When Royal Tan was only 3 years old he was recruited for lion dance classes at the Mak Fai Kung Fu Club in Seattle’s Chinatown.
“I remember back in fifth grade… there was an assignment talking about what I want to dream to be in the future. My answer was to be a good lion dancer.” Tan said.
He started performing when he was in middle school, and he’s since become the coach of the lion dance team.
“Lion dancing is a pretty huge part of Chinese culture.” Tan said, “It’s been passed down since the Ming Dynasty.”
With a history of roughly 1700 years, lion dance continues to thrive as a cultural tradition not just in China, but around the world, thanks to young people like Tan.
Though Lion Dancing is primarily performed during Lunar New Year festivities, it’s increasingly popular at other events like birthdays, weddings, funerals and more.
“A lot of times we get hired by Boeing to perform and bless a new airplane,” he said, “like a 747 that they just made and it’s going to go to China.”
Tan says that as the popularity of the lion dance has grown outside Chinese American circles, his team has grown incredibly busy, with almost 50 different shows booked this year.
As the coach of Mak Fai’s Lion Dance team, he encourages the younger members to dedicate themselves to continuing the tradition of lion dancing, but he says not always easy to get them to match his enthusiasm.
“It’s hard for others to be on the same page and same boat as me, because you know sometimes lion dance can be one of my main priorities,” he said. “When they see that I’m kind of in a situation where I’m having trouble, they’ll come step their game up to help me and support me through the tough times.”
About the #GreaterSeattle series: Political slogans about “making America great again” are stirring up racism and anti-immigrant sentiment around the country. But these young people are proof that our growing diversity is Seattle’s greatest strength.
This video was produced as part of a class taught by Seattle Times photographer Erika Schultz for the UW Journalism program.