Lions Roar; Lions Dance – The Gund Kwock Asian Women Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe

The Gund Kwock Asian Women Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe began with a small desire: to dance. But like learning any new dance, the initial steps were hard. “I’d seen lion dance many, many times,” recalls troupe founder Reverend Cheng Iaam Tan, “but one day, I saw a performance right up close, and it looked really good! I thought—I can do this! So, if I can do this, other women can too.”

Gund Kwock started in 1998 in the donated space of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) of Boston. The troupe, currently with twenty permanent members and growing, is what Reverend Tan believes to be the only all-female lion dance troupe in the United States. “Our goal is Asian women empowerment and community contribution,” Reverend Tan says with a smile of determination, “The challenging thing was recruiting a teacher. It’s not heard of to teach women lion dance, and I was very lucky to find Eddie Lau, who is our sifu.” Reverend Tan met Eddie Lau through her husband’s group of friends eleven years ago. In the video above Gund Kwock is practicing a dragon dance for the 2008 August Moon Festival in their new space at the China Trade Center. The lion and dragon dance is divided between Northern and Southern style, differences between the northern and Southern styles are identified by movements, gestures and costume. Northern style costumes are hair-like and come in variations of red, orange or green dress. Southern style lion costumes look a little like soft scales coming in color variations of gold, white, black, red, orange, and green.

Lions are not indigenous to China and numerous histories and folklore speculate their arrival. It is generally accepted that the animal arrived in China during the era of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). One history is that the lions arrived in China along the Silk Road as a gift from merchants in the current regions of Iran and Afghanistan. The lions were presented as a gift in exchange for use of the trade route. All of these stories present the lion as a symbol of courage, prosperity and good fortune. Today, the lion dance is performed during festivals and new business openings as a symbolic warding-away of all things bad and welcoming-in of all things good. “There are lots of stories about the history of lion dance,” says Reverend Tan, “one story tells about a monster that would torment a village on a yearly basis—destroying crops, ruining property and taking lives. The villagers tried fighting the monster with the help of other animals but none of these solutions were successful until they found the lion. The lion fought with the monster and defeated it, promising to come back the next year. When the monster came back, the lion had been recruited by the emperor to guard the imperial court and was unable to leave its post. The villagers came up with a solution to create a costume to impersonate the lion and succeeded in warding off the monster themselves.

For more information about the Gund Kwock Asian Women Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe and view upcoming shows please check visit their web site: http://www.gundkwok.org/about/index.html

To view more videos of Gund Kwok performances please visit Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=gund+kwok&search_type=&aq=f

Factoids:
師 傅 – pronounced “sifu” means teacher

Sources:
Gund Kwok Asian Women Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe. “What is Lion Dance: History and Folklore.” http://www.gundkwok.org/about/index.html (accessed on Oct. 1, 2009).

Hong Kong Luck Kung Fu Club . Chinese Lion Dance History. http://www.hongluck.org/lion-dance-history.html  (accessed on Oct. 1, 2009).

 

Video and words by Angie Mah

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