Gung Kwok–An All-Asian-Women Lion Dance Group

By Yaling Hou

Cheng Imm Tan is a Chinese-Malaysian-American. She loved martial arts when she was young. However, she found that the martial art was all male-dominated, and she was educated to be quiet and mannered because she was a girl.

One day, Tan was watching a lion dance performance, and she suddenly noticed that this martial art was the one that she could do.

“As women, some movements and jumps are hard for us to achieve, but we can use creative music and emotions to give the lion dance something unique,” Tan recalled. “So, I persuaded ten women friends of mine to organize an all-women lion dance group.”

She named her group “Gung Kwok”. It means “China” in Cantonese.

The Lion Dance is a traditional dance in China. In big festivals, such as the Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year), people, usually men will dress up to perform the lion dance just on the street, like a parade celebration.

Lion in Chinese culture symbolizes power, wisdom and superiority. It will bring luck, safety and wealth. The lion is one of the most popular animals in China.

The dance needs two people cooperate together to play a “lion”. One as a head, the other as a body and tail. The lion head is over-sized and quite heavy. The “head” performer will operate the head and also the lion’s mouth and eyes. The “head” and “tail” will make a lot of actions together as a team, like turns, jumps, and lifts with the emotions of music.

The lion dance accompanies one big drum and gongs. The music is very joyous. The rhythm and beats are very dynamic.  Some characters who play as animal trainers or young children interact with the “lion” or “lions” to use martial art and acts to tell stories.

Thus, about Tan’s all-women lion dance, what’s the different parts of the traditional dance? Tan and her lion dance members, as well as their audiences in Salem, have the answer.

(Check out the video story about the lion dance group–Gung Kwok)