THE LION DANCE BROTHERS
ONE FOR THE TAIL, ONE FOR THE HEAD.
Drums and fireworks are resounding in the towers of the Paris Chinatown. It’s been like this since the sunrise. In the crowd gathering along the main avenue, a band is fraying the masses as quickly as they can. “Come on, faster!”shouts a young man to the rest of the group. “We’re late again. Every year it’s the same thing” he says. “They’ll be mad when we get there” another guy answers.
The two youngsters chatting and hauling a big red lion costume are Calvin and Eddy. They’re brothers, they share the same blood and the same hobby. For them, this cold February winter-day is the most important of the year: it’s the Chinese New Year. With approximately 50 other dancers and musicians from the same association, they will spend the day performing their very own Lion Dance.
The tradition of the Lion Dance dates back to Antiquity. No one really knows its origins but Calvin, the elder brother, repeats the founding myth to whoever wants to hear it. “According to the legend, a monster used to come to a tiny village down from a mountain and scared the children. To fight back, the village created a lion costume, a music, a dance and fireworks to scare the monster.”
Each brother has its role. Eddy, the younger, is the head of the lion. Calvin, the elder is the tail of the lion. When they’re in the costume, they don’t even need to talk, they’re in sync. Each of them knows exactly what they have to do. And they do it.
The first one holds the Lion’s head with his arm whilst the second, behind him is bent and holds his brother by the waist. “It’s the head that’s pacing the dance” says proudly Eddy. “Behind me, there’s my brother, he’s gotta be bent and follow my steps. If I go one way, he’s going the same way. If I choose a tempo, he’s gotta follow me.”
After 30 minutes walking, the two brothers and the rest of dancers get to the front of the church “Notre-Dame-Of-China”, their meeting point. They eat a sandwich real quick. The time has come to get in their costume. For ten minutes, the two brothers are swinging in rhythm with the music and two other lions.
“When you’re the tail, you gotta be squatting all the time. While the head can remain straight” says Calvin, breathing heavily. “When I dance, I don’t see nothing, only my brother’s feet. My only way to follow what’s happening is to follow my brother’s moves. It works most of the time, but sometimes, well, it doesn’t. Not that often, but it happens.”
Their shared hobby isn’t a new thing. “When we were kids, our grandparents lived in the Chinese district. They used to take us to see the lion’s dance and we always thought that we’d be the ones doing it one day” says Eddy. This day has finally come. Two years ago they joined one of the six associations practicing the lion dance in Paris.
All year long, once a week, Eddy and Calvin get together along 50 other dancers to train. To create the perfect chemistry between the partners, there’s no miracle. They have to rehearse until the moves come fluid, almost natural. “We got to mimic the moves, the roaring” says Eddy.
Today is the parade-day. Their hours of rehearsals and complete dedication to the dance seem to be paying off. On the paved streets of the Paris Chinatown, the two lion dance brothers will be performing 20 times today without any faux-pas.
As the drums beat, the beast rises from the ground, the lion shakes and moves its massive head as its booty jumps. Suddenly, the animal falls down. The drums stop. It’s almost silent. A woman comes close to the fallen beast with a piece of lettuce, a symbol of prosperity, happiness and wealth. The animal eats (well, just pretends to, it’s just a metaphor) the salad and throws it back to the crowd. The claps go loud, the fireworks come louder, the celebration is back on tracks and the two brothers are back to dancing. The drums are back, the lion rises and blends into the rest of the parade.