Vietnamese dragon dance is an art form that involves the skillful, flexible, and meticulous techniques of the “artists”. It is not only simply a traditional performance but it also bears profound meanings in terms of culture and spiritual life. Let’s take a closer look at this special art form through the article below to gain more understanding of its origin and the crucial meanings of its “components”.
I - When did Vietnamese dragon dance establish?
Dragon dance painting - Source: Internet
Vietnamese dragon dance originated from China around thousands of years ago, then was imported to Vietnam and changed to be familiar with Vietnamese culture and tradition. Each region has a different legend because of the difference in culture and religion. One of the legends stems from the story that a dragon was bitten by a centipede, then it begged a medicine person for the cure. After receiving the generous treatments from the healer, the dragon gradually recovered and requited the help by a magic dragon dance in Vietnam to pray for favorable weather. Since then, every important occasion or festival, dragon dance is held aiming at praying for happiness, wealth and good fortune.
II - The main components in Vietnamese dragon dance
1 - Dragon
Dragon is one of four holy animals in the Vietnamese’ beliefs including dragon, lion, turtle and phoenix. The image of the dragon is closely associated with the legend of Vietnamese being descendants of dragons and fairies - Lac Long Quan (the Dragon King) gets married to the fairy Au Co, then gives birth to the Vietnamese people.
Despite being an imaginary animal, the Vietnamese dragon is believed to have incredibly special features with body parts which are likened to many powerful animals such as snake, camel, tiger, falcon, ox, and crocodile.
Vietnamese dragon dance - Source: freedomforvietnam
Based on these characteristics, the dragon in performance is divided into three types: silk dragon fastened to several bamboo poles for dancing, paper-made dragon featuring round, long belly, and the dragon only used for procession. According to the belief of the Vietnamese, the odd number is regarded as the number of luck, therefore, the dragon normally consists of 9, 11 or 13 parts, even up to 29 parts. Its body has a total length of up to 30m, and each performer holds a part 1 to 2m long.
The colors of the dragon express the deep meanings, such as the red one symbolizes luck, the yellow and silvery dragon represents prosperity and wealth and the blue dragon aims at praying for peace, serenity and well-being.
2 - Vietnamese dragon dance performers
A performance of dragon dance - Source: Internet
Normally, the number of performers for a dragon dance in Vietnam vary from 10 to 15 people depending on the size of the dragon. In addition, there is one person playing a role as the “controller”, also called a hero man, who always stands in front of the dragon and holds the “magic pole”. The costumes of the performers need to be consistent in color, apart from the hero man, who would put on the more outstanding and colorful costume to express the strength of a “martial”.
3 - Music for Vietnamese dragon dance
In dragon or lion dance, the sounds of drums and “thanh la” (one of popular type of musical instruments of Vietnam) are indispensable parts. The Seven-Star Drum is the name used for the dragon dance in Vietnam, only played by the master or the second master of the dojo. Each beat of the drum must perfectly mix with the flexible movements of the dragon to fully express the energy and powerfulness of the dragon.
4 - Dances
The performers need to show flexible twists and turns in order to mix and match with the music. It is a must for Vietnamese dragon dance performers to have extremely good physical health and flexibility, especially those who control the head and tail of the dragon because they are really bulky and heavy, which are likely to cause difficulty in moving and dancing.
The dragon dance requires not only the gratefulness, steadiness and a wide range of complex moves but also the “smooth coordination” among the dancing troupe. Thus, it takes such a long time and persistence as well as passion to gain a satisfying performance of dragon dance.
III - Where to watch dragon dance in Vietnam?
Vietnamese new year dragon dance - Source: vietnamplus
Vietnamese dragon dance is performed during Lunar New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and several important festivals or special occasions in a locality. The colorful and exciting dragon dance in Vietnam especially during Tet holiday is strongly believed to dispel evil and bring good luck. The dance sometimes appears in the grand openings of some big enterprises to welcome prosperity, wealth and streak of luck.
Time and places in a particular areas holding Vietnamese dragon dance:
- Kinh Duong Vuong festival in A Lu village, Dai Dong commune, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh province on lunar January 18th.
- Festival in Yen Lac ancient village, Dong Lac commune, Chuong My district, Hanoi on lunar March every year.
- Chua Thay Festival in Sai Son commune, Quoc Oai district, Hanoi on lunar March 7th annually.
It is said that to understand the culture and tradition of a nation or region, the best way is immersing in its daily life and discovering the customs of the locality, which accurately reflects the cultural and spiritual life of the local people on a daily basis, and Vietnamese dragon dance is not an exception. This special art form has been closely associated with the daily life of the Vietnamese people over years and has become an essential part in almost all festivals and important occasions.