A feat of strength
Lifting a three-kilogram lion head with two hands, Alan To Yiu-lun thrusts, dips, leaps, and jumps on bamboo stilts - with an average height of two metres - with ease. Then he climbs up a two-storey-high pole, performs various stunts before unfurling a fai chun with the words 'Happy Lunar New Year'.
The origin of lion dance can be traced back to the Han dynasty.
Despite the 2,000 years that have passed, this traditional performance still attract many young people like To who prefer the physical exertion and sweat to computer games and keyboards where all you move is your fingers.
To, 20, is one of the prominent members of the Hong Kong Chan Ka Fai Dragon and Lion Association. He and his team have won a number of lion dance and dragon dance competitions, such as the International Luminous Dragon Dance Competition in 2006.
'I first picked up dragon dance eight years ago as an extra-curricular activity in school. The coach, Chan Ka-fai, or Chan Sifu as we call him, said I had the potential to be a great lion dancer. Since then I've never stopped practising,' said To, after giving a dazzling performance in the Tuen Mun Town Plaza late last month.
Lion dance requires a lot of energy and strength as the two dancers, with flawless synchronisation, lift the heavy lion head and jump up and down at the same time.
The dancer at the rear of the lion has to be particularly strong and muscular as he has to lift up the front dancer several times in a single performance.
Compared to this, dragon dance, in which up to a dozen dancers hold poles to lift a part of the dragon tail, demands more flexibility.
Born in an old village in Tuen Mun, coach Chan started practising lion and dragon dance at a young age. He is now the chief instructor teaching more than 100 dancers in the association. He pointed out the changes in lion dance over the past decades.
'The lion heads used to be made of wood and bamboo sticks and were much heavier. Now lighter materials, such as aluminium, are used. It allows the dancers to make difficult moves like higher jumps.
'In the past we were invited by temples for opening ceremonies. Now we usually perform in hotels, shopping malls and community centres. What's more, there are dance troupes that use modern technology like LED drums to make the performance more entertaining,' he said.
Dancers usually train three days a week and newcomers have to practise basic kung fu steps like management of qi and stance, and work at least a year before giving performances. To practised the bamboo stilts and pole stunts for three years.
Another lion dancer, Ma Chun-kit, 18, revealed the qualities needed for a good lion dancer. 'Be brave and never hesitate when making a move. The key of is to show pomp and power. The cheers of the audience always lift my spirits and empower me.'