Originally there were no real lions in China (they are even rare in modern times). That’s why the Chinese Lions sometimes resemble a more mythical dragon to westerners. However, the Lion dancing was cultivated hundreds of years ago. Legends suggest that what originated as a "strange beast" to chase away bad spirits at the beginning of the New Year – symbolizing the victory of good over evil – evolved into an "Auspicious Lion," and became a sign of good fortune. It is important to call it a Lion and not a dragon to honor tradition.
In fact, today's lion costumes incorporate numerous symbols of strength and goodness: specific colors, the special "horn" on its head, the mirror on its face, the long beard. At Chinese New Year, the lion is sacred and represents the lineage and soul of the school and those who perform it honor the school and Sifu and, if done well, carry forward good luck into the coming year!
Being the keepers of this tradition, the Sifu’s have the responsibility of training the best kung fu students in the way of lion dancing and ask them to uphold tradition by caring for and honoring the lions as they would their kung fu, school, and Sifu’s.
Not only is physical aptitude a requirement, but dancers must also display characteristics such as respect, trustworthiness, and modesty. In this spirit, the lions carry a special energy about them and should not be touched without permission by anyone except the Sifu’s and dancers. At Chinese New Year, it is an honor if the Sifu invites you to touch the lion for good luck.
Lions continue to awe and entertain everyone who sees them dance but students from traditional schools know that the importance of the lions to the school and Sifu’s far outweigh entertainment purposes and the best students will do all they can to support a lion dance event in recognition of what it represents.