Confessions of a lion dance instructor
This volunteer instructor helps showcase the traditional Chinese dance without compromising safety
The fancy footwork that Mr Calvin Loke, 38, teaches is of the dangerous kind.
How dangerous? The lion dance instructor smirked in response to the question.
"Come, let me show you," said Mr Loke, rolling his sleeve up to reveal an unsettling bump on his right arm.
His bellowing laughter indicated he is pleased with this reporter's shocked reaction.
He pointed to the 2m-tall plum blossom poles and said: "Fracture. I fell on my arm."
But Mr Loke was quick to add that in his nine years as an instructor, safety has always been a priority.
He said: "That is why we always practise with safety mattresses, and there are assistants watching when we rehearse.
"It feels good to be a champion in a competition and put on a good show, but safety must always be there."
Mr Loke, a graphic designer by day, volunteers at the Nam Sieng Dragon and Lion Dance Activity Centre, a well-known group in the lion dance competition circles.
Nam Sieng, located along Guillemard Road, boasts around 100 active performers, whose ages range from 16 to around 40.
The group has around six troupes that perform commercially as well as take part in local and overseas competitions. Its best performers are currently training for the 10th International Lion Dance Competition, which starts on Saturday.
Although Mr Loke admitted that winning feels good, he cut a humble figure when asked to elaborate on his troupe's achievements.
"I think we are good, but we can always be better. That competitive spirit and the need to train the young ones keeps me going," he said.
As an instructor, Mr Loke teaches his students how to work in tandem with a partner to bring their costumed creature to life.
The mark of a good lion dance performance is in how natural it looks, he said. Coordinating the movements of the lion's legs, blinking its eyes in a natural-looking way and knowing when to open its mouth - these are steps that need to be practised to perfection.
While every performance has the same "ingredients", each event and its venue need to be carefully considered.
Mr Loke said: "During these next two months for the Chinese New Year period, we have performances nearly every day, and the quality must always be there."
But being a lion dance instructor is a year-round job.
Mr Loke said he coaches at least three nights a week, and the training intensifies during competition periods.
He added with a smile: "I have been doing lion dance since I was a teenager, it never feels like a chore."
When asked what keeps him going, Mr Loke replied almost instinctively.
"I like Chinese culture. We have to do our part to preserve it and make sure it carries on," he said. "The best part is when people cheer for my culture, and I get to see them enjoy what we do."
What: 10th International Lion Dance Competition
When: Saturday and Sunday, 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Where: Carpark in Banda Street, off Sago Lane
Tickets: From $10. Purchase from Kreta Ayer Community Club or call 6222-3597
Secrets of the trade
1. Be fit. A lot of strength is needed to perform a lion dance. It is therefore imperative to get, and stay, in shape.
2. Say a prayer. Praying before each competition or performance helps to calm the performers' nerves and bond the troupe.
3. Have patience. Being a coach means having to deal with students with attitude problems. Keep an open mind and be patient.