A veteran Lion Dancer’s hopes for a changed perception of a beloved cultural art.
Acrobatic moves and martial arts of the familiar Lion Dance keep showmen active and at tip-top physical condition in order to bring out a story told through generations. Despite the symbolism it brings, Lion Dance did not come to be the art loved by many without tribulations. Daniel Leong, representative of Kuan Feng Arts Centre Lion Dance team, reveals the gloomy history of this beloved cultural art.
On a regular rehearsal session, Daniel
stands over his troupe members, watching them intently as they train. His expression is one of pride as he witnesses the progress of each showman he has guided, feeling a sense of responsibility for every one of them – their interests, their futures and their wellbeing held at heart.
It’s with these feelings that he shares his concerns. Too often, Lion Dance troupes get a bad rep by those that are aware of it’s past. The 1950s saw rivalries between Lion Dance groups that turned into gang warfare, controlled by gangsters and secret societies. Lions were even used as “Trojan horses” to smuggle people,
money and vital information from enemy groups. The excessive violence forced the eviction of members in large numbers and, in some countries, a complete ban of the performance that lasted for decades.
Years have passed and Lion Dance can’t be further away from gangsterism today. Like the story it retells with each performance, Lion Dance groups dispel bad behaviour and work towards being a disciplined band of brothers. Albeit so, a tainted reputation is not easy to recover. Showmen are still discriminated against just for having tattoos and speaking in dialects.
Daniel himself was brought into the world of Lion Dance at the age of 5 by his father, “Perhaps this stereotype was true then, during my father’s time, but the culture has since outgrown its past,” he says.
Left: Daniel and his father, middle. Right: Daniel and his father, after winning the National Champions.
Images by Daniel Leong of Kuan Feng Arts Centre Lion Dance team.
Mr. Leong was idol, mentor and father in Daniel’s eyes. Every move mastered through his 23 years of practice was ingrained in him through his father’s firm guidance. While others learned life values through discipline, Daniel’s father taught them through the means of this vibrant art form. Contrary to stereotypes, Lion Dancers today are made to understand the Chinese culture at a higher degree. They grasp the meaning of '尊师重道' and '一日为
师，终身为父' - the true meaning of respect for the elderly. These are often shown by the members towards their seniors and the coaches during and off trainings.
Parents approach Daniel with worries for their children, especially teenagers that are in their rebellious years. Daniel curbs their concerns by having open sessions for parents to witness their child in action and does not ignore the
significance of academic excellence parallel to a child’s cultural upbringing, thus banning members from training should they neglect a balance in both.
Daniel has high hopes for the public to realize that his team of admirable showmen are more than just their appearance, and the art is more than just a violent past. They are capable of bringing smiles and entertainment to everyone that watches them.
Lion Dance has since steadily regained its spot as an honourable cultural art that has the right to be preserved. The longevity of this culture is important to Daniel, and he wishes to continue passing the torch of passion to the coming generations, inspiring them to MOVE for culture.