Upholding the lion dance tradition

In Chinese culture, the lion and dragon dance performances are considered auspicious and said to bring good luck and fortune

By ZAPHNE PHILIP / BERNAMA

IVAN Chai Xun Fu was just a nine-year-old kid when he decided to learn how to perform the lion dance.

Three years ago, he became a lion dance instructor and has so far trained 50 people aged between 10 and 20 in the art, one of the most important traditions observed by the Chinese community during the Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations.

Chai, 22, told Bernama he has been smitten with the lion and dragon dance since young as he was mesmerised by the lively and vibrant performances.

“I wanted to learn to perform the dance so that I could help keep my ancestral heritage alive,” said the young man, adding that he was also impressed by the level of discipline and dedication shown by the lion dance performers.

In Chinese culture, the lion and dragon dance performances are considered auspicious and said to bring good luck and fortune.

Besides CNY, they are also performed at wedding ceremonies, opening of new business premises and other public functions.

Chai, who recently completed his studies in interior design at Tungnan University in Taiwan, is an active member and instructor at Jee Xiang Ruyi Lion and Dragon Dance Association in Bau, which is about 40km from Kuching, Sarawak.

In the early days, the Chinese didn’t allow women to perform the lion dance because the performers were required to have mental and physical strength, but now the rules have changed

Not Easy to Learn
He also takes care of the association’s logistic requirements and training schedules, and attends to the public’s requests for lion and dragon dance shows.

He acquired his lion and dragon dance skills from Kuching-based journalist Darrel Ng who, said Chai, inspired him to take the dance seriously.

Ng, 37, was trained by Master Siao Ho Phiew from Peninsular Malaysia who is wellknown in the lion and dragon dance circles and has performed in Malaysia and overseas.

Chai regards himself as a strict instructor as he does not want any of the association members learning the traditional dance to drop out halfway.

“My own teacher has told me that every person wishing to learn this art must have discipline and a sense of responsibility. Those who lack these qualities are not welcome to join us because it’s not easy to learn how to perform the lion dance. To master the techniques, one has to be disciplined, consistent, focused and committed,” he added.

He said the values he absorbed from his teacher have given him the confidence to serve the Jee Xiang Ruyi Lion and Dragon Dance Association better.

Training
Chai said training is conducted three times a week at night, as most of the participants are school children.

“When CNY is around the corner, we will try to find the time to hold more training sessions as we want to offer the best to our customers who hire our troupe for lion and dragon dance performances,” he said.

To master the techniques, one has to be disciplined, consistent, focused and committed

In Bau, not only are the Chinese keen to learn the lion dance, but also people from the local Malay and Bidayuh communities.

Polytechnic student Marion Angeline, 20, said she joined the association five years ago to learn the traditional art.

“Actually in the early days, the Chinese didn’t allow women to perform the lion dance because the performers were required to have mental and physical strength, but now the rules have changed. All we need to have is the interest to learn,” she said.

John Adrian, 21, has a full-time job, but he tries to find the time to train together with his friends at the association.

“To me, the lion dance training is similar to a workout session. I get to strengthen my body and learn the Chinese heritage art as well. It is fun to learn about the cultures of other people who live in our multiracial country,” he added. — Bernama