Pride of lions
An all-girl team of lion dancers has been turning heads, beating the boys at competitions and even taking awards, bringing the ancient tradition into a new era.
The Ha Kwok Cheung Dragon & Lion Dance troupe's group of 15 lion-dancing girls, aged 12 to 24, is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Even coach Tiffany Au Yeung Sau-ming herself did not think it was a possibility before the troupe formed two years ago.
After all, an all-girl lion-dancing troupe was an unheard of idea - girls got the easy, minor parts like playing the gongs and cymbals, and in traditional Chinese village society it was considered bad luck if a woman touched a dancing lion.
The 22-year-old coach says she accepted this to the extent she had never even thought of challenging it until an unexpected invitation came around.
The result was a minor revolution.
'When I was invited to coach a lion dance team in a girls' primary school,' says Au Yeung, 'I was amazed by the potential and ability the girls possessed ... I suddenly saw the possibility of forming an all-girl team.'
Before she knew it, she had a team of 15 lion dancers.
Recognising that the lion dance is a performance art, she decided to add a little glamour to the traditional kung-fu look, and replaced the uniforms with embroidered, lace-fringed, Chinese blouses, black leather boots - and, of course, makeup.
Despite the feminine makeover, the girls undergo a regular training regime as demanding as the boys, practising dangerous stunts like leaping back and forth on two-metre poles. They may not be as physically strong as their male counterparts, but they are no less skilful and spirited.
'If we want to be taken seriously, we have to master the basic moves and do what all other teams do - along with a few other gimmicks,' says Au Yeung.
One of those 'gimmicks' is having the usually less active percussionists perform somersaults and back flips during shows.
Never tired of re-inventing the martial art, Au Yeung and renowned choreographer High King have joined hands to infuse elements of hip hop dance into the lion dance to reach out to the younger generation.
'We have to think of creative ways to attract a bigger audience and keep the tradition alive.'