SIMPANG EMPAT, TAIPING — If there’s one Chinese New Year wish Lim Kee Huat would ask for, it would be to no longer be the butt.
Lim, 36, has been performing in the lion dance troupe since he was out of school. Last weekend was the 17th Chinese New Year in which he and his band of brothers spreaded joy and good wishes to the audience. However, throughout his hardworking and amazing years, despite tireless training sessions and bruising performances, he has only been the backside of the lion. While others in the troupe have moved up, he has stayed pretty much in the same, support position.
“I feel underappreciated, really,” said Lim dejectedly as he sipped Chinese tea at a training break. “All these years, I’ve put in sweat, blood and tears, and nobody in my troupe management seems to notice me. I’m tired of being the backside guy. I want to be in front.”
Lim said that back when he approached his troupe master, Goh Swee Poh, ten years ago to ask if he could finally don the lion head and lead the dance, the 75-year-old man said that he must ‘earn’ the place.
“I accepted it with an open heart,” said Lim. “But after all these years, nothing. We’ve had newer dancers coming in, some fresh out of Lion Dance Academy, and they’ve moved up — or moved front — faster than me. When my Lion head partner left the troupe to open up a restaurant business some time ago, I thought, ‘he’s my chance’. But that spot was quickly filled by that greenhorn Yap there,” said Lim, as he gestured toward a young man sweeping the training centre compound. “I mean, he’s what? 22? Fucker is a baby, and he’s got the head! Blardy hell.”
Lim said that being the Lion hind legs and rump does have its advantages, but it hardly warrants doing it forever.
“Yes, being at the back you don’t have to carry the 20kg Lion head, while working the delicate system to control the Lion’s eye- and mouth-movements. Yes, being in the back you don’t have the pressure of being in the limelight,” he said. “But being a butt guy means you gotta stay strong when the head guy has too much beans and cannot control his wind movement. Being at the back you have to follow only and can’t go where ever you please. And being at the back, you always become the butt of all the jokes!” said Lim agrily, before scolding an apprentice dancer laughing nearby. “Bastards.
“Look, I just want career progression, okay. I’m quite a good-looking guy. I could have become a model, but I chose to do this, out of love for the art. What’s wrong with me being in front hogging the limelight for a change?”
Lim says he’ll give this year one more shot before considering his options.
“I’ll have another talk with Master Goh. If he promises to let me do the head, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll be sending my CV around,” said Lim. “I hear the other Lion Dance troupe across town would probably need a Lion head guy soon, since the current ones thinking of graduating to a Dragon Head.
“Dragon Head. Wow. Now that’s a job.”