The Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association Traditional Folk Performing Arts Troupe has performed Lion & Dragon Dances as well as Drum Arrays for Chinese New Year, Grand Openings of businesses, weddings, banquets and festivals throughout Madison, many parts of Wisconsin and even Illinois and Indiana. In 2014 the ZYKFA introduced even more traditional Chinese cultural performances (陣頭) including the Song Jiang Battle Array (宋江陣), Qilin Dance (舞麒麟) and Dragon Dance (舞龍) as part of our appreciation and study of Chinese cultural folk traditions.
Why Folk Art Performance (藝陣)?
Many people look at martial arts and see the students learning kicking, punching, and fighting applications and they think that is all there is. Students of the traditional Chinese martial arts styles are often drawn to the arts because of the beauty, grace, and power of the weapons and empty hand forms. They not only learn the martial part of their art (Wu - 武), but also the cultural aspects as well, with many traditions, rituals and customs (Wen - 文). Often this takes the form of the student seeking the knowledge of the culture that inspired the art that they now study. Another way that ZYKFA students are able to learn the cultural aspect of their art is through traditional Chinese folk arts performances, also known as Yi Zhen (藝陣).
What is Lion Dance (舞獅)?
Traditionally, during the Chinese New Year, Lion Dance Troupe will visit restaurants, households and shops throughout the community to perform the traditional custom of "Cai Qing" (採青), literally meaning "Plucking the Greens", a quest by the lion to pluck the auspicious green, normally lettuce, which in Chinese is called “Cái” (菜), which sounds like “Cái” (財) or “Fortune”, and auspicious fruits like oranges (sounds like "happiness", "blessings" or "good luck") and/or tangerines (sounds like "money") tied to a “Hóngbāo” (紅包- "Red Envelope") containing donation money; either hung high up or just put on a table in front or inside of the premises. The "lion" will dance and approach the "green" and "red envelope" like a curious cat, to "eat the green" (consuming what is simply “lettuce”) and "spit" it out (once it’s transformed into "fortune"), but keep the "red envelope". The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the businesses and households, sometimes our troupe is also rewarded with a lunch or dinner after the performance.
Thank you Hong Kong Cafe for sponsoring our Guan Yu Lion!
What is Dragon Dance (舞龍)?
Not to be confused with Lion Dancing, which only has two people under the lion at a time, the Dragon Dance employs several performers (anywhere from three to hundreds of people) under a single Dragon with a "leader" carrying a globe, which represents wisdom that the Dragon constantly chases throughout the performance. The Dragon Dance is performed by holding poles under the body of the dragon, and performing intricate routines and formations with the dragon's head, body and tail as it chases a globe which can be called a "Pearl" or "Sun" (handled by another performer). The most common number of performers is 9 under the Dragon plus 1 carrying the "Pearl" or "Sun". Dragon costumes are also divided into different types varying by region and time, a common sight at Chinatown parades is the large and majestic traditional Cantonese style of Dragon with, sometimes, dozens of people under it, in contrast there's also the modern competition style Dragon that is lighter and is played much faster (with acrobatics included) and is usually only handled by nine people.
The ZYKFA offers its youth and adult members the opportunity to learn the Dragon Dance (舞龍). The ZYKFA currently has a youth size five pers
on dragon and a nine person adult Luminescent Dragon (Glows-in-the-Dark).
What is Qilin Dance (舞麒麟)?
The Qilin, translated in the west as a "Unicorn", is a traditional Chinese mythical beast that is considered to bring Rui (瑞 - peace, serenity and prosperity) to all that see it. It is a hooved being that, although it may look like a fierce animal, is known to only punish the wicked. The Qilin is a vegetarian being that has a quiet nature. Legend has it that the birth of Confucius was foretold by the arrival of a Qilin.
The Qilin Dance, like Lion Dancing, needs two performers for each costume. Most of the dancing, which is vigorous and powerful, is done by the performer under the head, however both performers need to work together to show the Qilin leaping into the air. Like the Lion Dance, the Qilin dance is accompanied by live music performed with drums, special cymbals and gong. Compared to the Lion and Dragon Dances, the Qilin Dance is less common, but quite a treat for anyone watching.
