A lion dancer shares what it’s like to practice the tradition

IStudio located on Canal Street in New York City’s Chinatown, Xing Long Lin, a 22-year-old entrepreneur and founder of an online clothing and shoe brand, practices one of the nine lion dance postures while practicing his Lunar New Year performance. In addition to his full-time job, he’s also a lion dancer—an unpaid role that requires more than three hours of physically demanding practice each week and the availability to perform at dozens of celebrations, including Lunar New Year, store openings, and weddings. The art form represents warding off evil spirits and bringing good luck.

It is believed that the lion dance “entered China during Tang Dynasty With the arrival of Buddhism “thousands of years ago and with origins in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian cultures,” he says Jonathan HX Lee, Ph.DProfessor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

Lin, who has been a lion dancer for six years, says it’s important to him because it allows him to help spread an appreciation for Asian culture, bring the community together, and share that tradition with younger generations. For the past four years, Lin has performed with New York Freemasonry Chinese Club (NYCFAC)It is a non-profit organization that educates young people about Chinese heritage through lion dance, martial arts, and athletics. He and his troupe of 20 other black dancers perform between 30 and 40 shows a year, each lasting between 8 and 20 minutes.

Here’s how lion dancing plays a role in Lynn’s life.

Young men holding a lion dance
Photo: Kayla Hoy

What are the weekly 3 hour lion dance practices

A lot of work goes into behind the scenes at each of Lynn’s lion dance performances. The practices, which take place weekly on Thursdays for at least three hours throughout the year, include a combination of stretching, strength training, and dance practice with a lion costume. “We do a lot of exercises, like push-ups and the horse stance, which is like a midway squat,” says Lin. “We just squat for five to 10 minutes.” In total, Lin goes through nine stances in each drill, totaling about an hour of stance-holding exercise.

“We do a lot of exercises, like push-ups and the horse stance, which is like a half squat. We hold the squat position for five to 10 minutes.” – Xing Long Lin, Lion Dancer

Being adept at holding positions is essential in lion dancing because the performances involve squatting and hunching over for long periods of time. The stacking involves a dancer holding a decorated lion’s head in various positions, on top of another dancer controlling the lion’s hindquarters.

After the stand-up rehearsal, Lin trains for two more hours in his lion dance costume—which consists of a colorful lion head held by the dancer and shiny pants embellished with the fur they wear—to run the routine and dance to the beat of the drums, which represent the heartbeat of the lion. A lion’s head, he says, weighs about 20 pounds and can heat up in full costume.

In addition to the physically demanding workouts, Lin also faces time constraints with his busy schedule. “I sacrifice my time to be here,” he says. In addition to weekly three-hour rehearsals (which often last longer than scheduled), dancers sometimes rehearse on their own.

Xing Long Lin holding a lion's head
Photo: Kayla Hoy

Challenges of the future of the lion dance

NYCFAC does not pay its lion dancers, and the money it collects from performance fees helps keep the club’s doors open. “It’s kind of a volunteer thing,” says Brandon Lee, president of NYCFAC, who has been directing and coordinating the lion dances for the past three years. “We are a non-profit organization trying to spread Chinese culture and help the community and the youth. The club is open to any of our members, any day of the week to play sports. The younger kids come and do their homework or play games.”

Lee says any proceeds are funneled back into the organization to pay rent for studio space, new equipment and occasional meals for dancers and dance staff after performances. The money is also used to buy new lion heads that come mainly from China and Hong Kong and cost between $800 and $1,500 each.

Lion heads hanging on the wall
Photo: Kayla Hoy

Another challenge to keeping the art form alive is staffing. From his experience, Lin says, young people are not as interested in learning about and practicing the lion dance as they once were. Lee agrees: “Today it’s more about word of mouth and getting to know people.” “we [at the NYCFAC] They try to explore others [recruitment] Methods.”

But all of these challenges are worth committing to because the lion dance is more than just a tradition for Lynn. “Serving in this role means a lot to me because this is my own culture, the club pushes me a lot [physically and mentally]And the lion dance allows me to set an example for other Chinese children. “When people hire us, I always tell kids who watch to post about us on social media, so other people can see what we are ‘in the community.’ He hopes social media will increase the club’s visibility and lead to more people joining his community, Preserving the art form for generations to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *