The magic that is Corey

This post is long overdue. I just hope that one year hasn’t affected my memory as much. Last year, in October, I had the absolute pleasure to meet one of the pioneers in the sharing and dissemination of lion dancing information Corey Chan.

A bit of background on Corey’s work, he was a regular contributor to the liondancing.org forum back when that was still active. If you’ve never been to that forum, it was a wonderful source of information and a treasure trove of knowledge. And the best thing for us in the west is that it was all in English. There were different subforums and threads on all things lion dancing like general knowledge of chengs, how to repair lion heads, where you could buy lion heads and basically whatever question you might have wanted to throw at the group. It was great! Remember, this is before facebook existed and for a small community like the lion dancing one that is spread across the globe, it was the first connection that a lot of us had to what was happening in the rest of the world. Corey, himself and lion enthusiast, had a wealth of knowledge in repairing and restoring lion heads and developed a lot of excellent connections to source lion making and repair supplies which culminated in setting up an online store called ofcourselionsource. This is where I first “met” Corey online back in 2004 him during my first forays with my collaborative approaching in the restoration of my Sifu’s Cheung Fei lion head. My Sije Linda managed to source our silk balls, and bristle fur and other bits through him.

So, over 10 years later in San Francisco and after a series of fortunate events, I was very lucky and very fortunate to meet Corey. He was extremely generous with his time coming out to see me at such short notice. We spent a lot of time talking about all things lion dancing.

He is so knowledgeable about so many different aspects of lion dancing that the rest of us can only dream about. And it’s not just that he knows about multiple different aspects of lion dancing, it’s the depth of knowledge that he has- the art of lion dancing, the art of dragon dancing, the art of dancing the laughing Buddha that accompanies the lion dance, the musical aspects of the lion dance, the art of making the lion head and all the intricacies that come with it (making the frame, papering, painting and all the symbolism that comes with it), knowledge about the other folk dances in Chinese culture like the Pei Yau etc. I know right!! Talk about knowledge. And that isn’t his day job.

His students are incredibly lucky to have such knowledgeable teacher who is willing to share his passion with others and I am incredibly lucky to meet him.

The other out of this world experience is to see in person some of the incredible projects that Corey has worked on. There were a tonne of one of a kind amazing futsan lion heads, each one painted with such detail, symbolism and colour that they would all play starring roles if each of them were in a pride of lions. Danced together, no doubt they’d form a dream team. I got to see a baak wan made unicorn (kei lun) which was incredible. It was quite unique in how it was made that just like their lions, this one was distinctive enough for me to say that if I ever saw another one similar to it being displayed or danced, I’d be able to call it as a baak wan product. Finally, I was blessed to see an example of a luen faat cheung branded dragon. That’s right a dragon! Now if you know me, or have been following this blog, I’ve been trying to make a couple of luen faat cheung lion heads so I have spent a bit of time collecting images and studying some of the works that was produced in the LFC workshop. I haven’t in all my looking around come across a dragon but, like the other famous makers of old (Baak Wan, Luo On Kee, Bo Wah etc) there’s no mistaking that the artwork is quite distinctively from Luen Faat Cheung’s workshop. I need to dig up a little more history of the dragon itself but no matter the history, there was a “Patina” about the dragon that made it look majestical and the fact that is a LFC dragon just adds to the awesomeness.

Post edit: I showed some of the images to Yu Ying Ho (of Yu Ho Kee fame) in Hong Kong during my last visit there in early 2017 and he gave me a little bit of insight into the LFC workshop and the potential maker of the dragon. His opinion is that the dragon was quite possibly made by his Sifu, and rebranded under Luen Faat Cheung’s name and resold onwards (best way I can explain this concept is like how Tag Huer uses ETA movements to power its watches but brands it under the Tag Huer name rather than Swatch).

Whatever the history, the dragon head looks awesome! Definitely some patina there. Here are some images.

Lion dancing over New Years 

It’s always exciting to watch New Years performances from around Australia and the world. 

The best thing I can say is the quality of lion dancing is definitely at a higher standard than what it has ever been and the lions are getting more and more prettier. I think one of the most impressive collection of lions was at the Richmond Victoria St Lunar New Year festival down in Melbourne Australia. There was a huge amount of colourful and pretty lions from both the Jow Gar Kuen school and the Dai Bi Quan An lion dance team. If you do a YouTube search, you’ll find plenty of videos of the two teams performing a meeting and then a set involving lots of beer and lots of alcohol! Looks like they had lots of fun. 