What is Song Jiang Battle Array (宋江陣)?
Song Jiang Battle Array is a combination of Chinese martial arts and the art of folk performances. It first appeared in the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing Dynasty (1644-1900). This performance is an impressive and fun way to showcase martial arts skills, including traditional weapons, two person combat and empty handsets, all accompanied by live music.
According to legend, it was created by some Shaolin martial arts enthusiasts performing a variety of martial arts moves in the temple squares and paying homage to the heroes of Liang Mountain (梁山 - Liangshan), specifically Song Jiang, which were characterized in the novel “the Water Margin” (aka “Outlaws of the Marsh” also called "Zhong Yi Outlaws of the Marsh" - ).
The number of performers vary, it includes both men, women and children, usually 36 people is a pretty common number of performers (as it pertains to the 36 main characters of the novel), however 72 is the number most groups try to achieve, sometimes there are even hundreds of people performing.
Historically the Song Jiang Battle Array was mostly practiced in the rural areas of Taiwan by youngsters (members of the local village militias) to learn martial arts training and strategies for village defense. At the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Taiwan was in disorder and was considered a lawless island with many bandits and thieves attacking the small villages, the young men of the villages resorted to their Battle Array training to fend off the incursions and keep the village and its inhabitants safe from harm. During the Japanese colonial era, due to their oppressive rule, the Battle Array practice was replaced as a “folk performance activity” by martial arts troupes to entertain the population during temple festivals.
Currently the Song Jiang Battle Array is performed by temple groups and independent troupes in Taiwan. Although its practice originated in mainland China, it no longer exists there and is a Chinese cultural treasure that has been preserved in Taiwan for centuries. The oldest (and still active) Song Jiang Battle Array performance troupe has a history of over 140 years. Nowadays the practice of Song Jiang Battle Arrays has become so popular many Taiwanese Universities compete against each other in annual tournaments.
What is Drum Array (鼓陣)?
The Drum Array, is a group performance where our students present a synchronized percussion piece to the public at festivals, banquets and general celebrations. It consists of the troupe playing drums, cymbals and gong in a fun, festive and powerful way, the group can be as small as three or up to ten people performing together. This performance is a great way to get a crowd excited by the powerful rhythms and sounds coming from the hard work of the musicians.
The Folk Performing Art classes, taught at the ZYKFA, offer a great way for students to work on stances, fluid power, musical ability and expressing their creativity. The Nature of these folk performances helps build a strong sense of belonging, both in the school and with the community at large. It takes many people to perform these routines; the musicians, the costumes, the performers and others must interplay with military precision. These folk art performances are done at grand openings and special events to bring luck to the event and start it off with a bang, which is why the most common time to see them is during the Chinese New Year celebration.
Here are some events ZYKFA Folk Performing Arts Troupe has performed in:
- Elvehjem Museum - opening of exhibit "Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds"
- Purdue University Undergraduate Chinese Association (Indiana)
- Taiwanese Students & Families Association
- Confucius Institute (UW - Platteville) New Year Celebration
- UW Varsity Band Concert at the Kohl Center (as seen on Channel 21 WHA - PBS)
- Tricia Yu's Tai Chi Center Chinese New Year celebration
- Madison Holiday Festival Parade
- Celebrate Madison
- Dragon Boat Festival (Madison and Racine, WI)
- Fourth of July parade (Racine, WI)
- ZYKFA members and family weddings
- Several local Chinese businesses grand openings and New Years celebrations
- Madison Area Families with Children from China (MFCC) New Year celebration
- Racine Area Families with Children from China New Year celebration
- Northeast Wisconsin Families with Children from China (Appleton) New Year celebration
- Henry Vilas Zoo Benefit - Feast with the Beasts
- Opening for the USKSF North Region Kung Fu Tournament
- UW Dance Prof. Li Chiao-ping's wedding
- Prof. Li Chiao-ping's production "The Knotcracker" - Overture Center
- Grand Opening of Chinese Language Classrooms
- Watertown Library - Watertown, WI
- Grand Opening of Action Kung Fu (Illinois)
- Founders Day Parade - Crystal Lake, IL
- Madison Area Chinese Culture Organization cultural presentations
- Chinese Student and Scholars Association