SINGAPORE: Colorful lions blink and bob to the beat of drums, looking just like any other traditional Lunar New Year performance, but with one difference. It’s being operated by an 80-year-old man in a wheelchair.
Usually performed by martial artists who have trained for years, the lion dance requires physical strength and agility to bring the creatures to life.
However, in a new initiative in Singapore to tackle loneliness in the elderly and help them stay active, the choreography has been changed to allow participants to perform from wheelchairs.
The Silver Pride Lion Troupe, a partnership of philanthropists, designers and cultural heritage consultants, has persuaded more than a dozen retired seniors to perform their revered Lunar New Year traditions.
At a recent celebration, 80-year-old Chia Cheng Teck swung the lion’s head from side to side and opened and closed its mouth, while a martial arts trainer in a fur-covered sequin cloak held a lion’s tail. He did his part and pushed the wheelchair.
“I haven’t done it in almost 34 years, so I’m really happy that I can still do it,” he said.
Once a martial artist who could do backflips, Chia fondly remembers winning local competitions while performing the lion’s tail in the 1970s, but now has difficulty walking due to an injury from an old job. Masu.
In traditional lion heads, the blinking of the eyes and the twitching of the ears are controlled by pulling a string located inside.
To make this easier for seniors, a team of industrial designers devised a 3D-printed lever and pulley system for the eyes and ears, and a more supportive grip for the mouth.
“I never thought you could do a lion dance while sitting,” Chia told AFP.
Singapore, like many Asian countries, is grappling with an aging population.
The Ministry of Health estimates that by 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be over the age of 65, and an estimated 83,000 elderly people will be living alone.
A 2021 study led by researchers at the National University of Singapore found that older men who live alone are twice as likely to be socially isolated than older women who live alone.
Martial artist Lin Wong, who redesigned the lion choreography for seniors, said the program aims to address this issue.
Mr Wong, a cultural heritage consultant who set up the program in collaboration with local charities and design studios, said: “The idea was that things with more masculine characteristics, such as lion dancing or martial arts, would be more appealing to men. It was just a hypothesis.”
During the six-week program at Feiyue Active Aging Center, about 20 seniors participated in strength exercises led by Wong and played cymbals along with a lion dance.
A quarter of participants are male, the agency said, which is nearly double the average percentage for other programs.
For Chia, this initiative was a valuable opportunity to relive her youth and remember her fellow theater troupe members.
“It reminded me of the old days. When we were practicing, we were all very close,” he said with deep emotion as he remembered his late lion dance partner.
“He was very good at lion dancing.”