The History of the Chinese Ribbon Dance

By Lanh Ma
Ribbons for the Chinese ribbon dance are traditionally made out of silk.

The Chinese ribbon dance is a performance that features dancers whirling long strips of silk through he air. The silk ribbons are attached to short, varnished sticks, and as the dancer manipulates the silk, they will also perform specific steps and leaps. The history of the Chinese dance form goes back thousands of years.

Time Frame

The Chinese ribbon dance started during China's Han Dynasty, which stretched from 206 B.C.E. to 420 C.E. It is most commonly associated with the later Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 589 until 907.

Theories/Speculation

There is a story that attributes the beginning of the Chinese ribbon dance to a man who saved a Han Dynasty emperor from an assassination attempt by blocking the sword with the silk from his sleeve.

Types

The ribbon dance, which in Chinese is called Cai Dai Wu Dao, began with dancers simply holding thin strips of silk ribbon in their hands. It was not until the Tang dynasty that the strips grew in length and became attached to sticks for better control of the ribbons.

Features

Traditionally, the ribbon dance was performed for royalty, and it was accompanied by music. Large and flowing movements of the ribbon were accompanied by slow music while sharp movements, in which the ribbon was flicked and snapped, were accompanied by faster music. One or two ribbons might be used in this dance, and the length of the ribbon can vary from 5 to 12 feet.

Colors

The ribbons used in the dance can be of any color, but there is a strong preference for red ribbons. Red was traditionally the color of happiness and luck in Chinese culture, and red ribbon dances were traditionally performed during harvest festivals and to celebrate the new year.