BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Lion dancing is becoming more popular across the United States. There’s a group in Baton Rouge that’s well-known for its lion dancing talents.
The Southern Lotus Lion Dance Association has been performing around Baton Rouge for decades, but the demand for its performances is booming.
“[In] a typical lion dance performance, there’s an instrument team, which includes some cymbal players, a drum, and a gong, and that’s basically a heartbeat of the lion," explained Jimmie Danh, a member of the team. “And then however many lions there are, two come to a pair. There’s a head player and a tail player and sometimes there might be a Buddha.”
“Growing up, we were strictly performing for Vietnamese businesses, nail salons, restaurants, grocery stores, and slowly people started booking us for weddings, grand openings, anniversaries, and birthdays all over," said Jimmy Do.
Perhaps it’s the bright colors, the rhythmic beat, or what the performance represents that makes them so engaging.
“Basically, the lion symbolizes good health, wealth, and fortune and drives away evil spirits,” Danh said.
The fascination and admiration of lion dancing in Baton Rouge has expanded beyond cultural lines. Southern Lotus recently performed at the Baton Rouge FLAIM School to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
During the last weekend in January, they performed a private show for Todd Graves.
Southern Lotus has performed together for years, but they officially reestablished themselves in 2018. Some members are self-taught and have been performing before they were 10-years-old.
“Starting off, we watched YouTube videos. We didn’t really know what to do in the early 2000s,” explained Do. “It was such a growing, new, upcoming culture and sport here in America. Within the last five years, I would say it has been growing so much in America to where there are masters who teach it at martial arts schools.”
The group has grown to about 20 members and they perform across south Louisiana.
It’s not easy to be a member of Southern Lotus. It takes a lot of dedication, coordination, and blind trust.
“I have to feel his hips and I have to listen to the beat. That’s why the drum, the cymbal, the gong represents the lion’s heartbeat,” Do explained. “Because he can barely see under there. I can barely see under there, so we have to listen and we just follow each other’s movement.”
“Whenever he lifts me, I have to trust him because if he lets go or drops me, we both fall," said Danh.
The lion’s heartbeat is how the performers communicate. They align each step, each movement with the beat. They hope this heartbeat lives on for years to come.
“I loved growing up watching the older people lion dance as a little kid when I was 6-years-old,” said Do. “Then growing up, I finally got to join the team. I learned, worked my way up. Now I love training the kids. It’s like the culture, being part of the community, and seeing everyone send us messages like, ‘Y’all did a great job. We love what you do’ and spreading the culture to the community is a great feeling.”