce, which represents the food that the Buddha gave to two lions that prevented his passage to China..”
Since then the tradition continues with its popularity. Óscar Ruiz, general coordinator of the Chinese Charity’s Chinese Lion and Dragon Dance Ensemble, said that while their busiest time is during the Chinese New Year festivities, they have performances throughout the rest of the calendar.
Introduced to this discipline at the age of 11, the dragon and lion dances have been for him a constant activity in his life that has required a tenacious physical preparation, which is rewarded in the reactions of the public.
“For me dance is joy, it is positive energy“, it states. “The music that plays together is also powerful. So much so that people often get motivated, rejoice, jump and become part of the show. They are not only a dancing dragon or a lion, but also the public that appreciates it.”
Symbolism of the dragon and lion dance in Peru
You can find more information about this dance in this brief report prepared by students of the PUCP.
I have worked as a journalist for over 10 years and have written for various news outlets. I currently work as an author at 24 News Recorder, mostly covering entertainment news. I have a keen interest in the industry and enjoy writing about the latest news and gossip. I am also a member of the National Association of Journalists.