The performance we see in ‘The Deserter’, when Aang, Katara and Sokka visit the Fire Nation colony, is a combination of the Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance.
As in the Lion Dance, the performers we see in that episode, are covered under the costume, yet the head of the costume closely resembles the Chinese dragon from the Dragon Dance, not a lion. It does, however, lack the pearl that would make it a true dragon.
The Lion dance舞狮 is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture, in which performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume.
The story goes that once upon a time a monk had a dream in which there were many sorrows and evils plaguing the land. The monk prayed and asked the gods how he could prevent these evils from occurring. The gods told him that a lion would protect them and fight back the evils. The Chinese people had never seen a lion before, but had heard stories that the lion was the king of all the other animals, so the monk combined all the lucky or magical animals he could think of and so made a lion.
If you look closely at any lion, you can see a red sash tied on its horn. It is told that the lion was disrespectful to the Jade Emperor. This of course caused the Jade Emperor to get very angry, so as a punishment he chopped off his horn (The source of his life) and the lion died. The Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin) felt bad for him so she tied his horn back on with a red sash with golden leaves and chanted to the lion and he came back to life.
The lion dance is often mistakenly referred to as dragon dance. An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is operated by two people, while a dragon needs many people. Also, in a lion dance, the performers’ faces are covered, since they are inside the lion. In a dragon dance, the performers can be seen since the dragon is held upon poles.
The Dragon Dance
The Dragon dance舞龙is a form of traditional dance and performance in Chinese culture. Like the lion dance it is most often seen in festive celebrations.
In the dance, a team of people carry the dragon — which is an image of the Chinese dragon — on poles. A dragon can be composed of up to 50 people. The dance team does mimic the supposed movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The movements in a performance traditionally symbolise historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity.