Back to Dance Training Homepage

Training: The Great Race - Chinese Zodiac Dance Workshops

The Workshop

This workshop works in exactly the same way as the Where the Wild Things Are. It brings the story of the The Great Race to life through dance.

WEIS HQ will send you a copy of The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Christopher Corr to your home. Please take this with you to the schools to explain the story. You can also download a synopsis of the story here, which may be helpful to read before learning the workshop.

You will need to download the music as it is not on the MP3 players. If you have windows you can plug in the MP3 player, it will appear like a flash USB drive, and you can drag these folders in to the music folder. Or you can find another way, or swap players for a refreshed one with us.

The Assembly - a small change

If there is an assembly scheduled for the school you are delivering workshops in please deliver the version of this that you know and then spend a few minutes at the end re-telling the story of The Great Race, which you will be delivering workshops on with the classes throughout the day.

The Great Race story

Chinese New Year, similar to a lot of countries across East Asia, is based on the lunar calendar which follows the cycles of the moon. This year (2019) it falls on Tuesday 5th February. The origins of the celebration are steeped in myth and legend and as a result lots of the celebrations around Chinese New Year are based on superstition.

The festival begins with a house cleaning and sweeping to clear out the worries and problems of the pas year.

Many of the decorations used to celebrate Chinese New Year are red, which is a lucky colour because it was said there was once a mythical create who was destroying the harvest but he was afraid of the colour red.

Fireworks and Firecrackers can also be seen during the festival. These were originally used to ward off the mythical creature with a loud bang.

The dragon is a symbol of luck and protection, as they displayed these characteristics in the folktale of The Great Race.

Tuesday 5 Feb 2019 marks the beginning of the Year of the Pig.

Choreographer instructions

Please see the written information below the video.

To play the video in sync with the voiceover instructions: 

  1. Type the password in to the video if required

  2. Press play on the voiceover

  3. Listen to the spoken instructions, and press play on the video when instructed

  4. There is also a helpful video of teaching tips at the bottom of this webpage under the notes.

The Great Race – Chinese New Year


(See bottom of notes for changes for KS1)

1)   Warm Up
2)   Command – Emperor 
All children must do a yoga style bow
3)   Dance – use KS2 music track

Start by using a couple of children to demonstrate machines. 

You will do one mechanical movement of the first animal and keep repeating it, the second child will join next to you to do a movement of the next animal and they join you. Then ask child 3 & 4 to do the same. Try to get the children to do these movements starting a few seconds after the person before them so the movement is done in cannon. Also reflecting the other animals joining the race. 

Then put the children into 4 groups and give them clear instructions as to who is doing which animal. Each group has three or four animals and therefor there will be a couple of children doing the same animal. They can either so the same movement or do their own and still do this one after the other after the other etc. Use the descriptive words in the story to help them think of a movement.

For example the Rat tries to wake the cat/crept out/jumps on the ox’s back/sings to the Ox – so there are various things which can be used to help them with a movement. The other animals may only have one or two descriptive words.

The animals have also been grouped together if they are in the book.

Group 1) Rat, Ox, tiger and Rabbit

Group 2) Dragon, Snake and Horse

Group 3) Goat, Monkey, Rooster

Group 4) Dog, Pig, Cat

Once you have looked at the groups and done this with the music, add the start to it:

Drum beats at the start = one child saying (perhaps from group 2 or 3 “ I declare a race” As the emperor 

Then a child from group one is doing a Rat, tickling the cat to wake it up, but not actually touching the children in group 4, just miming, then with a movement will creep across the room from group 4 to group 1 not waking the cat. All in group 4 as cat so they remain on floor in ball till they do their moves. 

 Into group movements:

2x8 each group

Into fan dance.

The fan dance is a traveling step which with take group 1 and 2 into the front line

Group 3 and 4 will feed into the back line – they are pretty much already there as were in straight lines for their group movements. 

1x8 prepare fan up over head then one arm over shoulder

1-2 facing the side, step onto left foot through demi-point, right leg out at back, left hand up on left shoulder like fan is over shoulder, right arm sweeps forward 

3-4 step right, right arm sweeps back

5-8 repeat step left, right

1-2 face front step left touch right, arms circle (like you are circling fan) 

3-4 repeat the other way

5-8 step together step together sideways , hands/fans swishing  down low

Repeat this once more going the same way, then turn and go back the other way 1 and a half more times (you will end on the 4 steps)

Into canon dance –(which is how a dragon dance works) you can say that they are now being like 2 Chinese dragons.

The number one needs to be able to count musically to 8 or the teacher needs to stand their if they are musical or you can point each time (or do the movement) at number 1. The rest follow on. Each movement starts on the 1stcount of each bar of 8. If you can get the front row to go one way and start the back row from the opposite side, it looks really effective.

