Bring on the lions, make some noise
Supervising kung fu warm-ups for nine children from the Ping Shek Catholic Primary School Lion Dance Team, martial arts master Ellis Lee Yun-fook says a perfect lion dance is all about mastering the animal's eight emotions.
Students of the ancient dance form have to master the movements that display the lion's different moods - happiness, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, serenity, fear or suspicion - he says.
'It's about bringing the lion to life, imitating its spirit and movements, while doing difficult stunts,' says Master Lee.
The lion dance is probably very ancient, but one Chinese legend has it that it came into being after a Tang dynasty emperor dreamed of two dancing beasts, and then ordered imperial performers to imitate what he had seen in his dreams for his entertainment.
Despite having to jump along the tops of a row of poles - jong - it is not essential for students to be particularly acrobatic, according to Master Lee, who adds lion dance is athletically less demanding than basketball.
Master Lee admits lion dancers occasionally slip while doing pole jumping, but he says dancers never suffer serious injuries because mattresses on the floor protect them when they fall.
The lion itself usually comprises two people, one taking the front legs and operating the lion's head, and the other taking the back legs.
Performances take place to the accompaniment of a vigorous percussion troupe, which lends power to the lion with its noisy drumming. The stretching and kicking involved in lion dance gives dancers a fit but not too muscular figure, says Master Lee.
Lee Hiu-kwan, 10, is the youngest girl in the Ping Shek Catholic Primary School team.
With six years of martial arts training, she's a 'senior'.
'I feel unique being in a lion dance team because not many girls do it,' she says.
Pointing out brothers Hung Wai-hung, 10, and Hung Wai-chiu, 11, Master Lee says: 'It takes a lot of trust and communication between the lion's head and tail, and some brotherly bonding helps.'
Wai-hung said: 'It was scary to be on the poles at the beginning, but when you get used to the heights, you can have fun jumping around!'
While his little brother is busy operating the lion's eyes and opening and closing its mouth, Wai-chiu's eyes are fixed on the poles as he leaps from one to the other, almost carrying his little brother by the waist. 'I am only a bit bigger than him, and he's so heavy, but I need to keep him from falling,' says Wai-chiu. Check out Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Dragon and Lion Dance Association's website: www.hkcmaa.com.hk/intro/lion.html