A passion for martial arts performance turns into a thriving business.
Martial arts master Siow Ho Phiew’s childhood passion for Chinese kung fu and lion dance has turned into a thriving business for the 54-year-old native of Pulau Ketam in Selangor.
Each year he produces about 500 lions for sale.
What Siow does – making lion heads – is fast becoming an endangered art as very few young people are keen to learn the art of making lion heads.
But, through the years, the affable man continues faithfully to improve his techniques and products. And, hopefully, his creative craft could continue for generations to come.
“I was fascinated with kung fu and lion dances as a child. I didn’t have the chance to learn kung fu until I was a teenager,” he said.
Siow picked up his initial kung fu lessons during a five-year stint under kung fu master Huang Zheng Xing, whom he got to know through a friend.
He was then introduced to the art of lion dance by master Chen Liang Min, followed by master Chai Huan who taught him both kung fu and lion dance.
His last sifu master Chen Xiao Qi continues to be his teacher till today.
Siow, who has learnt both the He Shan and Fuo Shan lion dance styles, has also been teaching lion dances for nearly 30 years.
“It is a constant learning process and I get to learn new things and improve as I teach,” he said.
“Although I enjoy both kung fu and lion dance, I chose to focus on the dance. The kung fu posture and movements are more traditional and fixed, while the lion dance is more adaptable and allows for more flexible movements, depending on the skill and creativity of the performers,” he said.
Siow has served as a judge for numerous lion dance competitions and is often consulted on various matters pertaining to the art.
He has trained Malaysian troupes like the Kun Seng Keng of Muar in Johor, Selangor Kuan Loke, Kedah Hong Tek, Sabah Hong Tek and the Sarawak Limbang Hong Tek, as well as overseas troupes in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, Australia, Mexico and Canada.
Siow’s foray into making the lions was born out of necessity.
“I had formed my own lion dance troupe called the Kok Yee with a group of friends. We had no money to buy a lion head, so I had to figure out how to make one,” he said.
Siow experimented with various methods and, since then, there has been no stopping him as he danced into success, eventually setting up his own business – Wan Seng Hang (WSH) Dragon & Lion Arts – in 1986.
“I studied some old lion heads from China, and found a number of flaws like their heavy weight and designs that could cause accidents and injure the performers,” he said.
“I adapted their designs and created my own designs, which the lion makers from China are now copying from,” Siow said.
Siow has 15 workers at his company workshop in Bandar Pinggiran Subang 2.
Each lion head takes nearly a month to make. The price of a complete set, which includes a lion head and costumes for the performers, ranges from RM1,800 to RM2,000.
The company also makes dragon dance sets, and sells drums and other music instruments for the dance performances, Chinese weapons, as well as costumes for the God of Prosperity and Laughing Buddha.
For details, visit http://www.wansenghang.com/main.html or call 03-7845 1239.
Making of a lion’s head
A step-by-step guide to how a lion is made at master Siow Ho Phiew’s workshop:
1. The lion head’s framework is built using rattan and masking tape, as well as aluminium for its base. The He Shan Lion has a rounder shape while the Fuo Shan Lion has a squarish shape.
2. High-quality paper and a cloth material similar to bandages are pasted onto the framework.
3. Stickers imported from Taiwan and Japan are stuck onto the lion head as base colours. Red and black used to be the favoured colours; the trend now is for gold or silver.
4. Patterns are drawn and colours filled in to make the lion head look more colourful and striking. The designs would depend on the artist’s preference or customer’s request, such as to include the company’s logo or leopard prints.
5. Lacquer is sprayed to ensure that the colours do not fade or run, and to give an overall shiny effect.
6. Fur is pasted around the lion’s features. This includes rabbit fur on its horn and side, and sheep skin on its eye, ear, mouth and back.
7. The lion’s eye is stuffed into its socket. The eye is locally commissioned and made of plastic. A hole is left inside the eye for those who want to add lightbulbs for a more dramatic effect. Crystal eyes are preferred for lions used in competitions for a shinier effect.
8. Pom poms – furball like attachments – are placed above the lion’s nose.
9. Strings are used to fix the lion’s internal mechanism that allows it to flick its eyes and ears. A layer of sponge is added to cushion the lion dancer’s head.
10. The lion’s mouth and body are attached to the head using ribbons. The body is also locally commissioned and made from cloth and sheep skin. The same materials are used for the lion’s legs (dancers’ pants).