An internationally-recognised sport
As a little boy, Nelson Nguang used to rush whenever he heard the sounds of a dragon and lion dance performance. “In the morning of CNY, whenever I hear the drum sounds nearby, I would already feel excited. I would run to it, even my slippers were nowhere to be found. As long as I get to watch it, I would be very happy.”
Watching the exuberant performances, young Nelson dreamed of joining troupe in the future. However, at the time, he was discouraged by his mother as in her opinion, “The cultural troupe is associated with bad habits. However, in my opinion, it is all about the culture.”
He joined the troupe through the Chinese Martial Art Association in 1987 as a cymbal player and sometimes as the ‘tail’ of the lion. Now, the 45-year-old is the chief coach and treasurer for the association. Apart from making a name within the industry, Nelson is also the technical director for the Sarawak Dragon and Lion Federation. In 1998, he became a national-level judge and later on was invited to become an international judge for the dragon and lion sport.
Dragon and lion as a sport
With Malaysia emerging as the international champion last year, Nelson believes that the dragon and lion performance is more than just a cultural symbol. “In fact, it has been recognised as a sport by the Asian Indoor Games and Malaysia had sent participants to compete in the international arena ever since.”
Nelson added that having the dragon and lion dance as a sport can encourage the young generations to join in. “Through this sport, we can gather the youngsters to avoid them from taking part in unhealthy activities.”
Aside from that, the coach also explains that the dragon and lion dance can be a challenging sport for them, “They will definitely try their best to win medals and prove themselves in the sport.”
Dragon and lion as a cultural symbol
Besides that, youth joining the sport can also inculcate and gain more cultural knowledge. Each coming CNY, the dragon and lion troupes will take part in programmes and performances to gather funds for the association members to partake in competitions.
With over 200 types of Chinese symbolic movement, the performers need to train and memorise every step of the dragon and lion’s movement. According to Nelson, each and every step taken has its own meaning.
“The lion also needs to sleep, eat, and smell. They need to get something, or to be vigilant of their surroundings, to see when is to attack or if they needed to cross the bridge. All these movements need to be shown by the performer,” disclosed Nelson.
Memories of the past
Joining the sport initially as a hobby, Nelson said now his mother had finally approved of his decision to join the troupe as he was not involved in any bad activities. When asked does he get back pain from bending too much when becoming the lion’s tail, Nelson mentioned as young boy he had never felt pain. “But if you asked me to bend over now, is a different story because of my age!”
Nelson also explained that before one gets to perform as a dragon or lion, one must have the basic knowledge of the martial art ‘Wushu’. This is because the foundation of the dragon or lion’s movement comes from Wushu.
Nonetheless, he recalled the days when he and his troupe would spend together. “We play together, go around together and when we face difficulties, we face them together.” Having been active with the association since long ago, Nelson had known many who joined the troupe along the way.
“Old members would call me and asked if we were performing. They would want to join in too, and it will be like a reunion since some of our old members had left to go overseas or continue with their respective careers.”
As a lion dance performer, Nelson spent most of his CNY with his troupes, “It has been over 25 years that I had not celebrated CNY with my own family. Thankfully, I have a loving wife who understands that her husband is passionate for the sport.”
Putting things in a different perspective, the optimistic Nelson said, “But if you think about it, as a lion dance performer we do house visits and spend our CNY with different families.”
The Chinese Martial Art Association
Initially, the association was organised in 1974 to train martial arts. Sometime later, the association formed the very first lion and dragon dance troupe and from there, the members grew.
Founded by Master Law Kaw Chai, the association emphasised on a strict image and discipline. Nowadays, aside from the dragon and lion, and Wushu, the association also trains people the sport of big flags, high poles and others.