Highlight reel of Jow Ga Kuen Melbourne in action

Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu
Back in Sydney, I was able to participate in some of the lion dancing myself with the Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu team. It was a jam packed day with lots of performances in a number of different shopping centres. It’s sometimes a little disheartening when you start a performance and not many shops put up a Cheng. All that hard work in training and not a time to demonstrate your skills. That felt like it might have been the case when we started at a few of the shopping centres but fortunately as we slowly paraded around the shops, it became  was quite atmospheric as lots of the stores that we were approaching scrambled to hang up a Cheng. Everyone (shopkeepers of all nationalities) was getting involved and in the end it felt like we were rock stars! 

   
    
    
  

My happy face 🙂

 
Other teams that I managed to capture out and around Cabramatta- Sydney Indochinese Youth Sports Association

   
 
   
 
Sydney Yun Yee Tong   

Happy Year of the Rooster 2017

Happy new year everyone. 新春快樂。Chuc Mung Nam Moi! 

It’s been a blast down in Sydney with performances happening everywhere and plenty more to come. The new year came early with lion dancing performances beginning in early January in Sydney’s Chinatown. I didn’t manage to catch my first glimpse off lions nor the thunder of drums and firecrackers until Chinese New Year eve though.

Im going to share with everyone my yearly ritual. I’m sure a few of you might be able to relate to this yourselves whether it be in Sydney or anywhere else around the world. It involves having a family dinner to round out the new year before doing the rounds of the temples. You make your way out to the temple, not too early but always just on the right time. It is always funny approaching the temples. I switch off the car music, windows are down, and my ears are perked up trying to capture the faint but always audible “ding” that is the signature gong sound of a few of the teams in the Cabramatta area. When I hear it, I know I’m late and without wasting any more time, I hastily find a parking spot and run down to watch. 
My first stop was the Ming Yue Lay Temple in Bonnirig. One of the larger Chinese temples in western Sydney and one that always draws crowds. There were plenty of people there giving the place an eclectic atmosphere and to cut through all the buzz was the Australian Teo Chew Association performing with their colourful lions. As always, they did a great set with their big group of lions dancing and then breaking off to do individual shows for everyone. 

   

   
Next stop on the map is a drive to Canley Vale’s Kwan Yin temple with drive bys of the Australian Kin Fu Ma Zhu temple, Chua Minh Hoang, and Tin Hau Temple. I don’t know what I want to achieve with driving by those temples. I don’t have time to get out of my car and watch. Maybe it’s the feeling of knowing which team is doing what and where and knowing what other teams are getting up to. Same ritual, approach temple miles out, music off, windows down, ears perked up, car slows to a roll, stare at temple, no lion dancing? Speedy get away! 

Over at the Kwan Yin Temple, I could hear the drums and the gong being bashed from blocks away! Performances are in full swing with Yun Yee Tong doing a number of lion routines. I also missed some of their Kung fu demonstrations but fortunately with social media, a lot of the that was captured on footage.  I believe the Central Coast Jow Gar team, and some of Head Academy Jow Gar were there with Yun Yee Tong (also Jow Gar) to do demonstrations. As a martial artist myself, it’s always exciting to watch other people belt out their forms. I know a lot of hard work, sweat and perseverance has gone to make these martial artists great and getting to do forms in front of a crowd is one of the few times we get to show to everybody else what we ‘secretly’ do on our weeknights. I hope they had fun! 

And as usual, about 10 minutes before the stroke of midnight, the lions reassemble themselves in front of the main temple hall. They dance in line whilst one of them choy cheng (timed to coincide just before midnight). The temple staff come out and light the million strings of firecrackers which is always exciting for my ears. (Maybe not for everyone who’s standing too close. It happens every year. Because it is a temple and private property, there’s not a lot of official looking council workers or pyrotechnic people shooing everyone to 100m away. You stand wherever you like and if you’re too close to the firecrackers you run or more like push your away to get away. All whilst pointing your camera at the firecrackers trying to live stream it, having your free hand blocking one ear and trying your best to raise your shoulder high enough to give some level hearing protection for your remaining ear). The firecrackers are used as a surrogate countdown to the new year because right afterwards, the fireworks go off. And I mean they go off. These guys don’t hold back. I’m usually a firecracker person and don’t find fireworks that exciting (you’d think that the world famous Sydney New Year fireworks over the harbour bridge every year would whet my appetite but nope). However, this is different. I think the combination of a great set of fireworks, the fact that it explodes so close over our heads and the Chinese temple facade in the foreground gives it such a great atmosphere.  

   
    
   
 

 

Observations of lion dancing trends

I’ve been a keen observer of lion dancing since I was a little kid but and I think it is really interesting how the same art is adopted and adapted in different parts of the world.

