Visitors enjoy a colorful dragon dance parade in this file photo in Pudong's Sanlin Town. The "Olympics for dragon and lion dances" will run from September 21 to 25. (Ti Gong)
Hundreds of dragon and lion dancers from across the world will compete with each other in Pudong's Sanlin Town next week.
Thirty-five teams including overseas players from 15 nations and regions like the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile will participate in the 6th International Dragon & Lion Dance Championship.
Described as the "Olympics for dragon and lion dances," the championship takes place at Yuanshen Stadium from September 21 to 25.
Each team will dispatch a "southern lion," "a northern lion" and a dragon dance team to compete for the championship. The teams will perform stipulated and freestyle dances as well as take part in obstacle races.
"The championship aims to improve the exchange between the southern and northern schools of lion and dragon dances as well as promote the traditional skills to across the world," said Huang Yanchun, deputy Party secretary of Sanlin Town, which has the reputation of being "China's Dragon and Lion Sports Town."
The "artistic" southern lion originated from China's southern Guangdong Province and incorporates Chinese martial arts, while the northern lion dance aims to imitate a lion's behavior and appearance
Participants will be categorized into Asia and non-Asia groups to ensure fairness as well as to encourage more foreign teams to participate, Huang said.
The lion and dragon dances are both traditional folk art and remain an important custom for Chinese people.
It is believed that the lion dance can expel evil and ghosts, while the dragon dance can bring rain and good harvests as well as peace and health. The tradition remains in China to invite lion or dragon dancers to important ceremonies to wish an enterprise success as well as to entertain the guests.
Lion dancers, usually two players for head and tail, imitate the behavior of a lion with jumps and rolls. At the end of the dance, a couplet usually rolls down from the mouths of a pair of lions with auspicious greetings.
A dragon dance team normally has 10 players including a leader holding a "dragon ball" to guide the dragon movement.
Sanlin's dragon dance skill, known as the "Pudong dragon twist lantern," was listed a national intangible cultural heritage in 2011.
This month the local team won a gold medal on traditional style and a silver medal for freestyle during the 13th National Games in the northern port city of Tianjin.
The Sanlin team has also performed in a dozen of nations and regions including France, Germany, Belgium, Japan and Cambodia.
The team has won over 70 gold medals in competitions around the world.
However, just like many other cultural heritages in the city, there are concerns for the Sanlin team's future.
Officially established in 1994, many of its players are now middle-aged" with wounds and weakening body strength, said Lu Dajie, the leader of the Sanlin Dragon Dance team and chief coach for the championship. He added that fewer young people today are willing to study the classic skills needed.
Moreover, some players can hardly find a job to make ends meet, Lu added, while others have to seek time off work to take part in training and performances.
During a national dragon and lion competition in Nanjing in neighboring Jiangsu Province last November, a player with the Sanlin dragon team accidentally dropped the guiding "dragon ball" during the final match, costing the team the chance to win the gold medal.
The Sanlin township government has cooperated with the Shanghai Dragon & Lion Dance Association and the Shanghai University of Sport to support the development of the traditional skills, the township government said.
The government will subsidize 300,000 yuan (US,600) annually to train young dragon dancers, while the college of martial arts at the university would supply candidates to the Sanlin dragon team, the government announced.
Moreover, a national intangible heritage training center has been established for the Sanlin dragon dance in Chongming District. Lu has begun teaching some police officers based in Chongming to perform the Shanghai-style dragon dance.