Since he was 10, Antonio Ng has been performing as a lion dancer in the streets of Ongpin every Chinese New Year. Now 50, the Binondo native will not be able to perform because of the pandemic health restrictions.
Ng inherited his parents’ dancing skills. In 1990, he started teaching the lion and dragon dance and also ventured into making the costumes.
“Bata pa lang kami may lion at dragon dance na. ‘Yung papa ko nagla-lion dance dati (The lion and dragon dance has been around since we were kids. My father used to do the lion dance),” Ng said.
Ng started dancing when he joined Hong Seng, a group of dragon and lion dancers, until one of his relatives decided to establish the Golden Dragon group which Ng joined in 1983.
The lion and dragon dance is usually performed during the lunar new year and other Chinese cultural and religious festivals. It is also performed in business opening events, special celebrations, and wedding ceremonies. It is supposed to bring good luck and fortune. Ng and his group don’t only perform in Chinatown, they also get invited to perform in hotel and corporate events where they earn more.
“P1,200 per performance para sa mga dancers. Ang bayad depende sa tagal ng sayaw – 15 to 18 minutes – at depende rin sa kontrata. Pero nakadepende sa ibibigay ng boss namin kung magkano ang kikitain ng bawat dancer,” Ng said as he explained how much a performer earns.
(It’s P1,200 per performance for the dancers. The payment depends on the length of the dance – 15 to 18 minutes – and also on the contract. But our boss decides how much each dancer gets.)
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the lion and dragon dance performance business has changed a lot. Some of the owners decided to discontinue the business due to quarantine restrictions and for the health safety of their dancers. Ng added that they still can pursue clients for a performance but there might be difficulties like getting swab tests which will cost more than a day’s earning for each performer.
“Tiis muna ngayon. Nagha-hanap hanap din kami ng mga event lalo na sa mga probinsya kaso lang ang daming hinahanap sa amin na kung ano-ano. Ang mahal ng swab. Magkano lang ang kikitain namin? Kaya sabi ng boss ko, pahinga muna,” Ng said.
(We have to endure, for now. We’re also scouting for events especially in the provinces but they’re asking for so many things. The swab [test] is expensive. How much would be left of our earnings? That’s why my boss said, let’s take a breather for the meantime.)
A group of performers has 17 members – 10 persons will carry the dragon, two persons will don the lion costume, while the rest are drummers or tasked to handle other equipment.
“Sanay na kami mag-dragon dance at hindi namin nararamdaman ‘yung pagod kahit buong araw kami magtrabaho. Kinabukasan na lang namin mararamdaman ‘yung sakit ng katawan,” Ng said.
(We’re used to doing the dragon dance so we don’t feel any exhaustion even if we work the whole day. We would only feel our body aches the following day.)
This year, to earn money, some of them were forced to look for other jobs.
On January 29, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno released an Executive Order stating that no dragon dance, street party, stage show, parade or any other similar activity will be held for the celebration of Chinese New Year from February 11 to 12.
For now, Ng is trying to get busy working at a vault business shop owned by his boss who also owns the Gold Dragon lion and dragon dancers.
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