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.