Dance in China

Dance in China is a highly varied art form, consisting of many modern and traditional dance genres. The dances cover a wide range, from folk dances to performances in opera and ballet, and may be used in public celebrations, rituals and ceremonies. There are also 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China, and each ethnic minority group in China also has its own folk dances. Outside of China, the best known Chinese dances today are the Dragon dance and the Lion dance.

Chinese women in pink, dancing (2007-07-05)
A Chinese dance.


Tang dancer
A Tang Dynasty dancer from a mural unearthed in Xi'an dancing with a shawl.

There is a long recorded history of various forms of dance in China. The earliest Chinese character for "dance", 舞-oracle.svg, written in the oracle bones, is itself a representation of a dancer holding oxtails in each hand.[1] Some Chinese dances today such as dancing with long sleeves have been recorded since the very early periods, dating from the at least as early as the Zhou Dynasty. The most important dances of the early period were the ritual and ceremonial music and dances called yayue, and these dances were performed at the imperial court until the Qing dynasty, but only survive today as performances in Confucian ceremonies.

The imperial court from the Qin dynasty onward established various departments responsible for the collection of music and dances, training of performers as well as their performances at the court, such as the Music Bureau and Royal Academy.[2] During the Six Dynasties era (220 - 589 CE), there were strong influences from Central Asia in music and dance. The art of dance reached a peak in the Tang Dynasty, and the dances of the period were highly diverse and cosmopolitan, dances from Central Asia in particular were popular. A great number of dances were recorded in the Tang dynasty, for example there are over 60 Grand Compositions alone which are large scale performances from the Tang court, and there were tens of thousands of musicians and dancers at the Imperial palaces.[3]

The art of dance however declined after the Tang dynasty. This is due in part to the increasing popularity of the practice of footbinding, which may have first arisen from dancers themselves but later tighter binding limited their movements, and greater social restriction placed on women may have also led to a virtual elimination of female dancers.[4][5] Furthermore, dance was absorbed into Chinese opera that started to take shape in the Song dynasty and became increasingly popular and further developed in the following dynasties, and dance as a separate performance art largely survives in folk traditions. In more recent times, the art of dance in China has enjoyed a resurgence, and modern developments in Chinese dances are continuing apace.

Traditional dance

Many of the traditional dances have a long history. These may be folk dances, or dances that were once performed as rituals or as entertainment spectacle, and some may have been performed in the imperial court. Among the best-known of the Chinese traditional dances are the Dragon dance and Lion dance, and both dances were known in earlier dynasties in various forms. A form of lion dance similar to today's lion dance was described as early as the Tang Dynasty, the modern form of the dragon dance however may be a more recent development.

Dragon dance at China 1
Dragon dance.

In some of the earliest dances recorded in China, dancers may have dressed as animal and mythical beasts, and during the Han Dynasty, some forms of the dragon dance were mentioned. The Dragon dances of Han Dynasty however do not resemble modern form of the dance. Dragon dances mentioned include a dance performed during a ritual to appeal for rain at time of drought as Chinese dragon was associated with rain,[6][7] acts in the baixi variety shows where performers dressed up as a green dragon playing a flute, and acts where fish turned into a dragon.[8][9] Modern Dragon Dance uses light-weight structure manipulated by a dozen or so of men using poles at regular intervals along the length of the dragon, and some forms of the dragon can be very long and involve hundreds of performers. There are more than 700 different dragon dances in China.[10]

8280 MGM Macau International Lion Dance Championship 2010
A lion dance

The Lion dance has been suggested to have been introduced from outside China as lion is not native to China, and the Chinese word for lion itself, shi (獅), may have been derived from the Persian word šer.[11] Detailed description of Lion Dance appeared during the Tang Dynasty and it was then recognized as a foreign import, but the dance may have existed in China as early as the third century AD.[12] Suggested origin of the dance include India and Persia,[13][14] and during the Northern and Southern Dynasties it had association with Buddhism. A version of lion dance resembling modern lion dance was described by Tang poet Bai Juyi in his poem "Western Liang Arts" (西凉伎), where the dancers wear a lion costume made of a wooden head, a silk tail and furry body, with eyes gilded with gold and teeth plated with silver, and ears that moves.[15] There are two main forms of Chinese Lion Dance, the Northern Lion and Southern Lion. A form of the Lion Dance is also found in Tibet where it is called the Snow Lion Dance.[16]

