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.

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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

 

 

Chinese New Year 

Is it over yet? I can’t concentrate at work. I can’t concentrate doing anything. All I can think about is lion dancing. The drumming, the dancing, the firecrackers, the noise, the atmosphere. The incessant checking up on YouTube to see who’s posted what, keeping my eyes peeled on the various Facebook lion dance groups to see what everyone else has gotten up to.

It’s great with social media because it’s just brought the whole lion dancing community and world together. People can see what other people are doing and can share their experiences on how that little part of the world celebrates the lunar new year. 

I for one had a huge and exciting revelation! I’ve spent most, if not all of my Chinese New Year life in Sydney. I’ve seen the same teams, I’ve trawled the same outlying suburbs as well as making my way  into Chinatown to see the teams there. I’ve gone to a multitude of temples to see who’s doing what. 

This year, I spent a lonely Chinese New Year in a little town in country NSW called Tamworth. To make up for it, the weekend that just past saw me head down to Melbourne for the first time to see what the Melbourne guys have to offer in its Chinatown. Now I’ve seen heaps of video clips of the various Melbourne teams and am can’t familiar with who dances where and I knew to expect the Chinese Youth Society Melbourne (CYSM), Hung Gar Yau Shu (HGYS), Chinese Masonic Society (CMS) and the Dai Loong Association to do a number of performances in Chinatown but what I saw blew me away with excitement. 

    

CYSM

  

CYSM

 

Chinese Masonic Society working the high pole

 

CMS

  

CMS

 

Action shot of HGYS lion with exploding firecrackers

 

HGYS

Dai Loong

 I think the whole atmospheric set up was great!!!! I’ll call it super Sunday but essentially, the council blocks off 3 blocks of Chinatown to traffic, there’s a whole bunch of stalls and heck of s lot of people.

CYSM did a big routine which involved lots of lions and the monkey kin and other characters in journey to the west.  

Routine by CYSM

 

 The Dai Loong Association brought out the biggest dragon I’ve ever seen, a lot of lions and a procession of mythical animals that normally go with dragon processions and paraded up and down the various streets that make up Chinatown. 

 

Cool panoroma of the dai loong

 
The other three teams split themselves up to go shop to shop dancing in Chinatown!! It was great. It felt like my childhood in Cabramatta when there wasn’t an affiliation between shops and lion dancing teams and the shops would just stick out a Cheng, somehow get their hot hands on a string of firecrackers and stick that out as well and the first team to come by gets served! It was madness!!! There was drumming and firecrackers everywhere. At one point I think I saw team A of CYSM performing next to team A of CMS performing next to team B of CYSM performing next to team B of CMS and in the distance firecrackers going off which could only be HGYS performing at a shop as well. Actually, I think to keep the peace and be more attractive I did notice shops keeping tab of which team had already performed for them so when another time walked by they would put another Cheng out. 

 

CMS bringing out the long pole

 
The atmosphere was electric and the crowd was thick. What I really liked was the fact that the lions would continue to dance in between shops rather than start and stop when one shop was done. Walk to the next available shop and start and stop again. As a spectator watching from the crowd it was just exciting. Another thing that I thought was cool which is very different to Sydney is the drum carts. They have massive drum carts. Like a drum cart where the drummer and drum is on a raised wheeled platform above the crowds. There were lots of banners streaming from the back informing everyone of which team was there.  

This was the exception to the rule. CYSM finished off their performance here and they did a routine which involved benches and two really cool looking 白雲looking lions. Note the drum cart with flags in the back.  
 

CYSM dragon team at it. The dragon looks like it came out of dragon ball Z


It was all really exciting to watch and it went from 11am through to 4pm or so. I can only imagine the performers. 

Oh yeah that reminds me. Another big point of difference is that the teams, despite their large size, only used one lion each. I thought that was interesting given the teams had more than adequate man power and the crowds were huge. I would’ve thought they would have one lion hanging outside to please the crowd whilst the other went in. The only time I’ve seen and experienced something similar is when I was in Hong Kong/China and we do a pilgrim into China and the ancestral halls and temples of the founder, we would play a drum per lion. 

Otherwise, I had a thoroughly awesome time which made up for my quiet CNY. I just wish that I had the opportunity to perform for such a huge crowd that I saw. 

Happy spectators

Chinese New Year 2016

It’s that time of year again! It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow (Monday the 8th of January). 

Celebrations or should I say performances have been in full swing in Sydney for 2 weeks now with performances by Jin Wu Koon, Sydney Guangzhou Bak Mei, Sydney Bak Hok Pai, Yau Kung Mun, Sydney Chinese Masonic society having performances in Sydney’s Chinatown and teams such as Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu Association, Sydney Yun Yee Tong, Australian Teo Chew Asssociation, Australian Chinese Youth Sports association all participating in shows and demonstrations for the public to enjoy. 

I’m sure everyone is having a blast  and all the teams have worked hard for the most exciting time of the lion dancing year! Already videos and photos of performances are filling up social media and it’s such a pleasure to see people around the world practising and sharing this wonderful art.

Unfortunately from what I understand, Sydney’s Chinese New Year Twilight Parade has been cancelled due to the tramworks on George St ( the Main Street in Sydney CBD) but I don’t think that has dampened the mood or the number of performances has filled the numerous suburbs around town. 

There’s still a few more weeks of performances left and I’m keen and excited to see what else people have in store.

In the meantime, happy lunar new year!!

  

Work in progress 

Oh man, I’ve come a long way but I’m finally making it a priority to get cracking on this project. It’s been hitting on 2 years now since I started this trying to replicate this LFC head and I’ve stalled so many times. My latest years resolution was to get off my back side and just do it. It won’t get completed no matter how much I hope and dream how awesome they’ll be when they’re finished. They will get completed when I pull them off the shelf and work on it everyday!

I guess one of the other reasons this project is consuming a lot more time is I’m hoping to turn this project into something bigger. Something in the form of a DIY LFC head. It means meticulous measurements and photo documentation. 

It’s definitely a work in progress so watch this space to find out more. 

  
Here’s where I’m up to so far! I’ve got the first layer of paper down! 

I’ve done some things differently to this head than I have with others. After reading Chris Low’s restoration book I’ve had a few aHah moments of “that’s how the pros so it”. 

I’ve haven’t attached the handles year, now the cushion and I haven’t hot glued reinforcing netting to the frame as I have with the other lions I’ve worked on. 

The next steps now is to put on the other layers of paper, organise cushion handles and paint!! 

I’m almost there.