Lion dancing is for everyone

In our 2019 film, “Yellow Peril: Queer Destiny”, we had the privilege of working with Dora and Vicky, lion dancers in Vancouver who are breaking through barriers in the lion dance community, by challenging assumptions that ‘only men can lion dance’. Check out Dora’s story below!

For tickets to the August 20th, 2019 premiere of Yellow Peril: Queer Destiny, please visit this link.

By: Dora Ng

After every performance, someone would always ask me how much Fluffy (the lion costume) weighed. 

Women and nonbinary people who ask this often wants to hear it is REALLY heavy, so they can be impressed and inspired. 

Some men will ask only to tell me about how much heavier the lion heads were “back in the day,” unlike now when the lions are so much lighter and “anyone” can wield them. 

Most people are just innocently curious. 

I had no idea how much my lion actually weighed. Some days it feels almost weightless, and on other days it feels heavy, and just wiggling it leaves me short on breath. 

On all days when I hold a lion head I also carry the additional weight of the patriarchy. From the moment someone who is not a boy pick picks up a lion, they are closely scrutinized. If a boy finds the lion head heavy, he is expected to be able to develop the strength he needs eventually. If girl shows any sign of struggling, she is immediately told that “see, you (and all girls) are not strong enough after all.” 

I’ve faced this many times over the years. The moment I pick up a lion head someone will step in and tell me that I will never be able to wield it. I was not allowed to struggle and I was not given room to fail or experiment. One mistake or a bead of sweat and the lion was taken from me. This experience was on infinity loop until I met my lion dance partner, Vicky, who shared the same experience and we decided to try again, together this time. 

When we started performing together and started getting decent, people would “compliment” us by telling us that we were “almost as good” as men” or “like men.” They meant well, so we took it.

A couple of months ago I watched a lion dance competition at CanAm, a multi-discipline martial arts competition. There was only one girl lion dancer in the competition. She was very young, and paired with a much older and experienced dancer. Her stage was set up with props that suggested that her lion will attempt multiple jumps and stunts. 

The moment she lifted the lion head, I knew that she was not very experienced. I worried about the tricks she was going to perform, but hoped for the best. Not surprisingly, she was not able to land some of the jumps and stunts. She looked so bummed in the end, and I knew that part of the disappointment was that as the only girl lion dancer in the competition, she had not represented as well as she had hoped she would. 

I wanted so much to say to her that it was fine, that this was part of a process and that she is allowed to fail and that I know she will grow and that I see her and I too, understand what it feels like to carry the weight of representation, that as minorities in the sport, how our performance will shape people’s opinions of the abilities and potential of all performers who are not men. 

The more diverse lion dancers are, the less of this extra weight we will individually carry. With every woman and nonbinary lion dancer I see, I feel some of the weight lift. 

But I do not want to give this long and bummer answer after every performance so last night I finally weighed the lion.

Fluffy is 10 lbs.

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