Non-Chinese lion dancers break cultural barriers

Non-Chinese lion dancers break cultural barriers

Though lion dances have always been associated with the Chinese, it is now widely celebrated and performed by people of other races

KUALA LUMPUR – The lion dance, though typically associated with the Chinese and the Lunar New year, is becoming more multiracial as Malays and Indians take up roles as performers in this cultural sport.

In fact, some of them have been training and performing for a number of years, as those The Vibes spoke to shared.

Mariam Abdul Nazar, now 27, said she began her lion dancing journey when she was just 13 years old.

“I was really interested in learning the lion dance after watching my brother perform and train with his troupe.

“The lion’s eyes were so big and it was so cute, and the sound of the drums exuded such strong energy.

“I was attracted and started my journey in lion dance,” said Mariam, who plays the cymbals and drums with the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association.

Mariam Abdul Nazar (centre), 27, has been lion dancing since she was just 13 years old. – Pic courtesy of the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association

Her fellow performer in the same troupe, 19-year-old Rishivigknesh Balakrishnan, said he started lion dancing at 13 as well, right after his UPSR examination.

“I’d always wanted to learn the dance since I was small. I learnt Chinese in kindergarten, where I was exposed to the culture.

“I used to watch many performances as my parents would always bring me to malls to watch the lion dance during Chinese New Year.

“I love Chinese culture, especially lion dance, and I dreamed of being part of a troupe and participating in competitions both local and international,” he said, adding that his dream has come true.

Lion dances are a popular part of Chinese New Year, which takes place on January 22 and 23 this year.

Having a troupe perform at one’s home or even business premises is a must for those who believe the dance will scare away bad spirits and bring good luck.

Mariam said other members had made her journey in lion dancing easy as everyone was friendly.

19-year-old Rishivigknesh Balakrishnan started lion dancing at 13 years of age. – Pic courtesy of the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association

“There is no restriction on race or religion. Everyone was so welcoming when I joined them.

“In terms of coaching, my coach will explain or teach us in English, Malay, and Mandarin.

“There are some terms that can only be taught specifically in Mandarin and these will be explained to us in English or Malay for our understanding,” said Mariam.

Rishivigknesh, who dances and also plays the drums, said fellow troupe members were helpful during training and supportive of each other during performances.

“I have a really good relationship with my troupe members as we always stick together. Especially during Chinese New Year when we perform for 15 days straight, with up to 10 or 12 shows per day.

“It is exhausting but we will still enjoy every moment,” he said.

Mariam has had to recently juggle her lion dance responsibilities with her new family after the arrival of her first child. – Pic courtesy of the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association

Mariam, who has one child, said while her lion dance comrades were welcoming, she faced some negativity from relatives in her early days with the troupe.

“They saw the lion dance as something for the Chinese community.

“However, I tried to make them understand that this is a cultural sport that any race can join and explore.”

Another challenge she faced was time management as she wanted to continue performing even after marriage and the arrival of her first child.

“Nonetheless, with my family’s and my husband’s support, I could focus on training sessions as they are willing to take care of my baby,” she said, adding that she doesn’t plan to “retire” from the sport as she enjoys participating in local and international competitions.

Rishivigknesh plays the drums in addition to dancing. – Pic courtesy of the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association

Rishivigknesh meanwhile, said he found it easy to bond with fellow troupe members as he was able to speak Mandarin. He said there are also several other Malay performers.

“The most challenging part for me is memorising the steps and the beats, as both needed to be synchronised together when performing.

“I had to spend more time practicing in order to perfect it.”

Mariam and Rishivigknesh said their practice sessions are every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8pm to 10pm.

source – The Vibes

Share This


Wordpress (0)
Disqus (0 )