Oregon Art Beat

S22 E9 | CLIP

White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dance

White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dance is one of Portland's most popular Chinese lion dance teams. The team promotes Asian American culture and history through their dynamic and acrobatic lion dances. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, founder and leader Nhan Danh continues to work to be a cultural ambassador to Portland's Asian American community.

AIRED: May 06, 2021 | 0:08:47

(lion dance drums playing)

- Hi. My name is Nhan Danh.

I am the founder and director

of White Lotus Dragon and Lion Dance Association.

We're primarily a Southern style lion dance team.

We perform Hok San or Sar Ping.

And the style basically are movements

that mimic lifelike movements of a cat.

And so it's very cute.

It's very gentle.

It's very attentive to details.

And so with lion dancing, it only requires two people.

You have a head player and you have a tail player.

The tail player is always hunched over or bent down

so that can create that body of a lion.

And then the head player mimics the eye blinking, the mouth,

the ears and just the expression of the lion.

(cymbals clashing)

The basic colors of lion dancing are just red.

Red and gold.

Red lions are just the most luckgiven lions.

So any Asian clients or just any clients

in general that hire us, we will use our red lion

as the go-to color, unless they have a preference.

And then if they have no preference,

they just want whatever we bring,

then we just kind of mix it up

and kind of bring them a ray of color.


I started White Lotus in Portland

to give out the quality of lion dancing

that is very similar to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia.

That same type of production, that same type of energy

that every client, anybody that would have us for a show,

would enjoy and would just like, wow.

(audience applauding)

With running a lion dance team,

the cultural significance of it is very important

especially for our Asian-American clients

because they want two things.

They want us to bring them luck and scare away evil spirit.

Clients who are very superstitious,

they will believe that if you mess up

a lion dancing performance for their big day,

it could reflect how their business turns out

or how their wedding turns out.

You know, if you fall,

does that mean there's going to be a bump

in the bride and groom's relationship down the road?

Or if you break something during a grand opening,

is that going to bring bad luck onto the business?

A leader of a lion dance team within asian community,

all eyes are on the team and myself at all times because,

are we doing things right?

Are we doing things properly?

Spread out.

All right. Okay.

Let's uh, we're going to go around and correct everybody.

So we're going to go hard on form right now, okay?

- Okay, so ready.

One, two, one, two.

- (team chanting) One, two, one, two.

- Up.

- (team chanting) Up, two, three, four.

- [Coach] Up, two.

- (team chanting) Up, two, three, four.

- [Nhan] A typical practice day is very tough.

I drill them a lot on our form and foundation,

as well as my coach.

He is very detailed oriented.

We don't like a sloppy lion dancer.

The community doesn't like a sloppy lion dancer.

So we really, really drill them

on these form and foundation.

Dylan, get lower a little bit, bro.

You're standing too straight.

And make sure they hit all their movements

and their stances right.

(team chanting)

- [Nhan] Wrong way.

Okay, we're doing it one more time.

Make sure everybody stays in sync.

- [Coach] One, two, one, two.

- (team chants) One, two, one, two.

One, two, two, three, four.

- [Nhan] Okay, good.

Before every season, I always like to think

of a brand new creative routine.

Something new that we can work on.

And so we think about these routines.

I think about it.

I brief it with the coach

and then we teach the members.

(Nhan mimics drum and gong sounds)

Criss cross

(continues to mimic drum and gong sounds)

- And then after that,

it's about four to five practices

of just really drilling them hard on those routines.

(lion dance drums playing)

- [Nhan] Okay, okay, steady.

No, no. This part.

Yeah, that's right.

All right, good job.

First time, you know.

With all our members,

you find a partner that you're comfortable with

and between you two, they kind of decide,

"maybe I'm a better head, maybe you're the better tail."

Like I have members on my team

that are just like really good buds and they're partners,

then they understand each other mutually.

So it's like, they always trust each other.

(lion dance drums playing)


Perfect. Yeah.

(upbeat music)

Jong performance is the pinnacle of lion dancing.

You're going to be performing on jongs,

which are these high poles.

And you tell a story

because these poles represent a mountain.

So the lion is going through the mountain

and its goal is to either find food,

fight off a monkey or whatever.

There's always a goal that has to fit in

with this story of them going through the mountain

and you jump, you do tricks and you just really, really...

All your lion dance skills and what you've been practicing

really pours into a jong performance.

The tallest pole on a jong is 10 feet.

So imagine doing a head stack,

or just jumping from an eight feet pole

with a distance of six foot onto a 10 foot pole.

That's a lot of trust

and the connection between the head player

and the tail player has to be really in sync.

(metal poles clanking)

The more known we got, and popular we got

with our performances within the Asian community,

as it branched out,

other key leaders in the community would reach out for us

to perform at their events.

We perform at a one-year-old's birthday.

We performed at African-American event, European events.

It's just lion dancing for us now has just kind of

really been everywhere in Portland.

And that's what I wanted out of White Lotus.

To not only perform for an Asian community,

but to be very diverse.


COVID definitely hit us,

gave us that nice curve ball that nobody expected.

One, two, three.

(camera shutters)

By not having so many shows

and so many other components to worry about,

it allowed me to come out

with a new game plan for White Lotus.

Let's get the team involved in a community service project.

Business like Fubonn Supermarket

is one of our biggest clients.

And so, what can we do for their essential workers?

And so, I had all the youth members write cards.

All the older members, we met up, mask on, gloves on

we ordered food from another supporter of ours.

And we gave out food to the frontline workers

as well as, we supported our nursing home

by also showing up and bringing them food.

And just these thank you cards.

And this is like the least that we could do

during the time to show that, "Hey, you know,

you guys have looked out for us for many years.

Here's our chance to look after you guys this one time."

I would say that the feedback has just been really good.


Who's drumming? Who wants to drum too?

Lion dancing,

it's a part of my Asian culture, my Asian heritage.

And that's just like a piece that I try to hold with me

for future generations, which is like the kids on my team,

my kids one day.

(cymbals clashing)

And just to be able to continue that legacy

and this type of tradition onto more and more youth

down the road.

We want to be the only lion dance team that anybody

who ever thinks of lion dancing in Portland, to go to.

(lion dancing drums playing)

It's that White Lotus and lion dance is the production

lion dance team that we need for our event

because they do it the most authentically,

in its most purest form.

It's the most festive and fun.

That's my hopes and goals for the future of White Lotus.