The Chinese ribbon dance, or "Cai Dai Wu Dao," began during the Han dynasty from 2068 B.C. to 420 A.D. It continued into the Tang dynasty, which began in 589 A.D. and lasted until 907 A.D. During the Tang dynasty, China experienced a renaissance where dance and art flourished. During this time, the Chinese ribbon dance reached the height of its popularity. Originally performed only for royalty, dancers now perform it at most Chinese cultural events, festivals, and to usher in a New Year.
During the Han dynasty, there was an attempt upon the emperor's life. However, a man named Hsiang po thwarted it, blocking the assassin's sword with the silk fabric of his sleeve. The ribbon dance began as a sleeve dance to remember and honor Hsiang po. Dancers would hold on to short ribbons, symbolizing his sleeve. A special dance would ensue as the ribbons waved in unison.
The Dance Evolved
During the Tang dynasty, the sleeve dance progressed to its current form. Long, silk ribbons ranging from 5 to 12 feet in length attach to a wooden or plastic stick. The ribbons are in bright colors, especially red, because red symbolizes luck and happiness for the Chinese. The music has a strong melody and a pronounced beat while the dancers perform a specific dance. They wave the ribbons in synchronized form and occasionally leap into the air during certain moves.
Ribbons Become Symbols
Ribbons in the dance symbolize different parts of the story. A broad, slow wave of the ribbons becomes a "rainbow." Small, choppy moves of the ribbon's handle and hopping produce the ripple effect of a rushing river. Strategically placed dark and light-green ribbons become a "dragon." The synchronized dancing evokes strong emotions as the colorful ribbons form patterns and become the unexpected.
The Chinese view dance as a way to unify the body and the psyche. Dance is also associated with achieving contentment, elegance and happiness. The Chinese ribbon dance is almost a "poetic" traditional dance form because of its synchronized steps, leaps, choreography and waving of ribbons that combine to form images out of thin air. The ribbon dance epitomizes freedom of expression in an otherwise repressed society.
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