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Fire dragon dance flourishes with inflow of youngsters

3 Feb 2023

CHONGQING, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- As night fell and high-pitched music played, dozens of shirtless actors performed a fire dragon dance in a shower of molten iron, sparkling like fireworks. Audiences burst into hails of applause amid the magnificent sight.

As many as 222 actors performed this dragon dance show in Tongliang District in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality to celebrate the Spring Festival.

The dragon dance has a history of thousands of years in Tongliang. In May 2006, the Tongliang Dragon Dance was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.

Different from regular dragon dances, the fire dragon is the most heart-shaking part of the Tongliang Dragon Dance. The "fires" or "sparks" are molten iron at about 1,500 degrees Celsius.

Performers throw the molten iron into the air with a special spoon and then hit it hard. In a flash, the molten iron splashes into sparks all over the sky.

This year, most of the show's actors are young people with four months of training.

Li Jing, 24, is the Tongliang Competitive Dragon Dance Team leader. She fell in love with the dragon dance as a child.

© Provided by Xinhua

"At the first sight of the dazzling dragon dance, I was deeply attracted by it. Fortunately, Tongliang has offered an enabling environment for me to learn the dragon dance," Li said.

As part of the efforts to pass on the intangible cultural heritage, Tongliang brings it to campuses.

Tongliang includes the dragon dance in its physical education curriculum. Over 100 elementary and middle schools have their own dragon dance teams, and over 60,000 students have joined the dragon dance performances.

"We use the term 'backbone spirit' to symbolize those dragon dancers who show no fear in confronting hardships. Behind their excellent performances are countless hardships and sweat," said Cai Mingcan, coach of the Tongliang Competitive Dragon Dance Team and director of the show.

In recent years, Tongliang has developed a cultural industry chain, including dragon lantern-making and dragon dance performances.

© Provided by Xinhua

Tongliang has set up more than 200 dragon dance teams. About 14 groups and enterprises are engaged in dragon dance training and performances, and more than 500 coaches, directors, and actors join the dragon dance performances all year round.

"The company is busy during the holidays. The dragon dance performances are booked until the Lantern Festival on Sunday," said Li Jie, general manager of a culture company in Chongqing. "We have sent nine performance teams and 200-plus performers to cities like Ganzhou, Changzhou, and Beijing."

Tongliang's Gaolou Township is dubbed "the hometown of Tongliang Fire Dragon." Thousands of residents have mastered dragon dance skills.

"The dragon dance performance promotes the employment of locals and brings them about 20 million yuan (about 3 million U.S. dollars) of net income every year," said Yang Yong, Party secretary of Gaolou.

"The inheritance is the key to protecting the intangible cultural heritage. Now the inheritance team is expanding, and the inheritors' income is rising," said Cai. "I believe the dragon dance will flourish with more youngsters to join."

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