When I was a kid, Lion dance fascinated me. The cymbals and drums with the colorful lions added much festivity to the Chinese Lunar New Year. According to the folklore, the art of lion dancing had started since thousand years ago in China. In ancient days, the people found it difficult to meet the lion. So, the impression towards the lion was a sense of ambiguous. With the historical changes, like the cultural revolution and the influence of various religions , arts and sports, led to the transformation of various aspects of culture within races and the ethnic group in China.
The lion dance movement change according to progress of history. Contemporary lion dances should be categorized into 2 categories. Northern lions and Southern lions. According to the historical points of view and the record of the old “Tang Shu” music which has the contents of Tai ping yue(Tai Ping Rhythm) in Zhou Wi Ti Era. In the Tai Ping Rythm has a phrase that says this, “There are 5 area of lion dancing. The lion dance was performed with people covered with lion-liked furry outfits. Two other performers using the rope and ribbon played around the lion that stands at their respective places”.
The lion dance is still an ubiquitous sight in Singapore during Chinese New Year festivities. You can hear and see them everywhere during the Chinese New Year. Lion dance troupes perform in offices, shops and temples around the island to ward off bad luck—symbolised by Nian—and usher in prosperity.
So what does it take to be part of a Lion dance troupe?
As a tribute to #SG50, Our editor speaks to Joseph Teo (JT) and Hong Ren (HR) of Wei Yang Athletic Association Singapore, to find out what it takes to be part of this unique traditional art.
Founded in 1995, Wei Yang Athletic Association (Singapore) has won several Awards, Medals and Recognitions at various Prestigious Competitions, both locally and overseas as well as invitations to perform for GRCs, Community Centers, PAs and Corporate Events.
For a full list of their awards, please head to their Facebook page.
– National Luminous Dragon Dance Championship – Gold Medal Award
– National Luminous Dragon Dance Championship – Best Props Award
– National Speed Dragon Challenge Championship – Gold Medal Award
– 19th Ngee Ann City National Lion Dance Championship (Freestyle) -Final 5th Position
– National Zone Competition (Freestyle) 4th Position
– 2013 Braddell Heights Lion Dance Freestyle Invitational Competition 4th Position
– 2013 Annual Youth Liondance Competition 1st Runner up
ED: Is it possible to take Lion dance as a full time job? Can you earn a living just by doing Lion dance?
JT: I don’t think it’s likely for people to take it as a full time job. Most people join the Lion dance troupe because of their passion for this art. Most people think this is a job, but when we are engaged, we will most probably be given a token sum (ang pow). The money will then be channeled into the daily operations, transportation, rental and food for the members.
ED: Where do you get new members? Do you have a recruitment drive? Do you get female student?
JT: Via Facebook and through word of mouth. Friends usually refer others that are interested and those who are interested in Lion dance will email or contact us online. Some schools have Lion dance as an ECA and we do get students from there too. They don’t have to pay us any fees to join us. It is more like a small community of friends that share the passion of this hobby. We treat Lion dance as a sport and approach this traditional art with professionalism.
They get to meet friends during the training sessions and share the passion for this hobby/sport. People may still have the mentality that only Ah Bengs join Lion dance, but that’s not true. Schools have Lion dance as an ECA and this is now a hobby and a sport for youngsters to widen their social circle. In the recent years, more girls getting interested in this sport too.
Our founder started Wei Yang Athletic Association because he wanted a place for youths to learn this traditional art form and a hobby and also a sport. They will also foster a sense of belonging and will aid to prevent them from being led astray “secret societies”.
ED: Are you guys only busy during Chinese New Year? What do you do throughout the year if you are mostly engaged during Chinese New Year?
JT: During our free time, its practice, practice and more practice. We prepare for competition in and out of Singapore. We spend months preparing the moves, the style of the performance and also the props for the competition.
ED: Okay, let’s talk about you Joseph. How old were you when you joined Lion Dance/Wei Yang Athletic Association? Do you have a full time job? Do you have to make any sacrifice for this sport?
JT: I was 12 when I first started, and I am now 28. I manage their web maintenance, manage their social media and teach Lion dance too. I run a web design and online marketing company, and I am managing the operations of the association too.
The biggest sacrifice would be time. Before a competition, we spend many laborious hours training and planning. If we finish work at 7pm, we will train all the way to 11pm.
ED: When you have kids in the future, will you let them to learn Lion Dance too?
JT: If they have the interest, I would definitely let my children learn this too! Allows him/her to know what daddy went through for the love of this hobby.
ED: If I am a reader and I am interested to learn this Lion dance, what are the prerequisite to enroll?
JT: We will prefer them to be above 12 as they will be able to take instructions and respond to the training better. We do have students under 12, but it is better when they are above 12 years old.
ED: How much does it cost to produce a Lion or Dragon?
JT: The Lion cost around SGD1000 and Dragon will be around $3000. It is quite expensive, but we have to change the props once it gets older as most clients would prefer to see a new Lion or Dragon when they engage us.
ED: After 12 years in this trade, what are the changes you observed?
JT: We have to be more marketing savvy now, take part in more competition for awareness and also be more particular with our branding. With more Lion dance troupe around, it is definitely more competitive. As most of us have a full time job, we don’t really head out to solicit business. Most of our clients are referral or repeat customers.
ED: Do you have anything to say to our readers interested in Lion dance?
JT: Lion Dance is no longer like how it was in the past, no longer associated with secret societies and ah bengs. This is a real sport and a respected ancient traditional art form.
ED: How long have you picked up Lion dance? What got you interested in Lion dance?
HR: I learnt this since I was Secondary 4, around 4 years. I’ve always had an interest in traditional Chinese culture. Especially Lion dance because the bubbly nature of the colorful lions accompanied by the loud music has always fascinated me. When my friends introduced me to Lion dance ECA in school, I’ve never stopped since. Love the feeling of competition and being part of a big family.
ED: For a young man like you, is it easier to find a girlfriend when you are part of a Lion dance troupe?
HR: Nah, I don’t think so. They might still have the stigma that people associated with Lion dance troupes are fiercer. But I do see more people getting interested as the acrobatic aspect of performing Lion dance has its appeal. The Lion is cute yet it is hard to master the moves and execute the acrobatic stunts with perfect timing.
ED: Do you think Lion dance will ever lose its appeal and be a forgotten art form in Singapore?
HR: I use to think that it may get forgotten, but year after year, I still see many people interested in Lion dance. And especially after Jack Neo’s movie Lion Men, more people are aware of Lion dance troupes in Singapore. I’m sure there will be people willing to preserve this tradition.
ED: Are your parents supportive of your passion in Lion dance?
HR: Yes, they are very supportive. They told me to make sure I do a good job if I were to do Lion dance. However, relatives with little understanding of the sport may still have a bad impression of it. Lion dance is really very cool as it is a combination of traditional art, performance and an athletic sport.
ED: Do you have anything to say to our readers interested in Lion dance?
HR: Well, Lion dance looks easy and entertaining, but if you would like to learn, it is definitely not easy. Manning the head or the back of the Lion is not as easy as it seems. It will take a lot of determination and you must have passion in the sport.
On behalf of the Metropolitant team, we thank Joseph and Hong Ren for taking time off to speak with us. May this traditional art form flourish and if you want to join them, click on the information below.