Each locale has a distinctive flavour in their interpretation. Generally speaking Vietnamese performers have a fairly distinctive drum beat and dancing style; the Thai’s have very distinctive lion heads; in Singapore you have plenty of schools affiliated with the Jow Gar lineage of kung fu and dancing that particular style of lion dancing; or they dance the “modern” Hok San dance style; in Malaysia, there are plenty more modern Sar Ping style dancers and jong performances; in Hong Kong, there are plenty of Kung Fu schools who dance their “traditional way” as was taught by their Sifu without much delineation; around the world where there are  old, long established Chinese communities such as in New York, San Francisco or Melbourne, most of the teams in these areas dance and drum in a fairly similar fashion.
However, I think things are changing. With this world becoming smaller through the age of the internet, we can easily see what other teams are doing in other parts of the world. We can see the latest trends of lion head painting designs, the latest tricks that teams do, the different drum beats and people are adopting and adapting and changing.

I’ve made some observations on some of the changes

  • The gradual shift by some Western teams away from the Malaysian/ Singaporean style fluffy lion heads to the older style bristle furred lions. This doesn’t just include the lion that is used but also the way that dancers are dancing the lions themselves. A slight gravitation by some to do more ground routines.
  • Whereas in Hong Kong, I am seeing more and more of the other way with teams trending towards the more “modern heads” and more tricks and jumps.
  • Collectively, I’ve seen the overall quality of lion dancers and performances improve. There is so much more open access to resources around the world that we can learn from to add to what our Sifu’s or instructors are teaching.  This could be in the form of lion dance meet ups with other schoools or members from other school, it could be the multitude of videos that are uploaded and it could be from the ever increasing number of compettiions. Pair that with the passion of the lion dancers themselves for wanting to be better and you get great performances.
  • The open access material also extends to lion dance drumming and now we’re seeing more teams and players belting our various beats in the one session. These include the hok san beats (??Sar ping style. I apologise, I’m unfamiliar with the background or various styles of the Hok San lion dancing style), fut san beats (Hong Kong style or variations), Vietnamese beats, Lo Leung (Macau) beats etc.
  • There are people on all sides of the camp. Teams who are happy with what they’re doing and happy to stick to what they’re doing, teams who borrow certain elements from other dancing styles, teams who borrow lots from other styles, teams who’s style no longer conforms to any style and instead they borrow from all styles of dance and use their creativity to make it work for themselves

There is no good or bad, just evolution.

Reflections on lion dancing

We lion dancers are a passionate bunch

Why have I come to love lion dancing so much. Because we learn not only about a Chinese performing art but also Chinese culture and history. Other bonuses are the development of teamwork and camaraderie, a family or at least lifelong friends and most important of all, the enjoyment of performing and the enjoyment from wowing the crowds.

But the beauty of lion dancing as a performing art is that everyone (yep each and everyone one of you) has the ability to not only take something away from lion dancing but also to put into the art to make it richer and more vibrant.
It might be your continuous presence that keeps your club alive, or your interest and desire to create a club or a lion dancing team in an area that may not have had a lion dancing team. Or your background in Chinese opera to add a different element to your theatrical performance. Or your private work as an artist or seamstress to help create, construct and repair lion heads. Or your work as a engineer or handyman to help create props, drum carts and other elements we might take for granted. Or your work as a historian to help photo document or physically preserve the lion heads. Or your work as a graphic designer developing the school’s logo or marketing material etc etc etc.

Everyone has a secret skill or talent and every participant in a lion dancing group or school has a role to play so keep turning up and keep sharing this wonderful art!

 

Happy 2017 New Year

Happy 2017 to all!

I hope everyone had a fruitful 2016.

So what was 2016 for you? Did you recently join a team? Did you learn how to lion dance? Did you pick up the drumsticks for the first time and gave the drums a whack? Did you learn how to do a headsit or a shoulder stack or other trick? Did you participate in a competition? Did your team do well in a competition?

For me,  I had a range of enjoyable experiences.

  • I was fortunate enough to enjoy the Chinese New Year celebrations in Melbourne and experience “their way” of performing.
  • Meet up with and enjoy my mentor in lion dance and drumming Pan from Hong Kong belt out his wares during some of the Sydney New Year celebrations.
  • Belt out some beats of my own at one of the Dragon Style performances.
  • I was able to enjoy the 5th year anniversary of the Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu Association.
  • Watch the visiting UK Dragon Style Kung Fu lion dancers in action.
  • I also got to meet 2 pioneers of free open access resources on lion dancing in the English speaking world (Corey Chan of “of course lion source” fame and Chris Low of the ever useful “liondancing.org” fame and writer of “Restore the Roar”).
  • I visited the Bendigo Golden Dragon Museum and to learnt a tonne about dragons and got to experience first hand the quality and craftsmanship of Lo An Kee.