Folk dances of Han Chinese

Folk dances are important historically in the development of dance in China, some of the earliest dances in court rituals and ceremonies may have evolved from folk dances. Rulers from various dynasties collected folk dances, many of which eventually became court dances. However, at various times there had also been antipathy towards some folk dances and some emperors attempted to ban them.

Many of the folk dances are related to harvest and hunting and the ancient gods associated with them. For example, the Constellation Dance was performed to procure as much seed grain as there are stars in the sky, while the Harpoon Dance was associated to Fuxi who according to the mythology gave the Han people fish net, and the Plough Dance was connected to Shennong, the god of agriculture.[10]

Some examples of Chinese folk dance:

  • Yangge - a dance that is common in Northern China.
  • Lantern Dance - a dance found in Southern China.
  • Errenzhuan
China (3209957696) (2)
Folk dance from a minority group in China.

Folk dances of ethnic minorities in China

There are many minority groups in China and each have their own dances that reflect their culture and way of life.[17] A few examples of their dances:

Dance in theatre

Beijing opera03
Dance as part of the Peking Opera in a performance of "Heavenly Lady Scatters Flowers" (天女散花).

In the entertainment centres called wazi during the Song Dynasty, various theatrical forms flourished and Chinese opera began to take shape, and dance started to become merged into opera. Dances such as "Dance Judgement" (舞判, also called the Dance of Zhong Kui, 跳鐘馗) became opera pieces in the Ming Dynasty, and dances of the Song Dynasty such as Flapping the Flag (撲旗子). Other dances found in opera include the Sword Dance. Chinese opera became very popular by the Yuan Dynasty, and dances became absorbed into opera over the following centuries.

Ritual dance

Most early records of dances in China were ritual or ceremonial dances, and these dances formed the yayue which were considered to be of great importance in the court. These dances have largely disappeared from modern Han Chinese culture, although ritual dances are still found in some folk traditions and the cultures of ethnic minorities in China.

  • Yi Dance (佾舞, literally "row dance") was originally a court dance, but adopted to form part of a Confucian ceremony. This ancient dance may be performed with rows of dancers holding pheasant feathers and red flutes in a square formation (Civil dance) or they may hold a shield and a battleaxe (Military Dance). The tradition of dancing holding items such as feather plumes dated back to Shang Dynasty.[18] The most important ceremony is performed with 8 rows of 8 dancers (the Eight Yi Dance, 64 dancers in all). Originally dances were only performed in 6 rows of dancers (36 dancers in all) in Confucian temples as 8 rows were restricted to the Imperial court,[19][20] but permission was later granted to perform the 8-row dance as well on the basis that he was given the title of a king by an emperor.[21] Modernized version of such performances are presented for tourists at the confucian temple in Qufu.[22] This confucian dance is also performed in Taiwan and Korea.
  • Nuo Dances (儺舞) - a dance with masks which may be performed in Nuo opera or as rituals during festivals to drive away evil spirits.[23]
  • Cham dance - a Tibetan Buddhist dance
Haikou People's Park - Chinese fitness dancing - 01
Dancing in park as exercise

Exercise dance

According to Lüshi Chunqiu, during the time of Emperor Yao, a dance was created as an exercise for the people to keep healthy after a prolonged spell of wet weather.[24] Traditionally some Chinese dances may also have connection with the martial arts that were used to train fighting skills as well as for fitness, and some martial art exercises such as Tai chi or Qigong are similar to a choreographed dance.[25] In modern China, it is common to find people using dance as a form of exercise in parks.

Dance troupe

Modern and Western dances

Revolutionary opera
1972 production of The Red Detachment of Women by the National Ballet of China.


