Supposed to have been posted on June 8, 2016 (sorry it’s a day late!)
If you know me, you know that I’m involved in lion dance at Hopkins. I joined it at the beginning of my freshman year because it sounded cool, and maaaaybe I was enticed by the free food that lion dance apparently got all the time.
I went to the first practice (and ended up being the only freshman to continue doing lion dance), and the rest is history.
Note: I didn’t actually get any free food until 6 months into lion dance. I’m not salty. Nope. It’s not as if this blog is a food blog or anything….
Anyways, lion dance turned out to be one of the best parts of my freshman year. Through lion dance, I was able to travel around the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) area and perform for many audiences, especially during Chinese New Year. The entire month of February (and a little bit of January) was packed with performances every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as we only accepted requests on those days. We got free food at many of these performances too!
The style at my troupe practices is southern lion dance. There are two types of southern lion dance: hoksan (or heshan) and futsan (or foshan). Futsan is more traditional, based on powerful kung fu stances. Hoksan is more theatrical and energetic, with lots of impressive moves and stacks. There’s supposedly a difference in hoksan and futsan lions, but I’ve seen both and can’t really tell the difference. I think it’s just me though, because the others in my troupe can usually tell which kind of lion is being used.
Anyways, before I came to NUS for the summer, I contacted the school’s lion dance troupe to see if I could visit them and learn a little bit of their style. They do hoksan lion dance, and I thought it would be cool to learn from them and bring back some stances/skills/practice sets to our troupe.
When I went to practice, they gave me a set of their uniform: red tshirt with white Chinese characters (no idea what it says though, since I cannot read Chinese), huge black pants, and a black sash to tie the pants together. Their sashes were very thick and obviously good quality sashes- it would be great if our sashes would be like theirs, because right now ours are long thin strips of red cloth. You might be able to see some of our sashes in the picture above.
NUS Lion Dance began their weekly three-hour practice with percussion, and people switch off playing different drum beats while everyone else follows along with cymbals. In lion dance, the three instruments played in performances are drum, cymbals, and gong. I’ve played gong and cymbals in performances before, and I’ll eventually learn drum in the future, since the drum is the most important instrument and basically drives an entire performance.
After percussion practice, the group split off between people are play percussion and people who are in lions. In my troupe, everyone starts off learning cymbals/gong, then becoming tail in the lions, then head, then finally learning the drum beat. At NUS however, everyone learns cymbals, then people split off into specializing between either percussion (drums) or lions. Not everyone knows how to be in every role, but the members specialize in their specfic roles.
The troupe has a coach that comes every practice to teach them. Their coach has been doing lion dance for sixty-one YEARS, which I thought was amazing. I respect his dedication to lion dance and to the troupe- he’s been coaching this troupe for over thirty years!
For the rest of the three hours, I watched the people in lions practice for an upcoming performance, and learned a little bit of drumming from a percussionist. The drum beat is different from our drum beat, because they have many different beats and change the beat whenever the drummer wants, while the cymbals and gong follow the drum. In our troupe, there is one main drum beat (with a few variations), though the cymbals and gong also follow the drum.
At the end of practice, the troupe did a “seven minute workout,” in which they would perform an exercise for 30 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. We did this 12 times, and the total time for the workout would be around seven minutes, hence the name.
I’ve been invited back to next week’s practice, and I’m excited to learn more from them!
As an end note: I’ve updated the food page of this blog with more pictures of food that I’ve tried, so check it out!