Czech Kung Fu students to perform Lion Dance in celebration of Chinese New Year

Lion Dance, photo: Lorna Stephen

Various activities are being prepared for celebrations in the run up to the Chinese New Year. Alongside a traditional dragon boat race on the Vltava River and a performance by Chinese singer Feng-yűn Song, Petra Lorenzová’s Kung Fu School in Prague is putting together the final touches for a performance at Palác Akropolis, a popular club in the city. I went along to one of the training sessions at the school on a Monday night to find out how things were coming together.

Lion Dance,  photo: Lorna Stephen
The Kung Fu Skola is now celebrating 16 years in existence and I asked the schools founder and coordinator, Petra Lorenzová, how things started.

“At first I was a student here in Bohemia under Roman Hadík and I only gradually started to teach. Originally it was just a small group but then I began training to teach professionally. I would say that there was quite a lot of interest from people to join.”

For the performance at Akropolis the Kung Fu School will showcase both of their dancing “lions” on stage and I got to see one of them on Monday. Petra Lorenzová told me what was special about the Lion Dance in particular.

“The Lion Dance is actually a beautiful, traditional, Chinese movement. It started a number of centuries ago. Kung Fu Schools used it to make them more visible. The Lion Dance itself has many qualities associated with it such as happiness, success and simply to wish good things at weddings, personal celebrations and other occasions like sporting events or festivals.”

In Petra Lorenzová’s school, the Hung Gar variety of Kung Fu is taught, and I wanted to know exactly what this meant.

Lion Dance,  photo: Drhaggis,  CC 3.0 license
“In China Kung Fu is divided into modern and traditional styles and these traditional styles are still used in the north and in the south. Our school follows the southern style, Hung Gar, which has a lot of strong punches and kicks but no acrobatics - so it is really a martial art in the full sense of the word.

“Also, the traditional styles have the advantage, that they suit people of any age. Acrobatics have to be age-appropriate and when you are retired you can’t necessarily turn somersaults anymore, so in the traditional style everyone can do something that is suited to his or her abilities and physical strengths.”

On the school’s website, it says that classes are available from beginners’ level to advanced, for ages 5 to 99. Although there wasn’t such a wide age range there on Monday evening, I was still surprised to see such mixed ages within the group.

“Right now we have a mother and daughter training here. The daughter is 11 or 12 years old and she can’t yet lift the lion’s head, so there needs to be a second person. She could be at the back, but she still needs strength.

Lion Dance,  photo: Lorna Stephen
“On the other hand, even little children can do things like play musical instruments. The nice thing about Lion dancing is that we can work as a team. No one ever has a solo, neither musical nor with the lion. Everything has to be done together.”

Having taken the beautifully decorated lion’s head out of its wrappings and with the drum and cymbals on standby, it seemed a shame not to see it all in action, but what I hadn’t bargained on, was the strength needed to lift the lion’s head itself.

“The lion dance is a wonderful thing when you’re working out to music, but it really needs a good deal of physical strength because the one who carries the head needs to move it up and down for several minutes. That really requires some strength! You can try picking it up yourself – it weighs a few kilos!”

At that weight and big enough to fit a small child inside, lifting it was no easy feat. After trying to lift the Lion’s head myself I realised that I certainly wasn’t going to be dancing around the room with it anytime soon and decided to leave it to the professionals to give me a demonstration.

Not only does the dancing require stamina, but the music does too, and as Petra Lorenzová says, the music might be a bit difficult to listen to for up to an hour, so that’s why they also use Chinese music from CD’s. By now, the lion had been put away and the dance routine was being carried out with spears!

Lion Dance,  photo: Toby Hudson,  CC 3.0 license
Even after a thorough session of dancing and working out, some members of the class still had enough breath left over to tell me a little about how they got involved in the Kung Fu School…

“I’ve been coming to the Kung Fu School for around 5 years now. It’s an amazing art which brought me to life again, gave me strength and completely prepared me for the rest of my life.”

“I’ve been doing Kung Fu for 10 years. I do it mainly so that I could defend myself and also for strength, because at the moment I don’t have much!”

“I have been doing Kung Fu for four years. I enjoy martial arts in general and I like the group of people here. Kung Fu conditions you mentally and physically and it strengthens you for work and day to day life.”

“I’ve been doing Kung Fu for 14 years and I do it in order to defend myself against bad people.”

Illustrative photo
Petra Lorenzová emphasised to me once more that when it come to Kung Fu, age really doesn’t matter.

“Not just 18 or 20 year olds, but also adults, people in their 40’s and even those who have already retired are able to do Hung Gar. This style of Kung Fu really is suitable for every person.”

You can find more information about the school itself here and about the show here