Dance Art

Malaysian lion dancers deliver new spirit to historic custom | Arts and Tradition Information

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – When her maternity depart ended, Mariam Abdul Nazar returned to work and her ardour, lion dancing.

A Malaysian Muslim, she began studying lion dancing when she was 13, after accompanying her then 14-year-old brother to his coaching classes.

“I used to be drawn to the vitality from the music, particularly the drums. And I assumed the lions had been cute, with their huge, huge eyes,” Mariam, a 27-year-old content material reviewer, instructed Al Jazeera.

In multiracial Malaysia, lion dancing has change into so widespread that it’s not simply the nation’s ethnic Chinese language taking over the artwork.

The Muhibah Lion Dance Troupe, established in 1984, is the primary multiracial lion dance group within the nation. Its title, Muhibah, is from the Malay phrase “muhibbah”, which suggests a sense of friendship or camaraderie.

People crowd together to watch a lion dance performance. They are smiling and cheering. Some look awed. Many are taking photos or filming on their phones. They are sitting or standing around Lunar New Year decorations including giant flowers.
Spectators at a shopping center in Kuala Lumpur are enthralled by a efficiency, and a few attempt to seize it on their telephones [Florence Looi/Al Jazeera]

On the Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Affiliation, the place Mariam trains, her teammates are made up of Malays, the ethnic majority in Malaysia, Indians, an ethnic minority, and a handful of foreigners.

Now a working grownup and a brand new mum, Mariam finds it tough to decide to the three-times-a-week coaching schedule, however she returns to assist out through the Lunar New Yr, one of many busiest occasions for lion dance troupes in Malaysia.

Festive temper

The lion is a standard image of fine luck in Chinese language tradition and lion dancing is believed to usher in good luck and prosperity whereas driving away evil and unhealthy luck.

Chinese language households and Chinese language-owned companies rent lion dancers to carry out of their properties and workplaces, believing it can deliver luck for the remainder of the yr.

Buying malls additionally rent lion dance troupes to placed on reveals all through the 15-day celebration in addition to within the weeks main as much as the Lunar New Yr.

There are Fb pages devoted to monitoring the place and when performances are held.

Sarah Thiang and her household attempt to catch at the very least one present yearly.

“It’s a part of Chinese language tradition. It’s enjoyable and actually places me in a festive temper,” she mentioned, watching an acrobatic efficiency in a shopping center.

“It’s a bit nerve-racking watching them [the lion dancers] on excessive poles, however I wasn’t frightened for them. I’ve confidence of their means,” she added.

Lion dancers in full costume leap from one high pole to another. The leaping lion is yellow and furry. There is a second lion in front which is red and blue and the two performers who make up the lion are standing on a single pole. The man who makes up the rear of the lion is holding up the person who is its head and front legs. The performance is outside and there are houses and trees behind.
Malaysian lion dance groups are famend for his or her acrobatic abilities performing the dance on poles that may be as excessive as three metres [Florence Looi/Al Jazeera]

The acrobatic lion dance is carried out on excessive poles starting from one to 3 metres in peak.

Performers need to be agile and powerful, and each transfer needs to be completely coordinated.

A misstep or a mistimed transfer may lead to critical damage.

The lion dance custom could have originated in China some 1,000 years in the past, however it’s Malaysia that’s setting the tempo and Kuala Lumpur that’s thought-about the lion dance capital of the world.

Acting on excessive poles is a comparatively new improvement, invented within the Nineties by Malaysian Siow Ho Phiew, who later created a excessive pole sequence that turned the brand new commonplace in acrobatic lion dance worldwide.

Siow, or Grasp Siow as he’s usually known as in a nod to his experience, can be a grasp craftsman of lion heads and a world-renowned coach.

Considered one of his college students is Harlen Lee, proprietor and head teacher at Gee Yung Worldwide Martial Arts, Dragon and Lion Dance Sports activities Affiliation in Hawaii in america.

Lee remembers a time when lion dancing was largely carried out by and for folks within the Chinese language neighborhood.

“Now, virtually each nation has a lion dance group. That’s fairly superior, that our tradition, our background has touched different cultures. I’m happy with that,” mentioned Lee, who is predicated in Honolulu.

He makes it a degree to return to Malaysia yearly to coach with an area group, and if he’s unable to take action, he sends one in all his college students as a substitute.

“Simply being in that environment, going into the guts of studying lion dance mastery, helps us enhance,” Lee mentioned.

Music is the ‘heartbeat’

“One of many causes Malaysian lion dance groups maintain successful competitions is as a result of our lions are life-like, they’ve spirit,” mentioned Eric Fong, secretary normal and coach of Khuan Loke.

Lions pose at the end of the performance with lucky scrolls hanging from their mouths. The performers who make up the lions are on high poles. One lion is red and the other pink. There are lots of people watching and they are clapping
On the finish of the efficiency, the lions show fortunate scrolls [Florence Looi/Al Jazeera]

Fong, who additionally judges lion dance competitions, says the artwork of lion dancing will not be solely about performing stunts but additionally in regards to the means to convey feelings.

A flap of the ears, a flutter of the eyelids — these gestures can be utilized to specific playfulness, pleasure or ferocity.

At Khuan Loke, all lion dance performers begin by studying to play the devices — the drums, the cymbals and the gong.

“The music is the heartbeat of a lion dance,” Fong defined. “There isn’t any shortcut.”

The coaching and the efficiency schedule are gruelling.

It usually means Fong and his group need to skip virtually all Lunar New Yr celebrations, save the normal household reunion dinner held on the eve of the competition.

Fong says his household have gotten used to seeing little of him throughout a time when household gatherings are cherished.

“They’re extra understanding now. It’s not like I’m doing something unhealthy. I’m preserving custom alive, and I’m doing one thing that each one Malaysians may be part of,” he mentioned.

Two women take a selfie with the lion after the performance. They are smiling and look very happy. The lion is yellow with furry eyes and upper lip and painted with gold, red and black
Lion dance performances happen all through the Lunar New Yr celebrations as folks search for luck within the yr forward [Florence Looi/Al Jazeera]

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