The first ballet school in China, Beijing Dance School, was established in 1954 with Dai Ailian as the principal and staffed by some outstanding Russian teachers, including Pyotr Gusev who instituted the Russian training system.[26] In the following years ballets such as Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet were performed.[27] The National Ballet of China was founded on the last day of 1959 as the Experimental Ballet Company of the Beijing Dance School.[26] During the Cultural Revolution under the control of Madame Mao, Revolutionary Model dramas came to the fore, and the repertory was eventually reduced to two ideological ballets - The Red Detachment of Women and The White Haired Girl. After the fall of the Gang of Four, the ballet company began to reform and change direction with the classical Western ballets resurrected, and also broadened its range to include more modern ballets from around the world.[26]

Other ballet companies in China:

Flickr - archer10 (Dennis) - China-7315
Modern choreography on traditional themes - this one is based on paintings and sculpture of Thousand Hand Guanyin.

Contemporary dance

Modern traditional

Many dances presented as traditional in theatres and television are modern imagination of ancient dances using modern choreography, for example the famous Rainbow-Feathered Dress Dance of the Tang Dynasty.

Social Dances

Western ballroom dancing became popular in the 20th century, previously it would not have been permissible for men and women from respectable families to dance together.[28] It was popular in the 1940s Shanghai nightclubs, and early Communists leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were also avid Soviet-style ballroom dancers. Ballroom dancing however later disappeared after the Cultural Revolution to be replaced by massive group dances such as yangge dance. Ballroom dances however reappeared after the liberalisation of China later in the century, and it is now commonly found performed by many people in public parks in the morning as exercise.[29]

Dance school


  1. ^ Wang Kefen (1985). The History of Chinese Dance. China Books & Periodicals. p. 7. ISBN 978-0835111867.
  2. ^ Dillon, Michael (24 February 1998). China: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. Routledge. pp. 224–225. ISBN 978-0700704392.
  3. ^ China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization. City University of Hong Kong Press. 2007. p. 458. ISBN 978-9629371401.
  4. ^ Anders Hansson (1996). Chinese Outcasts: Discrimination and Emancipation in Late Imperial China. Brill. p. 46. ISBN 978-9004105966.
  5. ^ by Sharon E. Friedler, Susan Glazer, eds. (2003). Dancing Female: Lives and Issues of Women in Contemporary Dance. Routledge. ISBN 978-9057020261.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Lihui Yang, Deming An (2008). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Oxford University Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-0195332636.
  7. ^ "《求雨》". Chinese Text Project.
  8. ^ Richard Gunde (2001). Culture and Customs of China. Greenwood. p. 104. ISBN 978-0313361180.
  9. ^ "西京賦".
  10. ^ a b Janet Descutner. Asian Dance. Chelsea House Publishing. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-1604134780.
  11. ^ Laurence E. R. Picken (1984). Music for a Lion Dance of the Song Dynasty. Musica Asiatica: volume 4. Cambridge University Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-0521278379.
  12. ^ Wilt L. Idema, ed. (1985). The Dramatic Oeuvre of Chu Yu-Tun: 1379 - 1439. Brill. p. 52. ISBN 9789004072916.
  13. ^ Berthold Laufer. Kleinere Schriften: Publikationen aus der Zeit von 1911 bis 1925. 2 v. p. 1444. ISBN 978-3515026512.
  14. ^ Mona Schrempf (2002), "chapter 6 - The Earth-Ox and Snowlion", in Toni Huber (ed.), Amdo Tibetans in Transition: Society and Culture in the Post-Mao Era, Brill, p. 164, ISBN 9004125965, During the Persian New Year of Newruz, a lion dance used to be performed by young boys, some of the naked it seems, who were sprinkled with cold water. They were thus supposed to drive out evil forces and the cold of the winter.
  15. ^ "《西凉伎》". Archived from the original on 2014-02-19. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 西凉伎,假面胡人假狮子。刻木为头丝作尾,金镀眼睛银贴齿。奋迅毛衣摆双耳,如从流沙来万里。紫髯深目两胡儿,鼓舞跳粱前致辞。
  16. ^ Mona Schrempf (2002), Toni Huber (ed.), Amdo Tibetans in Transition: Society and Culture in the Post-Mao Era (PDF), Brill, pp. 147–169, ISBN 9004125965
  17. ^ Li Beida (2006). Dances of the Chinese Minorities. China Intercontinental Press. ISBN 978-7508510057.
  18. ^ Richard Gunde (2001). Culture and Customs of China. Greenwood. p. 104. ISBN 978-0313361180.
  19. ^ Ba Yi (八佾) According to ancient texts, this dance should only be offered in court. Confucius once complained of one such performance in the house of a noble: "The 8 yi dance is supposed to be performed in court, if he can bear to do this, what else can he bear to do?"
  20. ^ Shigeki Kaizuka (2002). Confucius: His Life and Thought. Dover Publications. p. 134. ISBN 978-0486421391.
  21. ^ Joseph Sui Ching Lam (1998). State Sacrifices and Music in Ming China: Orthodoxy, Creativity and Expressiveness. State University of New York Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0791437063.
  22. ^ Cindy Sui (September 1, 2011). "The Melodies of the Emperors". Taiwan Today. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  23. ^ "Ancient ritual dance performed in E China". People's Daily. February 10, 2012.
  24. ^ Zhen'guo Wang, Peiping Xie (1997). Ping Chen (ed.). History and Development of Traditional Chinese Medicine. IOS Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-9051993240.
  25. ^ Garripoli, Garri (1999). Qigong: Essence of the Healing Dance. HCI. ISBN 1-55874-674-9.
  26. ^ a b c Sanjoy Roy (11 August 2011). "Step-by-step guide to dance: National Ballet of China". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Richard Gunde (2001). Culture and Customs of China. Greenwood. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-0313361180.
  28. ^ Richard Gunde (2001). Culture and Customs of China. Greenwood. pp. 110–112. ISBN 978-0313361180.
  29. ^ Kang Liu (2003). Globalization and Cultural Trends in China. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0824827595.

