Dance is one of the oldest art of humankind, and expresses the feelings and thought of art through rhythmic, refined and organized human movements. China has one of the oldest and continuous cultures in the world, with over 5,000 years of recorded history. Dance is an inseparable part of the Chinese history. With traditional dancing in China dating back to the Zhou Dynasty, numerous transformations have befallen the practice both positively and negatively. After several dynasties, the Tang Dynasty has marked the peak of the practice with thousands of singers and artist coming up with more than sixty compositions outdoing the recorded figure at the time. However, with the onset of the foot binding custom, women dancers were restricted in their movements, and this led to the downfall of the dancing traditions. Also, at the time, social values and morals that limited the dancing of women were put in place further worsening the tradition. The Song Dynasty as the name suggests revived the tradition and to date has been through multiple evolutionary stages (Van Zile 54-55). Due to the long history of China and many minorities, there exist many different kinds of traditional dances in China, and have been grouped into three: classical dance, folk dance, and opera dance.
Chinese classical dance has a very long history. Originated in ancient China, broad and profound, it combines a lot of martial arts, opera in the action and shape, with particular emphasis on the role of the eyes in the show. It emphasizes the coordination of breathing, full of rhythm and sense of style, unique oriental Hardness, and beauty of the dance, intoxicated. Chinese classical dance mainly includes body rhyme, shenfa, and skill. The rhyme is the connotation of Chinese classical dance, the charm of each dance is different, two people jump the same action, and the appeal is different. Shenfa is the dance and action. Rooted in the traditional Chinese culture fertile soil classical dance is much stressed that “both shape and spirit, physical and mental integration, internal and external unity,” the body rhyme. Charm is the soul of Chinese classical dance. God in the shape of the outside, “to God collar shape, to form the gods,” the feelings of the mood made the actual meaning of the body rhyme. In ancient times, classical dance belonged to court dance. The court had a dedicated dance team for the emperor. Most of the classical Chinese dance music using Chinese different folk musical instruments, such as guzheng, erhu, pipa and so on. Chinese classical dance clothing antique, according to the specific requirements of the dance also have their characteristics, most of the Han and Tang Dynasties dance traditional Chinese dress.
The classical dance is characterized by the unique body movements, the intimate relationship between the body motion and the inner feelings of the dancer, and its utilization of only natural body strength and muscles. The body movements associated with the classical dancing combined with different facial expressions express different inner feelings articulately without confusion to the audience. These feelings could be love, peace, joy, anger, and disappointment among others. Also, it is the internalization of these feeling that guides the motions and movements of the dancer who in turn does not require greater than the standard muscle power obtained through various daily activities to perform the dance. Unlike in many other dances, the classical dance does not require the dancers to have built their muscles. The flip move obtained from martial arts is the most common classical dance move with almost all performers incorporating it in their dance regularly.
Folk dance is probably the oldest of the Chinese dancing culture having been created by the fathers of long gone days in line with the different belief of the day then. Folk songs were mainly ritualistic and geared towards receiving favors from the supernatural which would have included successful hunting expeditions, good farm harvests, and are dated to as early as the fourth millennium BC from archaeological evidence recorded of hunting art scribbled on a pot. Folk dances differ in the different ethnic groups and often depict the group’s religious, social and cultural customs. Performers are clothed in colorful, choreographed costumes, and the dances though different from ethnic group to the other also show some similarities. Jealousy, forgiveness, love and communal unity are some of the shared themes and play a significant role in strengthening the bond between the community members. Today, folk dances still exist and have paved its way to the Chinese formal theater. However, the journey has been long and has seen the transition of the dance. War and struggle for survival nearly saw its end but was revived soon after. There are three popular folk dances that have stood the test of time; lion dance, the court dance, and the dragon dance.
The lion dance is accredited the most popular of all the folk dances. It is based on the perception of the male lion among the Chinese. In the North, the dance is performed in red and orange costumes and is full of the ferocity and agility showed by the animal. It’s mostly done by acrobats. In the south, on the contrary, the dance is performed in no particular color and does not involve acrobats. It’s meant to show the role of the animal which is to guard (Hays).
The Court Dance
This dance involves several dances all falling under the same. The common are the Prince Qin’s Cavalry dance performed to celebrate the imperial army.It passed a call to courage and preparedness for battle and involved a huge number of actors. Nichang Yuyi was another court dance inspired by the Tang Dynasty’s emperor from visions encountered in a dream he had and turned out to be an excellent piece (Jung-rock 17-55).
The dragon and lion dance to date are still the primary performances in any festivity among the Chinese. The Dragon symbolizes wisdom, dignity, and power. The dancers animate the huge long creature, and their number is dependent on the size of the mock dragon. Fire might also be incorporate in the dance to bring out the animals fierce breath effect on the audience (Hays).
Just like the other dances, the opera dance can be traced to have begun long ago in China. It attained its maturity later in the Song dynasty and is characterized by the incorporation of various styles including martial arts, songs, literary art, and acrobatics all in one. The performers of the dance have their faces painted in different colors bearing different meanings to show the characters emotions, fate, and role. For example, the color white is painted on villain characters depicting their credulity, evil and craftiness. Green and red represent impulsiveness and bravery respectively. Chinese opera is categorized into several branches with the main difference being due to location variation. They include Cantonese opera, Beijing opera, kunqu Opera, Shaoxing opera and Lvju opera. Today, this dance is not as common as other dances and is only staged on the formal opera house and in some festivities but not a primary dance.
The Chinese dances are a very broad form of representing, conveying and preserving their culture. Within the three most important categories of the dance, there exist several subcategories, and they differ within different ethnic groups. Performances of the dances follow different styles including acrobats and martial arts with the characters dressed in costumes to match the dance. Over the past, these dances have played a significant role not only preserving the culture but also preaching peace and unity among the communities. With time, the dances have transformed and may not portray the rich culture that was passed through generations but still hold meaning to the people. However, the communities should strive to ensure the continuity band originality of the dances.