By Baxley Aldworth
Sashaying its enormous head proudly after soaring through the air from pole to pole, this lion is not like the ones at the local zoo. Those lions, after all, aren’t made up of two athletic young men in costume. This man-made lion is performing the Chinese lion dance, which is truly a sight to behold, and few do it better than New York United Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe (NYULDDT). Few do it better than New York United Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe (NYULDDT). NYULDDT has been around for over ten years, and has earned the reputation of being the preeminent lion and dragon dancing troupe in the tri-state area. Lion dancing itself goes back much further. In ancient China, lions (which were not native to China) were transported along the Silk Road from faraway kingdoms to Chinese emperors. In return, Chinese emperors would grant the foreigners the right to trade with Silk Road merchants. These lions were the inspiration for the lion dance, and, two thousand years later, the dance lives on.
This tradition is more than just a dance ,however. NYULDDT’s lion dance also contains acrobatics and theatrics. They’re particularly famous for their dances on jongs, which are narrow poles with small, flat surfaces on the top, can reach as high as 13 feet and, figuratively speaking, separate the lions from the cubs because of their difficulty. Jongs also serve to represent the mountain the lion must climb in order to obtain the ching, which is the coveted flower of immortality. The dancing and jong-hopping is performed in step with the heavy beat of a drum and the clash of symbols. NYULDDT performs the Southern-style lion dance, and the dancers must possess the skill to make the lion express eight different feelings.
It may sound like the members of NYULDDT are full-time professionals, but that’s far from the case. The troupe is made up of volunteers, about fifty in all, ranging from 13 to 25 years old with many coming from local schools. The man holding it all together is the highly respected Master Ricky Mun. Mun, who is from Malaysia, began learning lion and dragon dancing at the age of seventeen, and, by performing the lion dance in parks, he inspired many young people to join the troupe. Nowadays, at the Chinese Merchant Association on Mott Street every Sunday, Mun personally leads the instruction of aspiring lion dancers and musicians.
All this practice and dedication has paid off in spades for NYULDDT. They won the Columbus Park Lion Dance Competition earlier this year and have performed all over the country in cities like Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and all over the tri-state area, including the Izod Center, where the New Jersey Nets play, as well as the casinos and the boardwalk of Atlantic City. They are the troupe of choice to call upon when restaurants or other businesses have their grand opening ceremonies.
The money earned from these shows goes directly towards buying new equipment, such as costumes and uniforms, and also helps cover travel expenses. For the volunteers, it’s not about money anyway, it’s about culture. So give yourself some much-needed culture, and come to see the New York United Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe’s breathtaking performance this Chinese New Year down on Mott Street!
To watch some of NYULDDT’s performances, check out lopchurng’s channel on www.youtube.com.