Thanks to Liz for her help with writing!

Every twelve years, the dragon with people legs descends from his celestial abode to grace one lucky city with his fabulous moves.

They say he taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk…

It has been a new Lunar Year since Monday and celebrations have been going on all week among Chinese communities and parades are scheduled in many areas for this weekend. My favorite part of these celebrations is always the dragon dance. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re missing out. The basic idea is that a team of people, covered by a rather excitingly colored drape and with a large crafted dragon’s head at the front, dance about the street, emulating the serpentine motions of the Chinese dragon. It’s a very important part of any celebration it appears in, but it’s especially important in 2012 seeing as it’s the year of the Dragon.

There are, of course, several varieties of Dragon Dance out there and the type of dance depends on the community performing it. For instance, there is another method that involves attaching a very similar style of cloth and head to poles which the dancers hold up and move, waving back and forth, up and down. Every version is beautiful and fun to watch in a different way.

The Chinese are well known to have great respect for Dragons. In mainland China, they have even gone so far as to ban western commercials that disrespect this sacred cultural image (something no Chinese advertising firm would think to do). This may seem strange to the west. It is, after all, one of those things that is truly different between European and Chinese culture, but it is an important distinction. To the European mind, dragons have been a thing to be feared, a thing to be conquered. They have long held a place in our literature as the ultimate monster, the last beast to be defeated before the hero can rest. From medieval literature all the way to modern classics like The Hobbit, the dragon has largely been a symbol of purest evil. The people of China, however, have had a very different conceptualization of this creature.

Dragons in China look different, they act different, if they were real creatures there would be no doubt that they would be different species entirely. The Dragon, in China, is a symbol of royalty and the divine right to rule. It is a creature inextricably linked with water and the weather patterns that water brings. It is a strong and benevolent beast that typically only enacts violence against those that deserve punishment. Everything about it is important, majestic, and beautiful. The dragon has been used as a symbol of cultural identity for the people of China for a long, long time, something that is unlikely to change any time soon. When the dragon makes his appearance, you know it has great significance.

2012, in Chinese astrology, is the year of the dragon and it comes with all the importance the dragon symbolizes. In the context of this ancient system, it is a powerful year, a year of change and luck, one that won’t come again for another twelve years. Maybe this year we’ll all experience something powerful or maybe we’ll learn something particularly significant…

…Like the fact that those dragon dancers weren’t emulating the basic look of a dragon after all but were faithfully recreating its look exactly.

Yeah, it’s probably something like that.