A Lion Dancer Shares What It is Like To Observe the Custom

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In a studio situated on Canal Avenue in New York Metropolis’s Chinatown, Xing Lengthy Lin, a 22-year outdated entrepreneur and founding father of an internet clothes and shoe model, is holding one of many 9 lion-dance stances as he practices for a Lunar New 12 months efficiency. Along with his full-time job, he’s additionally lion dancer—an unpaid function that calls for three-plus hours of bodily demanding follow every week and availability to carry out at dozens of celebrations, together with the annual Lunar New 12 months and in addition retailer openings and weddings. The artwork kind is consultant of keeping off evil spirits and bringing good luck.

Lion dancing is believed to have been “launched into China in the course of the Tang Dynasty with the arrival of Buddhism” 1000’s of years in the past and has origins in Chinese language, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and different Asian cultures, says Jonathan H. X. Lee, PhD, professor of Asian American research at San Francisco State College.

Lin, who has been a lion dancer for six years, says you will need to him as a result of it permits him to assist unfold appreciation for Asian tradition, convey the neighborhood collectively, and share this custom with youthful generations. For the previous 4 years, Lin has carried out with the New York Chinese language FreeMasons Athletic Membership (NYCFAC), a nonprofit group that educates youth about Chinese language heritage via lion dance, martial arts, and athletics. He and his troupe of 20 different lion dancers carry out between 30 and 40 exhibits a yr, every operating between eight and 20 minutes.

Here is how lion dancing performs into Lin’s life.

young men holding lion dance stance
Photograph: Kayla Hui

What weekly 3-hour lion-dancing practices are like

Plenty of behind-the-scenes work goes into every of Lin’s lion-dancing performances. Practices, which happen weekly on Thursdays for a minimum of three hours all yr lengthy, contain a mix of stretches, strength-training workout routines, and a dance follow with the lion costume on. “We do loads of exercises, like push-ups and horse stance, which is sort of a midway squat,” says Lin. “We simply maintain the squat place for 5 to 10 minutes.” In whole, Lin goes via 9 stances in every follow, totaling at about an hour of stance-holding follow.

“We do loads of exercises, like push-ups and horse stance, which is sort of a midway squat. We simply maintain the squat place for 5 to 10 minutes.” —Xing Lengthy Lin, lion dancer

Being adept at holding stances is crucial in lion dancing as a result of the performances contain squatting and stacking for lengthy durations of time. Stacking entails a dancer holding a decorative lion head whereas in quite a lot of stances, atop one other dancer who’s controlling the rear finish of the lion.

Following stance follow, Lin trains for a further two hours within the lion-dancing uniform—which consists of a colourful lion head the dancer holds and shimmery pants embellished in fur they put on—to run routines and choreographed dances to the beat of the drums, which represents the heartbeat of the lion. Lee says the lion head weighs roughly 20 kilos and “it may possibly get heat within the full costume.”

Past the bodily demanding exercises, Lin additionally faces time constraints together with his busy schedule. “I sacrifice my time to be right here,” he says. Along with the weekly three-hour exercises (which regularly run longer than scheduled), the dancers typically follow on their very own.

Xing Long Lin holding lion head
Photograph: Kayla Hui

Challenges to the way forward for lion-dancing

The NYCFAC doesn’t pay its lion dancers, and the funds it raises from efficiency charges assist to maintain the membership’s doorways open. “It is extra of volunteer sort of work,” says Brandon Lee, president of the NYCFAC, who has been instructing and coordinating lion dances previous three years. “We’re a nonprofit making an attempt to unfold Chinese language tradition and assist out the neighborhood and the youth. The membership is open to any of our members, any day of the week to work out. The youthful children come up and so they do their homework or play video games.”

Lee says any proceeds get funneled again into the group to pay hire for the studio area, new tools, and occasional meals for the dancers and dancing employees after the exhibits. The funds are additionally used to buy new lion heads, which primarily come from China and Hong Kong and value between $800 and $1,500 every.

lion heads hanging on the wall
Photograph: Kayla Hui

Recruitment is one other problem for conserving the artwork kind alive. Lin says, in his expertise, youthful individuals aren’t as fascinated about studying about and practising lion dancing as they as soon as had been. Lee agrees: In the present day “it is extra about phrase of mouth and figuring out individuals,” he says. “We [at the NYCFAC] are attempting to discover different [recruitment] strategies.”

However all of those challenges are well worth the dedication as a result of lion dancing is greater than only a custom to Lin. “Serving on this function means quite a bit to me as a result of that is my very own tradition, the membership pushes me quite a bit [physically and mentally], and lion dancing permits me to function a task mannequin to different Chinese language children,” he says. “When individuals rent us, I all the time inform the children watching us to publish about us on social media, so different individuals can see what we’re doing in the neighborhood.” He hopes that social media traction will elevate the membership’s visibility and result in extra individuals in his neighborhood becoming a member of, preserving the artwork kind for generations to come back.

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