The St Joseph Private School lion dance troupe.

In November 2017, when a group of Form Two boys from the St Joseph Private School asked a teacher whether they can perform a Lion Dance for Chinese New Year celebration in school, the teacher was taken aback, but still told the boys, “Spend some time practising over the Christmas holidays and record the practice for me to see,” said Benedict Lo.

The following school year, the boys presented their practice video to Benedict and he was surprised to see how they were able to perform well. “It was then that I realise there is so much potential in these young boys who had twinkles in their eyes every time they talk about Lion Dance.”

Without hesitation, Benedict presented the idea to the acting principal then, and they decided to give the boys a chance at performing for the upcoming school’s Chinese New Year celebration. “They practised hard for a few days a week after school and on Saturday mornings. Through it all, they managed to put up a spectacular performance during the school’s CNY celebration that year.” They also performed at the school’s Rhythm and Colour concert in the same year.

By the end of 2018, Lo encouraged the boys to submit a proposal to the principal to establish a Lion Dance club as an official extracurricular activity in the school. With much dedication, commitment and effort, the St Joseph Private School’s Lion Dance club was born. “This activity takes a great amount of discipline, focus and athletic ability to become who they are today, the SJPS Lion Dance Troupe.”

Sharing with New Sarawak Tribune, the students who are now in Form Four and Five talked about their experiences gained throughout their lion dance journey.

Joshua Emmanuel Lim Shaun, 16

Joshua joined the sport as he wanted to try out a different activity. “Slowly, I developed excitement in trying out various roles such as being the lion head, playing gongs, cymbals and drums. I like the acrobatic acts of the lion as well as the synchronisation between the instruments and the lion.”

Being in the troupe, Joshua faced challenges such as the need to be disciplined and punctual for their weekly meetups as he needs to adapt to waking up early during the weekends to train. “Besides, the roles that I played in the lion dance was always changing so I had to adapt to my surroundings in different situations.”

Learning the values of being punctual, Joshua would come early for practices and that as a team, supporting each other is important. “If one falls, we all will help him.” Joshua would also like to express his gratitude towards their teacher-in-charge, Mr Benedict Lo for being with them through thick and thin.”

Joining the activity since the establishment of the club, Joshua vividly remembers their first two lions — Iggy and Kiko. Aside from that, Joshua’s fond memories of the troupes consisted of laughter, and fun experiences during their training, “And that bond is what made us.”

During their recent performance at an opening ceremony of a local supermarket.

Joshua Terah, 17

As a Bidayuh, Joshua Terah initially had zero interest in the sport until his friends told him they were proposing to do a lion dance performance in school. “They asked if I was interested, so I gave it a shot as it was something different for me to discover and experience as a student.”

Having lots of fun during the performance and training, Joshua soon mastered the gong, cymbals and the lion head. “It wasn’t easy, but the outcome after all the training I went through was very rewarding as I saw the excitement of the audience when we perform.”

While challenges do happen as a team, Joshua said the sport had taught him unity. “Without the union, the troupe would have failed a long time ago. Personally, I have to get out of my comfort zone as I don’t speak Mandarin. Unity is important in performance too.”

Among the good memories he cherished, Joshua disclosed that their debut performance was the most ‘groundbreaking’ memory as a lion dance performer. “Looking back at the video of our performance, it brought back memories of all that we have been through to make the performance possible.”

Sylvester Lim, 17

Witnessing the cultural sport first-hand since a young age, Sylvester Lim shared that his grandfather was a ‘sifu’ (master) before he passed away. “My grandpa and his team would visit houses during CNY every year. Despite his passing, his spirit inspires and motivated me to join this sport.”

Loving the sport, his first experience was when the troupe joined the MSSM Lion Dance Competition last year. “My team and I trained very hard every week to compete as this was our first time. Sadly we did not win anything but our fighting spirit continues and nothing will ever stop us from going on.”

Apart from that, Lim also fondly remembers an incident on their way to a rehearsal, “One time when we were on our way to practice, some of us almost fell off because all of us were standing on the lorry!”

As a lion dance performer, the most challenging thing for Lim is the 360-degree movement. “It is one of the hardest moves which top lion dance troupe will perform to win competitions.”

All in all, he had learned to be patient as he recalled making a huge mistake. “However, I was forgiven and was appointed as a liaison officer of the troupe.” When asked if he would join a troupe after he graduates from secondary school, he gave a resounding yes as he hopes that more members will continue to join the troupe, to keep the culture and tradition alive.

Justin Ting, 17

As for Justin Ting, his friends encouraged him to join the sport as they saw a potential in him, and according to him, “New things are hard to try out if you are scared, but encouragements from the people you care removes that fear — that was my personal experience.”

Nonetheless, Ting said he was glad to try new and unexpected experiences. “My good memories are filled with fun times, but the best memories to me were the moments I failed, as they helped me learn more lessons and understand life better.”