Lion rocks for Nepalis learning Chinese dance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am

Gongs clang, cymbals clash and the drum bangs as six children leap and bow to mimic the stylised movements of the king of the jungle.

It is a familiar sight in a city where centuries-old Chinese traditions continue side by side with skyscrapers and Starbucks.

Only this lion dance troupe aren't Chinese, they are Nepali Primary Five students from Hong Kong Poinsettia Primary School in Yuen Long, and they have been learning the steps and rhythms for less than two months.

'They are quick learners,' said Tobias Chong Wing-to, the troupe's coach from Yau Kung Mun Fiery Dragon Lion Sport Association. 'They are very motivated.'

For many of the students, it was their first real taste of Chinese culture first hand.

'I thought there was going to be a real lion,' said Binod Danai, 11, recalling when his teacher first suggested he take up lion dancing.

Binod is now one of the troupe's star performers, taking the role of head of the lead lion when they made their debut at the school's annual show last month.

Cymbals player, Kusum Limbu, 12, said she enjoyed taking part in the show. Like all the members of the troupe, she had to learn the basic steps of the dance before moving on to her instrument.

'It is hard work, but it's fun,' Kusum said. 'The lion's head was really heavy to begin with, but it gets easier once you get used to it.'

The troupe was instigated by University of Hong Kong research student Karl Suriya as a way to aid cultural integration.

'I spoke with the school and one of the things they told me was they had trouble making contacts with the Chinese community,' he said.

Mr Suriya, who is in his second year of a master's degree in drama in education, said he had chosen lion dance as it was a form of 'mask play' with a strong Chinese theme. Mask play was effective in breaking down social barriers as it had a powerful liberating effect.

'When kids see masks they automatically want to pick them up and try them on,' he said.

The project was originally intended as an experimental class during the summer months, he said. But following the students' positive response, the school was looking for ways to fund training for the next year with a view to making it permanent.

'The next stage will be to set up a proper team. Then they can begin competing in events with other schools,' Mr Suriya said.