BAU: Ivan Chai Xun Fu was just a nine-year-old kid when he decided to learn to perform the lion dance.
Three years ago, he became a lion dance instructor and has so far trained 50 people aged between 10 and 20 in the art, one of the most important traditions observed by the Chinese community during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Chai, 22, told Bernama he has been smitten with the lion and dragon dance since young as he was mesmerised by the lively and vibrant performances.
“I wanted to learn to perform the dance so that I could help to keep my ancestral heritage alive,” said the young man, adding that he was also impressed by the level of discipline and dedication shown by the lion dance performers.
In Chinese culture, the lion and dragon dance performances are considered auspicious and said to bring good luck and fortune. Besides Chinese New Year, they are also performed at wedding ceremonies, opening of new business premises and other public functions.
Chai, who recently completed his studies in interior design at Tungnan University in Taiwan, is an active member and instructor at Jee Xiang Ruyi Lion and Dragon Dance Association in Bau, which is about 40 kilometres from Kuching.
He also takes care of the association’s logistic requirements and training schedules, and attends to the public’s requests for lion and dragon dance shows.
He acquired his lion and dragon dance skills from Kuching-based journalist Darrel Ng who, said Chai, inspired him to take the dance seriously.
Ng, 37, was trained by Master Siao Ho Phiew from Peninsular Malaysia who is well-known in the lion and dragon dance circles and has performed in Malaysia and overseas.
Chai regards himself as a strict instructor as he does not want any of the association members learning the traditional dance to drop out halfway.
“My own teacher has told me that every person wishing to learn this art must have discipline and a sense of responsibility. Those who lack these qualities are not welcome to join us because it’s not easy to learn to perform the lion dance. To master the techniques, one has to be disciplined, consistent, focused and committed,” he added.
He said the values he absorbed from his teacher has given him the confidence to serve the Jee Xiang Ruyi Lion and Dragon Dance Association better.
Chai said training is conducted three times a week at night as most of the participants are schoolchildren.
“When Chinese New Year is around the corner, we will try to find the time to hold more training sessions as we want to offer the best to our customers who hire our troupe for lion and dragon dance performances,” he said.
In Bau, not only are the Chinese keen to learn the lion dance but also people from the local Malay and Bidayuh communities.
Polytechnic student Marion Angeline, 20, said she joined the association five years ago to learn the traditional art.
“Actually in the early days, the Chinese didn’t allow women to perform the lion dance because the performers were required to have mental and physical strength but now the rules have changed. All we need to have is the interest to learn,” she said.
John Adrian, 21, has a full-time job but he tries to find the time to train together with his friends at the association.
“To me, the lion dance training is similar to a workout session. I get to strengthen my body and learn the Chinese heritage art as well. It is fun to learn about the cultures of other people who live in our multiracial country,” he added. – Bernama