Keeping the lions roaring

The traditional eye-dotting ritual performed on Jan 9 by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian (centre) on new lions unveiled by the Chinese Martial Art Association (CMAA) ahead of CNY 2022, as CMAA president Chester Lim (left) looks on.

Lion dance – a tradition to be preserved

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have grounded lion dance performances during the Chinese New Year (CNY) festivities for two years now, the spirit of the tradition should be remembered, valued, and preserved.

The iconic lion dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture which involves performers clad in lion costumes moving in a lively manner to the stirring beat of drums, cymbals, and gongs.

A familiar sight and one of the most important traditions during CNY, creating a festive and cheerful atmosphere for all to enjoy, it is also performed at other Chinese cultural and religious festivals as well as significant occasions like business opening events, wedding ceremonies, and special celebrations.

In Chinese culture, the lion symbolises power, strength, wisdom, stability, and superiority. It is believed that the lion dance brings good fortune and prosperity, and chases away evil spirits.

Chinese Martial Art Association president Chester Lim.

Chinese Martial Art Association president Chester Lim says the lion dance, as a sport and cultural activity, is steeped in rich tradition and noble values which must be preserved.

“It is heartening to note that the younger generation is keen to participate, and they must be encouraged to uphold the tradition,” he says.

Lim says Sarawak holds interschool lion and dragon dance competitions annually, adding that these dances are also included in schools as part of their cocurricular activities. 

On the variety of lion costumes, he explains that each and every one of the lions’ colours are a representation of the various heroes from the Three Kingdoms era.

“These are mainly Liu Bei (rainbow colours), Guan Yu (red), Zhang Fei (black), and the noble values of brotherhood, honour, valour, justice, benevolence, loyalty, and righteousness associated with them,” says Lim, who is also advisor of Sarawak Dragon-Lion Dance and Wushu Association.

The Sarawak Dragon-Lion Dance and Wushu Association has member associations mainly in Kuching, Betong, Betong, Mukah, Sibu, Sarikei, Bintulu, and Miri.

Adds Lim: “The Association is registered with Sarawak Sports Commissioner as a sports body that is affiliated with Dragon and Lion Dance Federation of Malaysia, that is a member of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.

“Apart from the cultural and traditional aspects of lion and dragon dance, the more important part of the activity is the competitive aspect.

“We have many competitions, from state to national and right up to international levels every year except for now, due to pandemic that has disrupted all activities.”

Prompted for his views on the prohibition of lion and dragon dance performances in the upcoming CNY as per the standard operating procedure (SOP) jointly issued by the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) and Unit for Other Religions (UNIFOR), Lim notes that there is currently an appeal to SDMC from the Sarawak Dragon-Lion Dance and Wushu Association.

Nanyang Wushu Federation of Sarawak chairman and instructor-in-chief Prof Datuk Seri Dr Song Swee Hee.

Meanwhile, Nanyang Wushu Federation of Sarawak chairman and instructor-in-chief Prof Datuk Seri Dr Song SweeHeesays the ban imposed on lion dance performances during CNY will certainly impact the joyous atmosphere of the celebration.

Nevertheless, since this restriction is per SDMC’s SOP, they will abide by the ruling as it is for the benefit of all communities in Sarawak.

“For these two years, we have not done any lion dance performances as we care for the safety of our performers,” he tells New Sarawak Tribune.

The Nanyang Wushu Federation of Sarawak’s usual training sessions previously took place every Friday from 7pm to 9pm, but these such practice sessions have stopped since March 2020 due to the rising rate of COVID-19.

Song says the lion dance has always been featured during festivals and occasions such as business opening events, wedding and birthday ceremonies, special celebrations, and to welcome guests of honour at events.

“These performances reflect the unique Chinese traditions and customs.

“I hope that the COVID-19 pandemic, including the spread of the Omicron variant will be over soon so that the activities of lion dance can still be practised and promoted as a cultural sport at all events,” says Song. 

Kelvin Ng Fock Chung, chairman and coach of Elite Dragon and Lion Dance Association.

Kelvin Ng Fock Chung, chairman and coach of Elite Dragon and Lion Dance Association, says lion and dragon dances are now not only for CNY or special occasions but have developed to become a sport.

“Lion dance athletes need a lot of training, especially in stamina and steps which range from basic to difficult movements,” he adds.

He suggests that during CNY, such associations could perhaps raise some funds for their activities for the whole year, pointing out that funds are needed for rent, equipment, and coaches’ allowances.

“All these associations are non-profit. We had to stop all these performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been challenging for us to sustain.

“It is really sad that we cannot perform the lion dance during the coming CNY,” he laments.

Ng suggests that if lion dances are permitted, this should go hand-in-hand with strict adherence to the SOP.

“For example, testing athletes before the performance day, sanitising equipment after each performance, maintaining personal hygiene, controlling physical distance for the audience, and so on,” he says.

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