More muted CNY as dragon dances cancelled, lion dances banned from neighbourhood centres

Dragon dances are cancelled and lion dancers cannot perform at many public spaces.
Dragon dances are cancelled and lion dancers cannot perform at many public spaces.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There will be fewer dancing animals to welcome the Year of the Ox.

Dragon dances are cancelled and lion dancers cannot perform at many public spaces this year due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

These are among stricter infection control measures for lion dance troupes this Chinese New Year announced by the Singapore Wushu Dragon and Lion Dance Federation on Sunday (Jan 17). The national organisation oversees the promotion of wushu, dragon and lion dance activities, and issues the permits for "cai qing" activities.

Businesses and home owners traditionally invite lion or dragon dance troupes to perform the cai qing (plucking of greens, usually a head of lettuce) ritual on their premises for good luck and fortune.

However, the familiar clashing of cymbals and beating of drums accompanying the performances will be absent from coffee shops, food centres and markets, and all homes and residential areas this year to prevent crowds from congregating in public.

The number of performers is also capped at eight this year, which rules out dragon dances as they usually require more performers.

All performers must wear masks, except for those controlling the head and the tail during the performance.

Troupes will also have to do more paperwork, such as submitting daily schedules to the police through the federation. A cai qing permit for 16 days costs $50 this year, compared with $150 last year, excluding the goods and services tax.

Performances adhering to social distancing rules can continue in offices, factories, hotels, temples and shops in mega shopping centres.

Explaining why some larger venues such as temples are allowed to continue to host lion dance troupes, president of the federation Ang Mong Seng said: "The idea for cai qing this year is a 'private' event with no customers or patrons."

No more than 50 people are allowed at these venues, and they must observe the 1m safe distancing rule.

Despite the duller atmosphere this Chinese New Year, establishment owners say they understand the need for the new rules.

"We agree with the restrictions as we also do not want large crowds to gather," said Mr Hong Poh Hin, vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Associations, which represents over 400 coffee shops in Singapore.

Troupes are expecting huge drops in revenue this year.

Mr Chan Yan Wen, the 26-year-old leader of the Nam Feng Lion Dance Training Centre, estimates that takings will drop by $20,000 to $30,000 as most of his regular customers are home owners and neighbourhood businesses.

Citing the drop in revenue coupled with the need to continue to pay for rental of transportation, storage and equipment, some like Mr Paxson Chiang's troupe have decided not to perform this year.

"Everyone is frustrated but we have no choice - a lot of customers are dropping out and saying it is too much trouble," said the leader of the Fei Jiang Dragon And Lion Dance Arts Sports.

"What I don't understand is how it will be allowed in shopping malls but not coffee shops when the crowds in shopping malls are so big," he added.

For Mr Chiang, 43, this will be first year since he was 13 years old that he will not be performing for cai qing.

As at Sunday, 85 lion dance troupes have applied for the permit, the federation said.