Lion dance troupes seeking new blood

The Nam Sieng Dragon and Lion Dance troupe performing at Sim Lim Tower yesterday. Many of the acrobatic stunts require considerable strength, speed and agility, so young performers are vital to preserving the vigour and traditions of the lion dance.
The Nam Sieng Dragon and Lion Dance troupe performing at Sim Lim Tower yesterday. Many of the acrobatic stunts require considerable strength, speed and agility, so young performers are vital to preserving the vigour and traditions of the lion dance.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Number of fresh recruits is dwindling, even as demand for performances has risen

Clad in neon orange costumes, members of the Nam Sieng Dragon and Lion Dance troupe took their positions and looked expectantly at their leader, Mr Shawn Lim, 30. He raised his drumsticks and, with a bang of the drum, the lions roared into action.

The troupe did the high pole dance, which requires great agility and physical fitness. Younger members usually perform this piece.

Demand for lion dance performances has gone up 10 per cent compared with last year, said the Singapore Wushu Dragon and Lion Dance Federation, an umbrella body, but fewer youngsters have been joining the troupes.

"Ten years ago, we had at least 100 newcomers each year. Now, the number has fallen to 10," said Mr Alvin Choe, 40, the public relations officer for the Nam Sieng Dragon and Lion Dance Activity Centre.

"This is a problem as we need the younger ones to do the jumps, lifts and climbing. Without these stunts, the performances would not be interesting."

Mr Daniel Lim, 53, who founded the Tian Eng Dragon and Lion Dance Centre, said parents do not want their children to join as such troupes are associated with ah bengs. They worry too about the risks of doing the stunts.

Mr Kenny Ng, 50, the chief instructor of the Wei Jin Dragon and Lion Dance Association, said: "Parents want kids to focus on studies."

Time constraints and low monetary returns are other factors.

Said Mr Jiang Yao, 23, a member of Nam Sieng who works as a hawker: "Juggling my job and lion dance is very tiring."

He said he gets only about $50 a day for his performances during Chinese New Year and $20 a day during the rest of the year.

Some try to appeal to the young.

Mr Jeffrey Tan, 37, the vice-chairman of the Wenyang Sports Association, said they make training fun by having the kids play football to warm up, and they use striking colours for the lions and costumes.

The good news is that at least several schools have lion dance groups. Ngee Ann Poly student Clemence Chan, 19, a member of the lion dance group at his school, said: "I am glad to be able to showcase traditional Chinese culture through lion dance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Lion dance troupes seeking new blood'. Print Edition | Subscribe