In ancient China, a mythical beast known only as the Nian would emerge from slumber each spring to ravage the countryside. Crops, livestock and even farmers fell victim to the creature’s monstrous appetite. One year, the villagers decided to fight back. They played drums, cymbals and gongs, and built a model lion out of bamboo and paper to drive away the Nian. It worked, and the tradition has continued ever since. Such is the origin of Chinese New Year’s lion dance.
The lion dance is still an ubiquitous sight in Singapore during Chinese New Year festivities. You can hear and see them everywhere, whether you’re in Chinatown or Clementi. Lion dance troupes perform in offices, shops and temples around the island to ward off bad luck—symbolised by Nian—and usher in prosperity. A Chinese New Year without the gong-gong-chang! of the dance would be unthinkable.
But what is Chinese New Year like from the other side of the lion’s mask? I hopped on the back of Yi Quan Athletic Association’s truck to experience the occasion through the eyes of a lion dance troupe. And nope, no Nians were spotted.