The global lion dance community is a very small and tight-knit circle. When I first confirmed my move to Jakarta I put out a call to all my lion dance friends via facebook to ask if any of them had any connections in Jakarta. Sure enough I got a response from Cecilia from Australia, the most fanatical female lion dancer in the world I’m sure. She gave me the number of a guy named Denny, someone who I’m now privileged to call a good friend. I didn’t realize how generous and hospitable he would be. Cecilia told me that his English was great but I was truly shocked at his fluency and knowledge of idioms and slang. He even uses the perfect tenses correctly! Anyway, after a few months of hanging out, he invited me to the Indonesia Lion and Dragon dance competition. It was held in the enormous driveway of a mall called Mangga Dua (Mango Two) World Trade Centre. If that isn’t a great name for a mall, I don’t know what is. So, this area provided more than adequate space to set up the lion dance poles and benches. There were teams from as far away as Makassar and Medan.
The lion dance categories are as follows, poles and floor show. The floor show is on the ground and on some low tables, or benches. I can assure you that even though the height isn’t great, it does require some guts and quite a good degree of balance to play on the benches. The poles segment is a separate category. In this section the team jumps around on some poles which are about 2-3 meters in the air and topped by a platform about half a meter in diameter. As you can imagine, the poles require a great deal of courage and physical precision in order to play on them successfully.
Day one was the floor show category. This allows lion dance teams a great deal of flexibility as they get to create their own obstacle course, as opposed to the poles, which are standardized by international judging requirements. For me as a traditional lion dancer who looks back to the esoteric heritage and Fut San tradition and kung fu roots of lion dance, the floor show is really what I’m there to see. It allows a school to show their style, character and martial prowess (if any). Disappointingly, mmost of the lion dance schools in Jakarta are exclusively lion dancf, with no Kung fu. You can really see the difference between a school that does martial arts and lion dance and those that only do lion dance.
The other highlight worth mentioning was the dragon dance segment. In Toronto, I’ve only ever seen dragon dances that were monotonous and boring. The lion dance here was different, the teams were athletic, graceful and exciting. One of my favourite things that they did was to create these shapes with the dragon, for example, two concentric rings mimicking an infinity symbol, or a coiled dragon chasing the pearl in the centre. The best part of these poses was the way the music would suddenly stop to emphasize the pose. Then the music would slowly restart, and the dragon would return to life in slow motion, following the rhythm of the music.
I was lucky enough to be there with Denny as mentioned above, who just happens to know the current WORLD CHAMPION LION DANCERS! To me, it’s the equivalent of a golf fan meeting Tiger. They are really nice guys, and I chatted with them a bit in broken English and Indonesian. I had already attended their practice so it wasn’t the first time meeting them, but they had won the world title since I had seen them last. Surprise, surprise, they won the poles competition. I got to hold the gold medal! Closest I’ll get to a lion dance medal.
Highlight for me was the floor competition winners. Their routine was great, very expressive and the story was quit intricate. First, the “cheng” was suspended from a palm tree. When the lion jumped up to get it, putting its legs on the tree, it toppled over, landing on a cave. The lion circled around to get the fallen cheng, still connected to the fallen palm. BUT, when the lion approached the cave, a noxious gas (produced by smoke machine or maybe fire extinguisher) blinded the lion. The lion cleared its eyes (using the sleep routine) and then a snake slithered out! At some point a little frog was also catapulted into the air. Th lion killed the snake and then proceeded to eat the cheng. Shockingly, both the head and the tail of the winning floor team were pretty chunky guys about my age, but they played the lion with tons of character and most incredibly of all, were still able to do some jumps!