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.