1-   Mexican wave arms – the river, rippling

2-   arms hit a running pose, with body low – running the race

3-   rainbow arms (if each line going a different way you will need to teach the back line to do this with their other arm moving first)

4-   arms sweep out to side and up over head to join hands and down into a bow (should only take 4 counts of the 8)

 repeat all 4 movements

Celebration dance 

1-4 run and space out clap hands on 4 (“find a space, clap”)

5-8 left hand on hip right hand doing 4 shakes across body as handing out Hong Bao (“hand red envelopes out”) red envelopes containing money given as gifts to children and youngest member of family, *see notes for this point

1-4 repeat 4 runs on the spot lifting feet up behind as if to kick your bottom

5-8 other hand handing out Hong Bao

1x8 4 steps forward as a pig (this years animal)

1-4 swish bottom side to side/ piggy tail

5-8 turn around and finish on 8 saying BANG facing front arms up as a firecracker exploding – this is to scare of the mythical creature who used to destroy the harvest. **See notes for this point

Changes for KS1 YR2 – Use KS1 Music track 

Start by teaching the fan dance first. Do the sideways step dig with circle arms, plus the sideways step x2 with the sweeping hands at the end of your warm up. Then break it down for them. Then you can add the 4 walks towards one side and add the side steps movements on to it.

Then you can tell them your command, which is the same as above

Followed by explaining then when they move around as their animal they mustn’t use any sound as the emperor mustn’t hear what animal is coming next.

Then you can get them to move around as the different animal. – see below. Once you have done these things you can start from the top with the music.

Drum beat:

Leader says “I declare a Race”

1x8 All Bow to Emperor 

move around the room as all the different animals in order (or with yr2 you can make up moves for each of the animals, but this is time consuming). Ask the children if they can help you remember the order of the twelve animals. Discuss how these animals would move and use the descriptive words in the book. 

Also take note that the horse movement is before the snake as you can get the children to do the horse galloping then stopping shacking its leg and jumping back which allows the snake to get there first. 

1x8 drum beat moving as the rat then jump on ox’s back

1x8 drum beat moving as the ox

1x4 shimmy as the tiger getting water off

1x4 hopping as a rabbit

1x8 moving as dragon also blowing the log to help the rabbit

1x8 moving as horse, shake leg, 

1x8 moving as a snake

1x8 paddling raft as goat

1x4 as monkey

1x4 rooster (chicken heads)

1x4 dog

1x8 pig

1x4 jump face the front as the angry cat

into fan dance 

same as above only longer

1x8 bow to emperor

1x8 prepare fans

2x8 whole fan sequence through once going one way

2x8 repeat going the same way

(say “oh no we are a bit squashed all over this side, we will need to go the other way” when you are teaching it at the start)

2x8 back the other way

2x8 repeat going that way

2x8 back the first way again, just once

1x8 face front fans up and over head

1x8 cross the fans zig zagging across body as they come down

1x8 turn around up on demi point, arms back up over head crossing fans at the top

1x8 bow to emperor 

into cannon section the same as KS2 but all going the same way and don’t need to be in lines. You can arrange yr2 into 2 lines if you have time, but keep them all going the same way.

Last section of dance is the same


Fan dances, Lion dances and Dragon dances do happen but not by children, often professional dance troupes (or in my school we had what they called ‘grandmas dance’ who were older women who would come and talk a bit about tradition and do a fan dance). So the children would see these dances but not necessarily participate in them. The Dragon is a lucky animal and a creature you would want to watch over and protect you which is why it features so heavily, but these dances exist mostly to add to an atmosphere of celebration at parties and schools in the build up to Chinese New Year (out of the streets during this time there is no-one, the shops close and everyone is at home with their families, much like Christmas here). Whereas, children I worked with knew about the story of the Zodiac and lots of the activities would be based around whatever the upcoming year was - like making Monkey crafts for example. 

What happens at Chinese New Year: 

  • *Hong Bao (red envelope or pocket containing money) - given as a gift to children, or the youngest people in the family  

  • Big family meal and celebration- noodles are often eaten as a symbol of longevity (this is also done on birthdays), and fish for luck. But in practise it is really about the family (the whole family - lots of younger chinese men and women will live with their parents until they are married and then the married couple will move in with, or move to a home with the wife’s parents, families tend to be closer and much bigger, still a lot of respect for elders of the family) coming together and sharing. 

  • It is a 15 day long festival,it starts with cleaning or sweeping - all the dust and problems of the past being removed, then actual New Year (lots of decorations), then there is lantern festival (but by this point most people are back to work). 

  • **Decorations- lots in red, it’s a lucky colour because it was said there was once a mythical creature who was destroying the harvest but he was afraid of the colour red so the red paper cuttings, lanterns and poetry couplets that are used to decorate now came from this superstition. Fireworks & Firecrackers, also originally used to ward off this mythical creature with the loud bang, VERY popular and became used for luck throughout the year (for example new shop opening - firecrackers, new baby- firecrackers… it got loud), these have been banned now in Shanghai. Lanterns - some have riddles or poems attached to them as a game. (Note: there are other symbolic colours such as gold(yellow) that is of course a symbol of fortune. But don’t wear white (death) or black (funeral).

  • New clothes - qipao

  • Calligraphy - Poems (couplets) used as decoration and also the symbol for luck (Fu) is hung everywhere, often upside down to allow the luck to come in 

There is a lot of superstition still in Chinese culture and a lot of the celebrations are done in order to bring luck for the new year, or for the upcoming harvest (Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year (for the actual evening) or Spring Festival (for the whole holiday period)).