Do you know that the word Barongsai is originating from a combination of the words Barong and Sai? Barong is a Javanese and Balinese mythological animal in the form of a two or four-legged animal with a tiger head. Whereas Sai means Lion (shi) in South Chinese dialect. Outside Indonesia, the Barongsai is better known as Lion Dance (Wu Shi) and Dragon Dance (Wu Long).
The most significant difference between those two dances is that the Lion Dance is performed by two or three people only, while a group of 9-15 dancers perform the Dragon Dance inside a 18-25 meter long dragon-shaped costume. Dragon costumes are controlled with long poles, while lion costumes are controlled from within the Lion’s head and tail. During a Dragon Dance, dancers are visible, while during a Lion Dance, both dancers are concealed.
The Lion Dance is often accompanied by gongs and cymbals, while followed by a person dressed as a laughing Monk who’ll playfully tease the dancers to entertain the crowds. Often people will place Angpao in the lion’s mouth as a token of appreciation. Dragon Dancers don’t receive money and perform by chasing a ball on a stick held by a performer walking in front of them.
Although it’s very much different, those two dances are called the Barongsai in Indonesia. Both the Lion and Dragon Dance are originated date back thousands of years to the Han Dynasty period (202BC-220AD) and up until now, it’s performed in the street during festivals and special occasions to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck and entertain an audience. Both dances require agility and fitness, which is why martial arts in particular Kung Fu groups typically perform it.
After being banned from displaying it in public places in Indonesia for several years, the Lion Dance has regained its popularity starting in 1998, and became the most anticipated show before and during Chinese New Year celebration. And if you have the chance to watch the Lion Dance in a mall or in a temple, there are several interesting things you can pay attention to, such as:
1. Different colors are used to signify the age and character of the lions. The lion with white fur is considered to be the oldest of the lions, while the lion with golden yellow fur is the middle child. The black lion is considered the youngest lion, and the movement of this lion should be fast like a young child or a headstrong teenager. The colors may also represent the character of the lion: the golden lion represented liveliness, the red lion courage, and the green lion friendship.
2. The person playing the lion’s head needs to be agile in his hands and body movement, while the “lion tails” need to have great control on the amount of strength exerted throughout each routine.
3. According to the belief of the Chinese community, giving Angpao into the mouth of the lion dance aims to get rid of all the bad luck and bring fortune to the giver. When someone gives Angpao, the bad luck is eaten and then washed clean through the lion dance.
In order to be able to perform the Barongsai well, discipline training and good teamwork is highly needed, it also requires a passion for culture. If you are interested in learning and aiming to have a body as strong as Barongsai’s dancer, you can join the closest lion dance club in your city.
Written by Melisa Oktavia