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 SRU Performance of Japanese Lion Dance Set for Wednesday 




Contact: K.E. Schwab  -- 724-738-2199;  e-mail:


     SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – A registered cultural asset of Aichi-ken, Japan, the “Big and Small Lion Dance” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Slippery Rock University’s Swope Recital Hall showing off the centuries-old folk tradition of the country.

     The admission-free dance is a spring planting folk festival dance performed by 25 dancers, musicians, clowns and a narrator. The performers include seven children as the story is told in dynamic movement, explains Dr. George P. Brown, associate professor of political science who is heading the visit.

     Brown says the dance is considered folk entertainment from the Narawa area in Handa, Japan. The Narawa Shrine has been a center of the domestic religion for many centuries and this lion dance has been performed at the shrine for more than 400 years on the shrine’s outdoor stage every spring. Japanese festivals originated from the people’s service to placate their gods. One of the performance’s dances allows clowns to throw treats to the audience. Those who catch the treats are expected to soon “catch” good luck, so all are urged to participate. 

     The Japanese people believed natural disasters, poor harvests and epidemics were caused by an angry god. People in the past thought that they would be protected if they would fear, respect and celebrate their god. In the lion dance, he appears with a bright red face, shining golden eyes. He is breathing through the nose, opening his large mouth and gnashing his teeth. People believed the brave lion made evil spirits go away. The lion dance takes an important role in scaring demons away on the day celebrating the gods.

       Since ancient times, the Narawa area has been suffering from a shortage of water because the area has meager precipitation and no major rivers. Rice and vegetable fields dried up and crops were destroyed many times in the past. The Narawa ancestors offered the lion dance to the god to seek for rainfall and good harvests.

       Additional details on the dance as well as particulars on the Big Lion and the Small Lion are available on the SRU homepage.



       The Lion Dance came from China almost 1,400 years ago. In 617 AD, it was introduced in Japan according to the old record. Then, as now, it was a two-man dance. The dancer in front wore a lion’s head and the front legs, the man behind him wore the rear legs and a tail, and both were covered with a big cloth which represented the lion’s body. In Japan, lion dances are very popular, comprising about 70 percent of folk entertainments. Among all lion dances, this “Big and Small Lion Dance” is a rare one which preserves an original form from China and it has been widely recognized as one of the most valuable intangible cultural assents of Aichi, Japan.

     The Big Lion and the Small Lion are different size lions, but they are not father and son. Normally, the big lion tells four song-stories, one for each of the four seasons, through dance. The small lion’s dances depict twelve song-stories, one for each month of the year. A performance of the complete cycle lasts about two hours and a half. Today’s performance shows selected parts of the dance tailored to fit in a more restricted time frame. Please enjoy this breath-taking lion dances. The dances to be offered include the “Flower Lion Dance,” the “Kite (Bird) Lion Dance,” and the “Small Lion Dance.”

Flower Lion Dance

       Once upon a time, there was a big lion who lived in the mountain. From time to time, the lion came down to the village to loot crops in the fields. Farmers suffered greatly from the lion’s depredations.

       In spring, the farmers’ carefully-tended peony trees were in bloom. The big lion came down from the mountain and admired those gorgeous flowers, and then he ate them up. Right after gobbling flowers he felt very sick and he started to be in agony with pain. A deity was watching the lion from heaven, and he sent a benevolent spirit, a Sasara-angel, to help him. The Sasara-angel played music with a sasara (bamboo whisk). The sound of the sasara had a power of calming the big lion and making him feel better.  He thanked the Sasara-angel and he went back to the mountain.

 Kite (Bird) Lion Dance

       The big lion was very exhausted from the flower-eating incident. In the mountain, he was deep in sleep. The Sasara-angel came with a fan and he wanted to play with the lion. He stayed around the tired lion and kept waking him up. The lion finally got very mad. The Sasara-angel realized that he should not have bothered the lion, and he apologized to the lion asking for his forgiveness.

Small Lion Dance

     The Small Lion Dance consists of 12 song-stories. Every episode depicts a dragon is crawling on the ground, calling for thunder and climbing to the sky. This dance portrays the desperate cries of the farmers for rainfall. The lion costume represents a painted dragon. The Small Lion is believed to be a disguised dragon who brings rainfall. The Small Lion Dance features fast-paced acrobatics. Between songs, there are clown acts. Four clowns show comical acts and throw goodies to audience in order to make the entire performance more exciting.



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