Exploring the Charming Vietnamese Lion Dance

As the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, artisan Bui Viet Tuong from Quang Be commune in Hanoi's Chuong My district is busy preparing lion and dragon costumes for the festivities.

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Hanoi-based artisan Bui Viet Tuong is a martial artist with a passion for creating a community of martial art lovers, especially young people.

“I had a passion for martial arts at a young age, so I was determined to study and become a martial arts student. To pass on what I have learned, I opened a martial arts class for those who love art,” said the 34-year-old artist.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
Artisan Bui Viet Tuong (Quang Be commune, Chuong My district, Hanoi) (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

Cuong loved watching lion dances ever since he was a child, which led him to learn the art of performing lion and dragon dancing and making special costumes. With about 10 years of experience as a performer and costume maker, he claimed that he is busiest during the Lunar New Year season and Mid-Autumn Festival season. Tuong’s team works hard to produce not only their costumes but also for other performer troupes.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
Tuong’s team works hard to produce not only their costumes but also for other performer troupes (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

According to artist Bui Viet Tuong, to produce a unicorn or dragon head, there are many stages such as frame making, sewing, and decorating. The stages all require special skills and meticulousness in every detail. For example, making the blinking eyes and wiggling ears of the unicorn and dragon head requires the highest level of sophistication and meticulousness.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
Colorful costumes in the making (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

All stages are handcrafted by the skillful, persistent hands and creative minds of craftsmen. For skilled workers, it takes 5-6 days to complete a product depending on the size, quality, design, and quantity of each order. Most importantly, it is about “bringing soul” to the costume, adding to the performer’s charisma, Tuong exclaimed. It is also necessary to calculate the weight, sturdiness, and bearing capacity when performing, he added.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
All stages are handcrafted by the skillful, persistent hands and creative minds of craftsmen (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

While a demanding profession, costume maker’s income is not high. But the passionate artisan, leader of the Tuong Nghia Duong dance troupe and costume-making business, always encourages his team to continue the profession.

Helping Tuong with perfectly crafting a lion and dragon set is his wife, Nguyen Thi Man. She is in charge of making the body of the costumes.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
Tuong’s wife, Nguyen Thi Man, at work (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

“Seeing my husband’s passion for making lion and dragon heads also made me love this job. That’s why I learned from many places about how to sew bodies for lions and dragons to help my husband,” said Man.

For 16 years, as the leader of the Tuong Nghia Duong Lion and Dragon Dance Troupe, Tuong led about 300 people and trained them so they could make a living performing at events, ceremonies, and so on.

The young leader gathered many young people who did not have stable jobs. By being in his troupe, they not only gain a source of income but also compete in many competitions. Currently, Tuong Nghia Duong lion and dragon dance troupe and costume-making business earned nearly 100 certificates of merit and awards from all levels.

The Fascina Art of Vietnamese Lion Dance
The Mid-Autumn Festival season is always a busy time for lion and dragon costume makers and performers like artisan Bui Viet Tuong and his team members (Photo: Dieu Huyen).

Performer Tran Van Xuan, 21 years old (in Dinh hamlet, Quang Be commune) has worked for Tuong for 4 years.

“I gained an additional source of income performing. When not performing, Tuong enthusiastically teaches us how to make lions and dragons, passing the craft on to disciples like me. The more I learn, the more I love this profession,” said Xuan.

Lion and dragon dance leaves a strong impression of art that combines the strength and decisiveness of traditional martial arts and flexibility and dexterity. Tuong believes that this special art makes such a strong impact that even foreign customers want to purchase his products. His production facility has supplied to almost all domestic markets and 8 countries around the world. Recently, he sent colorful unicorn and dragon heads to customers ordering in Australia.

“Preserving and developing the profession of producing lion and dragon heads as well as the art of lion dance is something me and my students always cherish so that we can preserve and revive the traditional cultural beauty of our Vietnamese people,” Tuong shared the special meaning of his craft.

Zoey Nguyễn