Further reading

External links

Aleksandar Josipović

Aleksandar Josipović (born 15 January 1981) is a marketing and communication expert, an author and a former dancing champion.

Chinese culture

Chinese culture (simplified Chinese: 中华文化; traditional Chinese: 中華文化; pinyin: Zhōnghuá wénhuà) is one of the world's oldest cultures, originating thousands of years ago. The area over which the culture prevails covers a large geographical region in East Asia and is extremely diverse and varying, with customs and traditions varying greatly between provinces, cities, and even towns as well.

Chinese civilization is historically considered the dominant culture of East Asia. With China being one of the earliest ancient civilizations, Chinese culture exerts profound influence on the philosophy, virtue, etiquette, and traditions of Asia to date.Chinese language, ceramics, architecture, music, dance, literature, martial arts, cuisine, visual arts, philosophy, business etiquette, religion, politics, and history have global influence, while its traditions and festivals are also celebrated, instilled, and practiced by people around the world.

Chinese dance (disambiguation)

Chinese dance may refer to:

Dance in ChinaIt may also refer to any of the specific dances found in China, such as

Lion dance

Dragon dance

Dunhuang dance



Baishou Dance

Nuo dance

Chinese fitness dancing

Chinese folklore

Chinese folklore encompasses the folklore of China, and includes songs, poetry, dances, puppetry, and tales. It often tells stories of human nature, historical or legendary events, love, and the supernatural. The stories often explain natural phenomena and distinctive landmarks. Along with Chinese mythology, it forms an important element in Chinese folk religion.

Dai Ailian

Dai Ailian (Chinese: 戴爱莲; Wade–Giles: Tai Ai-lien; May 10, 1916 – February 9, 2006) was a Chinese dancer and an important figure in the modern history of dance in China. She was born in 1916 into an overseas Chinese family living in Trinidad. Her years as a dance teacher and educator helped China build a generation of dancers, choreographers, and educators. She is known in China as the "Mother of Chinese Modern Dance".

Dance Academy (disambiguation)

Dance Academy is an Australian teen-oriented television drama.

Dance Academy may also refer to:

Arya Dance Academy, a charitable dance and entertainment organization, dedicated to teaching South Asian dance techniques.

