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Chinese Lion Dancers’ Costumes are Unique, Diverse and Meaningful

Each costume is hand made in China with a range of styles, colours and shapes

The Vancouver City Police Lion Dancing Team wears colourful and hand-made Southern Chinese style costumes. Photo by Perrin Grauer
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Reported by Perrin Grauer

The costumes worn by the award-winning Vancouver City Police Lion Dancing Team have each been handmade in China, and are treated with great care and respect by the dancers.

Josh Pratt, who has been involved in lion dancing for 16 years, said that each costume production facility has its own particular style.

You can get different styles of heads, with the way the eyes are shaped, or the nose, or the mouth, that determines who’s made it, or which factory it comes from. They all have a bit of unique style,” Pratt said.

Regional differences

The basic form, he added, depends on the region it’s from.

“So different cities within China have a different style of lion head,” Pratt said, adding that he and his fellow dancers were wearing lion heads made in the southern Chinese style.

Colour has meaning

Colour, too, can be meaningful for traditional performances.

“The colours traditionally have some significance, but for the competition stuff, not as much anymore. So the red lion is good luck, the yellow lion is good fortune, green for money, blue would normally be used for a funeral, because it’s a darker colour.”

How costumes are made

The heads themselves are constructed from strips of bamboo covered with papier-mâché and finished with reflective laser paper, sequins, fur and paint. The mouth is moved directly by a dancer’s hand, while the blinking eyes and flapping ears are controlled via strings.

Pratt said it takes some practice to manipulate the lion’s expressions while performing a kind of gymnastics, but that it’s all part of the care that goes into the traditional practice.

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The Vancouver City Police Lion Dancing Team wears colourful and hand-made Southern Chinese style costumes. Photos by Perrin Grauer.

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