Almost six years ago I wrote this post to begin my LiveJournal blog (long since mothballed) and I was moved to think about it again this weekend. Not the sight of Barbara Windsor's breasts in a transparent top (I require no moving to think about them) but the phrases "dragon drop" and "head on a stick". Because on Saturday morning I was at a Dragon Workshop run by the Edinburgh Taoist Tai Chi centre, learning how to walk - then run - a Chinese dragon, the kind you see Chinese folk operating at festivals.
After my introduction to the dragon I know that it is led by the person (traditionally female) with the ball on a stick (who is called the "Pearl"). I know how to pick up and put down a dragon, and the various commands (among which "dragon drop" does not feature, though after a while you begin to feel it should). I know how to request a substitute if I get tired, and how to provide that service for someone else. I know how to do a wave and a zigzag, and after a further session in a week and a bit, I will know how to do even more. Which is just as well, as on August 10th we will be running our dragon in public at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, and I won't be able to attend any further practises because I will be in the USA. Still, on 10/8 the dragon (by then at its full 25-man size - we were using just half of it on Saturday) will be manned by a mix of people ranging from the very experienced (who were training us this weekend) to total novices turning up on the day, so I should be somewhere in the middle of the ability range. It's more complicated than you might think: your movements are constrained by those of the legs ahead and behind, and if you forget to swap hands on your pole before dipping your piece of dragon you could end up talking in a high-pitched voice for a while. It all reminded me rather of carrying the processional cross for my church choir as a teenager, though when doing that I was rarely called on to carry out waves or zigzags.
The best part of all, though, was when we were asked if anyone would like to learn how to do the drumming for the dragon. Well, you don't need me to tell you that I leapt at the chance, and now have the basic skills of hitting a hunk of dead animal with two pieces of wood the size of a large carrot. It's a bit like being bass drum for a marching band: you're responsible for the timekeeping and co-ordination of the dragon, There are a few basic riffs, of which the most easily described has the rhythm "The WORkers, uNIted, will NEver BE deFEAted" and one or two special rhythms for particular manoeuvres. I took to it like, er, a dragon to water, so now as well as being able to operate as a leg for at least the basic moves, I have joined the cast of drummers.
I look forward to wowing the August crowds on Princes Street. Oh, and I just found this picture of our very own dragon on the Taoist Tai Chi society blog.