Beijing Dance Academy, an institution of higher education in dance in China.

Detroit Windsor Dance Academy, a nonprofit dance academy in Detroit, Michigan.

Roland Dupree Dance Academy, a dance centre formerly based in Hollywood, California

Philadelphia Dance Academy, now part of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Dance Academy, Plymouth, a club formerly based at the New Palace Theatre, Plymouth, England

Rotterdam Dance Academy, now part of Codarts University for the Arts, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Shanghai Dance Academy, now the Shanghai Ballet Company.

Foot binding

Foot binding was the custom of applying tight binding to the feet of young girls to modify the shape and size of their feet. The practice possibly originated among upper class court dancers during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in 10th century China, then gradually became popular among the elite during the Song dynasty. Foot binding eventually spread to most social classes by the Qing dynasty and the practice finally came to an end in the early 20th century. Bound feet were at one time considered a status symbol as well as a mark of beauty. Yet, foot binding was a painful practice and significantly limited the mobility of women, resulting in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects. Feet altered by binding were called lotus feet.

Foot binding was practised in different forms, and the more severe form of binding may have been developed in the 16th century. It has been estimated that by the 19th century, 40–50% of all Chinese women may have had bound feet, and up to almost 100% among upper-class Chinese women. The prevalence and practice of foot binding however varied in different parts of the country.

There had been attempts to end the practice during the Qing dynasty; Manchu Kangxi Emperor tried to ban foot binding in 1664 but failed. In the later part of the 19th century, Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out as a result of anti-foot-binding campaigns. Only a few elderly Chinese women still survive today with bound feet.

Guangzhou Ballet

The Guangzhou Ballet Troupe is a classical ballet company based in Guangzhou, China. In addition to works from the classical European ballet repertoire, the company performs works of classical and contemporary Chinese ballet. The company is one of the top four ballet companies in China. It was founded in 1974, and is currently headed by dancer Zhang Dandan. The company tours internationally.

History of Chinese dance

Dance in China has a long recorded history. Some Chinese dances today, such as dancing with long sleeves, have been recorded at least as early as the Zhou dynasty (c. 1045–256 BCE). The most important of the early dances served important ritual and ceremonial roles and are known as yayue which continued to be performed in the imperial court until the Qing dynasty. A profusion of dances in popular and court entertainment as well as folk dances have been recorded in ancient texts. The art of dance in China reached a peak during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) but declined later. In more recent times dance has enjoyed a resurgence and modern developments in Chinese dances are continuing apace.

History of dance

The history of dance is difficult to access because dance does not often leave behind clearly identifiable physical artifacts that last over millennia, such as stone tools, hunting implements or cave paintings. It is not possible to identify with exact precision when dance became part of human culture.

Index of dance articles

This is an alphabetical index of articles related to dance.

Lil Buck

Charles "Lil Buck" Riley (born May 25, 1988) is an American dancer, actor and model from Memphis, Tennessee who specializes in a style of street dance called jookin. He gained popularity after director Spike Jonze used his cell phone to record an interpretive performance of "The Dying Swan" by Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma. Jonze uploaded the video to YouTube and as of November 2015, it had amassed over three million views.

Lion dance

Lion dance (simplified Chinese: 舞狮; traditional Chinese: 舞獅; pinyin: wǔshī) is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume to bring good luck and fortune. The lion dance is usually performed during the Chinese New Year and other Chinese traditional, cultural and religious festivals. It may also be performed at important occasions such as business opening events, special celebrations or wedding ceremonies, or may be used to honour special guests by the Chinese communities.

The Chinese lion dance is sometimes mistakenly referred to as dragon dance by most first timers. An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is normally operated by just two dancers and has a tail, while a dragon is longer and is held on poles by many people. Chinese lion dance fundamental movements can be found in Chinese martial arts.

