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Young Lion Dancer's Decade: Passion, Challenges, and Perseverance

By YAN DENG|Feb 02,2023

You Qiang, a post-90s native of Chongqing, created the youngest lion dance team in Chongqing with a group of post-00s over a decade ago. When he was little, he thought the lion dance was awe-inspiring; after growing up, he decided to live it. 

You Qiang, a post-90s native of Chongqing, created the youngest lion dance team in Chongqing. (Photo/Ji Wenling)

A film leads him to the lion dance

The lion dance is an excellent Chinese folk culture and art with a history of thousands of years. It is an essential part of Chinese festivals and important occasions. Where there are Chinese people, there will be lion dance performances.

In the 1990s, the film Huang Feihong swept China. Little You Qiang was also a big fan. He didn't remember how often he had watched it, trying to follow the characters' movements. Huang Feihong raised the lion's head, symbolizing the Chinese people's awakening. This scene excited countless people, and You Qiang was one of them. Since then, he was destined to have something to do with the lion dance.

You Qiang was admitted to the Chongqing University of Technology. The lion dance club presented a gold-painted lion head at the recruitment fair. He signed up immediately, "I want to learn lion dance!"

You Qiang, a post-90s native of Chongqing, created the youngest lion dance team in Chongqing. (Photo/Ji Wenling)

At first, the club had no more than ten members. They practiced lion dance primarily by consulting seniors, looking into materials, and watching videos of the well-known Foshan dragon and lion dance teams. An experienced dancer told him to observe the movements of animals playing.

Persevere with passion

It's not easy to practice lion dance. Lion dancers should jump high with agile and coordinated movements. The two dancers, one of whom manipulates the head while the other forms the rear end of the lion, need to cooperate. They can move, leap, and complete some other difficult actions with a tacit understanding. The lion-tail dancer should lift the lion-head dancer to perform fancy moves. Once mistakes are made in cooperation, both of them easily get injured.

"In the beginning, someone would be there to protect us. We fell and then stood up to continue to practice. It's nothing." He has countless wounds on his body. Once, he and his partner tried to jump onto a bridge built by three stools - an even more challenging move. Unfortunately, the "lion" failed to keep its feet and fell on its back. He had to rest for a month before recovering.

After graduation, You Qiang needed a job but was reluctant to give up the lion dance. He suddenly thought as a lion dance performance could win rounds of applause from students, would it also be popular in the market?

While retaining the club's original members, You Qiang attempted to expand the lion dance team. He recruited part-time performers from martial arts training classes, and the team gradually had ten principal dancers.

When holding opening ceremonies, some merchants invited You Qiang to perform the lion dance, which received rapturous applause. Upright and loyal, the young man has gained some fame in the industry.

When holding opening ceremonies, some merchants invited You Qiang to perform the lion dance, which received rapturous applause. (Photo/Ji Wenling)

The lion dance industry has been dramatically affected in the past three years as companies canceled annual meetings and celebrations. You Qiang remembered that from January to May 2020, the lion dance team had no business at all.

At that time, these young lion dancers became delivery men and sorted express parcels part-time. They earned money during the day and practiced lion dance at night.

Traditional Chinese culture behind the lion dance

In the lion dance, performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume. They move on the ground or plum blossom poles to show the lion's joy, anger, sorrow, happiness, movement, stillness, surprise, and confusion. The lion-head and lion-tail dancers need to be skilled and cooperate tacitly so the "lion" can be lively. The best performance might be based on "the unity of dancers and lion."

You Qiang, a post-90s native of Chongqing, created the youngest lion dance team in Chongqing. (Photo/Ji Wenling)

"We should make the audience feel that two people do not control the lion. Dancers express the lion's emotions by squatting, standing, and jumping with their hands and legs," said You Qiang.

In every step, dancers must exhibit an awe-inspiring lion.

In You Qiang's view, although Chongqing people like lion dance, many don't know its meaning. Therefore, he always asked the hosts to introduce the many traditional Chinese cultures buried in the performance. For example, "painting the pupils of lion's eyes" aims to awaken the lion and enable them to bring good luck and fortune. The climax of the lion dance often involves caiqing (lit. plucking the greens), whereby the lion plucks the auspicious green lettuce hung high, implying auspiciousness, wealth, and development.

Sometimes when two lion dance teams meet, the two "lions" will come together, known as huishi (lit. meeting of lions). They should lower their heads, rub their bodies against each other, and then return to show respect. When a "lion" enters a shop, it should salute; its tail should go out first when it leaves the shop. All of these reflect Chinese people's humility.

In 2021, an animated film about lion dance, I Am What I Am, became popular nationwide. You Qiang also watched it.

"As long as the drumbeats are still ringing in our hearts, we are the lions!" The film once again made him excited. Yet, unlike when he watched Huang Feihong, You Qiang had nine brothers around and a lion dance costume in his backpack.

"Who says lion dance is a declining traditional culture? We keep performing, and it will thrive again!"


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