AMIDST the symphony of firecrackers and the festive sea of red, the dragon dance stands out as one of the Chinese New Year's most mesmerising rituals.
This ancient art, which has been an indispensable part of Chinese culture and tradition since the age of the Han Dynasty, is performed with a fabric dragon puppet that undulates to the rhythm of cymbals and drums.
A symbol of power, wisdom and prosperity, the "dance" of the dragon is believed to drive out evil while ushering in an auspicious start to the new year. For that reason, the dragon puppet often features lucky colours such as red, gold and silver.
As bigger is always better, it was also believed that the longer the dragon puppet was, the more luck it would bring.
However, is it true that the prop for the dragon dance is constructed with odd-numbered joints as this is considered another element of auspiciousness?
According to the National Library Board of Singapore, the dragon puppet used for dragon dances typically ranges between 14m to 54m and is divided into odd-numbered segments of nine, 11, 13, and so forth, depending on the length of the prop.
The longest dancing dragon recorded in the Guinness World Records is a whopping 5,568.46 metres long and it took over 3,000 performers to facilitate the dance!
While the thousands-metre-long beast was created specifically for the world record attempt, most conventional dragon dance puppets are shorter for practical reasons.
In Malaysia, dragon dances are most commonly performed with seven or nine-jointed dragons.
Nine-jointed dragons are thought to be favoured because the number 'nine' (九 or jiǔ) in Chinese sounds like the word for 'eternity' (久, also spoken as jiǔ), conveying longevity.
It is said that dragon dance troupe members typically take years to perfect their craft before they are ready to perform in public, and many of these performers can be considered professional martial artists or acrobats in their own right.
The jointed segments of the dragon puppet give performers the flexibility to twist and turn the prop sinuously during the performance, mimicking the movements of the mythical Chinese river spirit.
Each routine is meticulously choreographed from start to finish by its troupe, resulting in spectacular visual marvels as the colourful cloth dragon "flies" through the sky in chase of an elusive pearl.