There are two main forms of the Chinese lion dance, the Northern Lion and the Southern Lion. Both forms are commonly found in China, but around the world especially in South East Asia, the Southern Lion predominates as it was spread by the Chinese diaspora communities who are historically mostly of Southern Chinese origin. Versions of the lion dance are also found in Japan, Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. Another form of lion dance exists in Indonesian culture, but it may be of a different tradition and may be referred to as Singa Barong.

Music of Korea

The music of Korea refers to music from the Korean peninsula ranging from prehistoric times to the division of Korea into South and North in 1945. It includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Together, traditional Korean music is referred to as gugak (Hangul: 국악), which literally means "national music."

Pre-work assembly

Throughout China, many organizations have their workers gather outdoors before their shift for a pre-work assembly. They stand at attention in formation, wearing their work uniforms, grouped by position in the company. They face one or two managers, who give guidance, critique, or encouragement. Other assemblies engage in Guangchangwu. A less common kind of assembly practices marching.

In public, urban settings, these assemblies are fairly common outside restaurants and hotels several minutes before the meal service begins.

The purpose of these assemblies is to build morale and cohesion among workers, while the physical exercise invigorates them. Although the assembly is considered a serious affair, the workers generally enjoy these gatherings.

Sanam (dance)

Sanam, or senem, also written as sainaimu (Chinese: 赛乃姆; pinyin: sàinǎimǔ) in Chinese, is an ethnic music and dance widespread among the Uyghur people in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. It is commonly performed during weddings, festive occasions, and parties. The music normally starts slowly and gradually becomes faster, upon which the dances also become more vivid, especially at the end.

Square dancing (China)

In the People's Republic of China, square dancing or plaza dancing (simplified Chinese: 广场舞; traditional Chinese: 廣場舞; pinyin: guǎngchǎng wǔ; literally: 'public square dance'), is an exercise routine performed to music in squares, plazas or parks of the nation's cities. It is popular with middle-aged and retired women who have been referred to as "dancing grannies" in the English-language media. Due to its low cost and ease of participation, it has been estimated to have over 100 million practitioners, according to CCTV, the country's official television network.The practice has roots in both ancient and modern Chinese history. Dancing for exercise has been recorded as developed millennia ago in Emperor Yao's China, and during the Song Dynasty the public spaces of cities were noted for their use in performance. Most of the women who square dance came of age during the Cultural Revolution, when folk dances such as yangge were widely performed, often as propaganda. Some have confirmed that this nostalgia is one of their reasons for taking part, although the benefits of the exercise and socialization opportunities also play a role.Square dancers dance to a variety of music, mostly Chinese popular songs, both contemporary and historic. The hobby began in the mid-1990s, as middle-aged women who had been forced into retirement began doing it to keep themselves occupied. Its popularity notwithstanding, square dancing has been the subject of considerable controversy in the 2010s China due to complaints of noise pollution in the evening or morning hours. Dancers in China's increasingly populous cities congregate in public areas because there are few dedicated facilities where they could go. Residents of nearby apartment complexes who have been disturbed by the high volume of multiple dance groups' musical accompaniment, especially late in the evening and early in the morning when they are trying to sleep, have sometimes reacted violently.In 2015 the Chinese government reacted to these complaints and incidents by prescribing a set of standardized routines for all dancers to follow, claiming they would be culturally unifying and healthier. The move was met with widespread criticism. Some Chinese complained that it did nothing to address the noise issues; others said the dancers should be free to choose their own routines. The real problem, yet others said, was not only the lack of better places for the dancing but the lack of other social opportunities for the women. The government soon clarified that the routines it created and promoted were only meant to be healthy alternatives to existing ones and were not required.


The yaogu is a traditional Chinese drum instrument. It is the symbol of Chinese drums. It displays unique forms and traditional customs.

It is played on people's waists, using hands or two wooden sticks.

Yingge dance

Yingge Dance, Yingge, Engor (Chinese: 英歌; Mandarin Chinese: Yīnggē), or "Hero's Song," is a form of Chinese folk dance originating from the Ming Dynasty. It is very popular in Teochew, a region in the east of Guangdong and is one of the most representative form of folk arts. The performers makeup into 108 Stars of Destiny, holding the two small stick or tambourine to perform.

Dance in Asia
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