The first ceremony is called Hoi Guong (Cantonese) or Kai Guang (Mandarine 開光儀式). In this ceremony the lion is given life and also a name (baptised). The aim of this ceremony is to make effective and strengthen the lion's magical power. Now, the lion can dance.
Hoi Goung was required by the Shifu of the school. First, the lion is placed in front of the Masters 'Altar, then three incense bars are burnt and finally three bows are taken to show respect.
According to tradition, a Taoist monk must be the first to bless the lion. If there was not a Taoist monk, then the most important person of the village was the one who had to perform the ceremony. In both cases, the person received a Hon Bau (red envelope) with money at the end of the ceremony.
If they forgot to give the red envelope or if the envelope was empty, it would mean bad luck for those who had requested the Hoi Guong and for those who had danced with the lion.
The essential things needed for the ceremony are: a small container with ZhuSha (red cinnabar powder). Since cinnabar contains mercury, today it is very difficult to get. It is believed that cinnabar helps to shoo misfortune away and so, cinnabar is spited on the lion's eyes. Ginger root and a new calligraphy brush are also needed in the ceremony. Some rituals are performed on the lion's head and body and then the first dance is performed.
When the lion dances are performed in public places, it is important to take into account the fact that lions from different schools can be performing at the same time. If this happens, the lions must have their heads down, dancers must not stick their legs out and the lion's eyelids mustn't be moved. Any of these things can be considered as an offence for other lions and it may cause a conflict between them.
Choy Lee fut's lion dances are called “Mo Xi”. Lion's basic skills and musical instruments (The lion is sleeping and waking up, washing its face, brushing its teeth, washing its body, biting fleas, rolling on the ground and scratching its body):
- The “lion coming out of the cave”
- The “lion crossing the bridge”
- The “rolling lion”
- The “lion searching out and getting the green”
- The “lion encounters a setback, looks into it and overcomes it”
- The “lion against the temple”
- The “lion paying homage”
- The “lion meets other lions and dragons”
- The “lion confronts the snake”
All routines begin with the opening good luck ceremony of bowing.The bowing ceremony represents a good luck greeting and is performed at the beginning and end of all lion dances. The cheerful Lion first rushes forward, then rolls his head clockwise, dragging his whiskers on the ground while retreating to his starting position. This ceremony is repeated three times in rapid succession as the lion demonstrates his humility and good nature.
In the next act of the bowing ceremony, the lion walks a large circle while sniffing the air, pawing the ground, scratching himself, and acting surprised. The footwork of the dancers changes at this time according to the mood the dancers portray. Square stances, cross stances and regular walking all play their own roles in describing a lion's attitude. The legs of the dancer under the lion head represent the lion's front legs. When the lion is surprised, for example, the dancer raises the lion head high over his own head while assuming a cat stance.
The routine that often follows the bowing ceremony is called SUAI SI (" sleeping lion.") The lead dancer starts in a square stance position and slowly commences swinging the lion head back and forth as if the lion were falling asleep.
The eyelids close half way. The dancer's right foot crosses in front of his left, tripping him, and he stumbles back into a square stance again, acting as if the lion awoke suddenly after nodding off. Again the lion's eyes droop and the head starts swinging slowly. The dancer under the lion head crosses his left foot and stumbles in the opposite direction to repeat the routine.
At this point in the Suai Si routine, the lion wakes once more and looks around before deciding that he's too tired to continue. The dancer under the head crosses his legs into a lotus position and sits down while lowering the head to the floor. The dancer at the lion's tail follows in the same position.
The ever-present lion dancing music now sets a slow, deliberate tempo as the lead dancer pulls the appropriate strings in the lion head to wiggle its ears.
From there, the lion head moves from left to right with the mouth vibrating softly a sign that the lion is dreaming. As the lion dreams on the head moves faster and faster until the lead dancer sticks one leg forward and falls out of the lotus position. This awakens the lion that sees the leg sticking out. Thinking that there must be flies attacking him, the lion gnaws on the leg. When finished with the flies, the lion retracts his leg into a lotus position and returns to sleep. The dreaming and flea biting routine is repeated using the lead dancer's other leg.
The routine continues to alternate between wakefulness and sleep: the lion looks up, and bites the air chasing flies; the lion mouth closes and slowly opens again, yawning. Following this show, the lion returns to his full waking state.
At this time, the lead dancer's legs stick out in front of him in a "V" shape. The dancer closes his legs and the lion head makes motions as if the lion were licking his legs and biting his paws.
The lion routine continues with the dancers imitating a big cat grooming himself. The lion strokes his whiskers, then scratches his ears with a paw, and then rubs his eyes. (In this last maneuver the lead dancer must pull his entire leg back and up to the lion's head.) The grooming routine is then repeated on the lion's other side.
The lion becomes fully awake when he attacks mythical flies on his flanks and scratches his chest. In this maneuver the dancer under the lion head lifts his legs up into a high split as the open-mouthed lion head bites at the dancer's buttocks which represent the lion's "chest". Both dancers then jump up into a square stance and stretch. The rear dancer will now stick one leg out to the side and shake it, indicating the rear is now attacked by flies. The lion head turns, bites at the rear leg, returns to the front, stretches, looks up a few times, and then repeats his grooming with the other rear leg.
Finally the lion's tail itches - which requires the rear dancer to vigorously shake his lion section. The head bites its rear by placing the lion's open mouth against the rear dancer, and then chasing its tail round in circles. Again the routine is repeated on the alternate side. Finally, the lion gives up and starts walking forward, ready to perform a new routine. (" The lion comes out of the cave").
SI GEE CHUT DUNG is executed with the aid of either two Chinese horse benches, two kung-Fu banners on poles, or two people holding long Chinese weapons. The benches, banners, or long weapons represent the opening of a cave. The cautious lion closely stalks the cave's mouth. Fearful of possible attack, the lion frequently jumps back. Slowly, with the lead dancer walking in a light cat stance, the lion approaches the cave's mouth, sniffing the air cautiously and jumping back each time he gets too close. As the lion discovers that the cave is safe, the lion happily sniffs and licks the cave opening on each side. The lead dancer then raises the lion head on high to signify that all is well, and the lion is pleased.
As the lion exits the cave in this routine, the sun strikes his eyes. The dancers now imitate the motions a big cat would make as the "eyes" in the lion head blink in protest at the brightness.
To signify playing in the lion dance, both the head and tail sections roll to the left and then to the right. As the lion then walks a circle, he realizes he's hungry, and this leads into the most important segment of lion dancing, the CHOI CHIANG ("get the green") ceremony.
José L. MELERO