The first female lion and dragon dance troupe in Vietnam is practicing hard to showing off their talents during the Tet season, which begins next week.
Founded in 2008 in O Mon District in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, the Tu Anh Duong lion and dragon dance troupe was the only one in the country then to have female members, who were trained by master Luong An Duong from the University of Physical Education and Sports.
The team has 75 members now, including 16 women aged three to 38.
In the days leading up to Tet, Vietnam’s biggest holiday, troupe members spend two hours a day practicing team exercises.
A female dancer (C) joins her male colleagues in balancing atop a seven-meter-high (23 feet) pole.
“Dancing on high poles is the most challenging task for all artistes. It can even be life threatening if they are negligent,” Luong An Duong said.
“For women, the difficulty is even greater because they have to practice strong movements, acrobatics and rotating skills.”
Le Yen Quyen, 28, slides face down on the pole, an exclusive move practiced by the troupe.
“It took me two years to do difficult movements like this,” said Quyen, the female acrobat with more than 10 years of experience in performing lion and dragon dances. She has eight Vietnam Guinness and two Asian records to her name.
The Tu Anh Duong troupe has itself won many awards, medals and records over the 14 years since its establishment.
Troupe members practice Mai Hoa Thung techniques on iron poles up to 2.5 meters tall.
Mai Hoa Thung is the name of a unicorn dance considered a difficult, dangerous one.
During each Mai Hoa Thung performance, the artistes perform on 24 iron poles with a height of 1-2.6 m high for 10 to 12 minutes with a series of risky juggling movements.
Generally, “the artistes require mastery of traditional lion dance techniques and martial arts skills,” said Duong.
The lion dance norm is for poles not to exceed 10m, but members of Tu Anh Duong are capable of performing with 12 -15 m high poles for performances that can last more than 20 minutes, compared to the normal six minutes.
Female members of the troupe are cheerful as they practice their moves for a Tet performance.
Many Chinese and Vietnamese people credit their business success and happy life to divine blessings, and for this, they invite a lion dance troupe to visit their houses and business establishments on the first days of the lunar new year, and give them a lucky money envelope.
Women and their male colleagues practice on the big drums that are a crucial of lion and dragon dances.
“For each show… they can earn VND36 million ($1,600) with members performing for two hours. The lowest price range is VND3-4 million for a 15-20 minute performance,” Duong said.
The troupe’s schedule is already full for the upcoming Tet holiday. The first day of the Lunar New Year falls on February 1.
Duong said his students have become lion and dragon dancers because of their passion for the traditional art, but they cannot earn enough to make it a main career.
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