PETALING JAYA: Lion dances are synonymous with the Chinese New Year celebration. According to one school of thought, the origins of the dance can be traced to ancient times, when a group of villagers successfully chased away a monster called “Nian” by putting on a lion costume.
Over the past two years in Malaysia, lion dances have been curtailed by another beast – the coronavirus.
But with performances permitted this time around, how are dance companies faring? Are there more requests from Malaysians who want the “lion” to chase their “monsters” away – be it the threat of the virus, or a health or financial crisis? And what are lion dancers’ sentiments about the entire situation?
“Things during the movement control orders (MCOs) were tough,” said 36-year-old Eugene Ng, co-founder of the Sheng Wai Dragon and Lion Dance troupe based in Kepong.
His team had not been able to rehearse for the entire period and only resumed practice two months ago.
According to Ng, there is lower demand for lion-dance performances in residential areas this year.
“Previously, parents would request the performances for their children. But many of them are now concerned about their kids being unvaccinated, so we’ve lost a number of clients here,” he told FMT.
“We do have more requests coming in from offices and shopping malls. In fact, it’s a better response than before the pandemic.
“I believe there is a desire among business owners for these lion-dance performances to chase away bad fortune and bring wealth and good luck.”
Sheng Wai, which means “victory” and “strength”, has been performing two to three times a week for the past few weeks.
The multiracial team has approximately 50 members comprising Chinese, Indians and Malays, more than half of them aged 20 and below.
At 15, Muhamad Aidilfitri Zulkarnain is the youngest member of the troupe. “I have been with the team for five years. I like this tradition – even though it is an old one, it is still surviving today,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by 23-year-old Thivagar Param, who has been with Sheng Wai since 2017. “I enjoy being with the team because I can learn about other cultures,” he shared.
Hoping for a better year
Gray Tan is the founder of the Klang Hong Teck Dragon and Lion Dance troupe, which was established in January 2010.
The team, which has 25 to 30 members, is similarly made up of Malaysians of different ethnicities. They are primarily between the ages of 20 and 30, with the youngest being 11.
Before the MCO, the team would hold performances throughout the year during birthday parties, official openings and corporate events, with Chinese New Year, of course, being an especially significant season.
“We try to collect as much funds as possible during this period to cover our expenses for the whole year,” Tan, 46, told FMT, explaining that these costs would include the rental of their training base as well as utility bills.
Unsurprisingly, the past two years have been difficult for them. “We had to dip into our savings to cover our expenses,” he admitted, while acknowledging he was grateful that performances have been permitted this year.
On the bright side, he said, “We have been receiving requests and will be having four to five performances a day during Chinese New Year.”
While demand is balanced between residential and commercial areas this year, Tan revealed that business has dropped by 70-80% compared with pre-pandemic times.
“Most people are still scared of Covid,” he said matter-of-factly.
In light of this, he is taking measures to ensure his team will be safe during the festive period. Each member will take a Covid test before every performance, and the chart of results will be shared with his clients.
“By doing this, I hope they will be more assured,” he added.
According to Tan, Hock Teck began rehearsing on a rotational basis from October to avoid large group practice sessions.
“Hopefully this year will be a better one for our team,” he said in reflection. “I also see that people want good fortune and prosperity after two difficult years, which is why they want these performances in their homes and offices.”
Sheng Wai Dragon and Lion Dance
2A, Jalan 6
Kawasan Perindustrian Ehsan Jaya
Klang Hong Teck Dragon and Lion Dance
56-74, Jalan Bendahara 8
Taman Sri Sentosa Jaya
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