KUANTAN: Being the only lion dance troupe in the state which performs on high pillars, the Kuantan Construction Association's lion dance club is once again in high demand with Chinese New Year celebration just two days away.
The club which consists of multiracial dancers, aged between 12 and 30, is known for their breathtaking moves and acrobatic stunts, so much so that the troupe has been inundated with bookings from home owners and businessmen seeking for blessings for the Year of the Dog.
Trained by Koo Yueh Wei and his assistant Lee Leong Poh, the troupe, has been spending long hours practicing and trying out new moves at their training centre in Jalan Wong Ah Jang here.
Koo, who works as a newspaper vendor, said his 40-strong troupe has received bookings this year between the first and the fifth day to perform at residential premises and open house events.
"From the sixth till the 15th day of Chinese New Year, we have been invited to perform at business premises, factories and corporate events. We offer various packages ranging from the basic to more elaborate ones which include performing on pillars, which is our trademark.
"Some first-timers have booked our troupe hoping for good luck and prosperity. The economic situation has minimum effect on us as some hire our services to help improve their fortunes while those who have been enjoying good times want to ensure they continue to enjoy success," he said when met.
The 41-year-old, who was shouting instructions and watching his charges train, said performing the lion dance on the high pillars requires a lot of hard work, focus and hours of practise.
"The dancers should be able to balance their body and measure their steps before doing jumps including leaping forward about 2.5 metres. Balancing their footing is crucial as one slight mistake could be sometimes costly.
"There will be usually two dancers during each move with one standing in front and holding up the lion's head while the other crouches beneath the tail. It is a challenging task, as at times the dancer at the back will have to lift the person in front and balance on the pillar," he said, adding thick mattresses covered with canvas were laid on the floor during training to avoid untoward incidents in case one loses his balance and accidentally lands on the ground.
Koo, who took up lion dancing when he was 12 years old, said beginners will usually be equipped with various safety gears including shin guards and protective headgear before they familiarise themselves with the dance movements.
He said most of the troupe members have international exposure as they have travelled to Macau, Hong Kong, China and Thailand to participate in international competitions.
"We emerged among the top two teams in several competitions and invitational championship last year, and we are among the top ranked lion dance troupe in the country. We have a 14-year-old member, who is the only female high pillar dancer in the country.
"Our troupe consists of members of various races and we have special classes on Saturday evening for beginners which have been attracting a lot of the young ones, especially primary school pupils," he said.
Koo said last year, the team won second spot in the Jiangsu Cup International Lion Dance Tournament and the silver medal at the Wong Fei-Hung Cup Lion Dance competition as well as a water double-lion dance challenge in China.
"Locally, we had a packed calendar and participated in several championships including the Gamuda Walk High Stakes Invitational (runners-up), National Championship (second runner-up) and Penang International High School Lion Dance Tournament (runners-up).
"2018 has been promising after our team emerged as the champion at the Elements Mall Cup in Melaka on Jan 21 and we also did well at the Singapore International Lion dance tournament," he said.
Meanwhile, Lee said apart from being an age-old tradition, lion dance has now become a sport which could slowly makes its way into the Malaysian Games (Sukma) soon.
He said the Dragon and Lion Dance Federation of Malaysia is looking into initiatives for the traditional Chinese performing arts to be promoted as a national sport in the future.