Taming the Lion

By Ahmed Wafi

#teamGRADUAN checks in with Eric Fong, financial consultant by day, lion dance master and world champion by night.

From 9 to 5 on weekdays, Eric Fong is a financial consultant but once he clocks out, the 40-year-old pursues his one true passion that is embedded deep in cultures around the world: The art of lion dance.

Fong has been involved in the performing arts for over 28 years now and has risen through the ranks at Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association of Malaysia where he started as a member when he was a primary school student and now manager, coach and Master at the seven time World Champion Lion Dance team.

“There was a lion dance troupe near my childhood home, and I often heard them beating gongs and drums. My parents would take me there if they were free and I was always in awe of their performances,” Fong fondly recalls of his start of something beautiful.

His mother eventually made him take up lion dance to cope with his childhood obesity. What was an effective way to lose weight turned to passion in early 90s when his cousin brought him to see a lion dance competition in the city. “From that moment, I held lion dance to a high regard as I was amazed at how beautiful the performance on the tall poles looked. I wanted to be up there on stage myself,” Fong recalls.

So what exactly does being a Master Lion Dancer entail? After work, Fong begins his training. “I keep practising because I don’t want to regress. There’s always room for improvement,” says Fong.

When he was 21, Fong began training children and once he received his international judging license, he began teaching the trade in countries such as the United States, Japan, and even China among others!

Of course, reaching the pinnacle of any discipline comes with sacrifices. “When I first started taking the lion dance seriously, many of my friends and colleagues would be disappointed as I would turn down their invitations to meet up for Chinese New Year because I’d be busy with performances. But once they understood my perseverance and how I really feel about it, they’ve come to support me. To be honest, I haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year ever since I started lion dancing. But when I got married three years ago, I made it a point to take the second day of CNY off to visit my wife’s hometown,” says Fong.

A bulk of his annual leave days would be taken up by lion dance as he would be away from the first to the 15th day of CNY, taking part in performances around the country. This also makes him more hardworking at his regular work. “When I return to the office, I devote 200 per cent of my time to work. I’m grateful for the trust and support shown by my bosses. If lion dance has taught me anything it’s that discipline, time and self-management, persistence pay off, and to never give up easily,” says Fong who celebrates his eighth year as a financial consultant.

So how does one reach the top of the lion dance world? According to Fong, first thing’s first: You must have love for the art itself. “I had to learn all roles of the lion dance and gain experience in performance and competitions, which took probably about five years to master. To date I am still learning a lot of old traditional performance stories. One should never stop seeking knowledge even when you are a Master,” says Fong.

His passion has led him and Khuan Loke around the world, gathering a host of accolades including 20 National Championship titles since 1997 and seven World Championship titles, putting Malaysia at the top of the lion dance world.

Fong also shed light on the current lion dance scene in Malaysia, expressing pleasure at the increasing participation of Malaysians from all walks of life. He believes that the art is now part of the country’s national heritage and is happy to see more Malaysians from all races take part in the performance.

Interested in giving lion dance a go? Here’s what Fong has to share: “In Khuan Loke, we offer lion dance examination modules from the basic level all the way to becoming a coach and even masters.”

You can drop Khuan Loke Dragon and Lion Dance Association a message and say hi to Eric Fong!

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