Whatever the experience and achievement, let’s reflect and learn and build upon it and make 2017 even better.

Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum

Merry Christmas to everyone around the world.

This Christmas, I was fortunate enough to make it down to Victoria, Australia and across to the beautiful city/township of Bendigo to visit the Golden Dragon Museum.

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I have been following them closely on Facebook for some time now and am always really excited to see their updates on their dragons and lions they have in their collection as well as the many invaluable photos they have of said dragons and lions in action. These tell a fascinating story  of the Chinese people who settled in Bendigo past and present.
Whilst I was there,  I was fortunate to meet Anita Jack and Leigh McKinnon who were so kind as to meet me and show me a behind the scenes look at the exhibits and for that I am ever grateful.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty of some of their cool exhibits.

There is  Loong, a more than 100 year old well preserved dragon that has been heritage listed by the Victorian Government. This is a dragon that has seen China move from the Qing dynasty complete with officials wearing Mandarin robes to the modern era. What I love is that there are photos documenting this dragon through the ages and it really puts into context how old he really is.

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Loong

There is Yar Loong, a beautiful dragon who sits pride of place in the museum. He has been involved in momentous occasions as seen by all the photos of the processions he has been in. He sustained some damage but has been faithfully restored by some local artisans to the point where you wouldn’t even know he was over 50 years old. The craftsmanship that was involved to make him is incredible and his colours are still so vibrant.

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Yar Loong

There is Sun Loong, who sits pride of place in the main part of the museum. Sun Loong is almost 50 years old and is still on active duty dancing in the annual Bendigo Easter Fair. He  was made by the famous Hong Kong Craftsman Lo An of Lo An Kee fame and is one of the world’s longest procession dragons. He has even met royalty having paraded for Prince Charles and Princess Diana during the visit to Bendigo in 1983.
It is incredible to see the craftsmanship that has gone into make a living, working piece of art that is not only visually stunning but has stood the test of time and has survived years and years of parades.
My understanding is that Sun Loong will be retiring in the near future so get yourself down to Bendigo this Easter to see him in action before he is retired for good.

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Sun Loong

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Painting of Sun Loong by Charles “William” Bush

For the lion enthusiasts,  you’ll also be excited to know that they have a well preserved collection of at least 8 or 9 Lo An Kee lions on display. There are a number of Cheung Fei lions and Lau Bei lions. I was lucky enough to be able to get up close and personal with these lions and all I can say is wow! The craftsmanship of these lions- from the construction of the frames through to the paper mache and the paint work is something that is not commonly seen today. Everything just speaks quality. The paper mache hasn’t cracked and the paint job hasn’t chipped and they still feel as sturdy as when they were newly made. Also the interesting thing about some of the lions is that the speak of differing periods in Lo An Kee manufacturing. The paintings on them all differ somewhat in their patterns. These lions are all well over 20 years old, yet I can guarantee that they would still probably stand up to the rigors of another parade and more.

On display in the museum are other bit and pieces that are associated with lion and dragon dancing that are worth a mention. There are banners, and flags, drum carts and leggings.

And how can I not mention this lion?  There are some old black and white images of this lion in action dating back into the 1960s which makes him OL….. ..wise! His tail still exists too and it’s so fascinating in that the little metallic discs are made by little hand-cut pieces if mirror in either circles or hexagons. Talk about attention to detail!

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There are numerous other exhibits in the museum that I haven’t had the time to showpiece so if you’re around, do check out the place.
And if you’re also around the Melbourne area in Easter, do stop by because their parade and show is huge!

On a deeper note, I think “we” are fortunate enough that such a well preserved and intact collection exists in the one place. Most lion heads, or dragon heads for that matter generally wouldn’t survive past 20 years. The Chinese ritual of “retiring” lion heads (burning the heads to send them back to the afterlife) must’ve gone amiss here but it is to our benefit. The museum has a wonderful team of volunteers, historians and research staff who are spending countless hours trying to document, preserve and discover more and more of these treasures for us to continue to enjoy and their hard work is duly noted. Their work even extends beyond the collection in Bendigo to other older Chinese settlements around the world such as in Marysville in California, USA.

To end off on, I understand that the council of Bendigo through the Bendigo Chinese Association/ Golden Dragon Museum are looking into commissioning the construction of a new dragon to replace Sun Loong. Given the pedigree of dragons already in the collection, I can only imagine how great the next dragon will be. They are already in the process of meeting artisans in Hong Kong to see who might be the best match so watch their space!!

Check out their website here http://www.goldendragonmuseum.org/ or their facebook page here  https://www.facebook.com/goldendragonmuseum/.

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Zoe couldn’t contain her excitement