A Great Time to be Alive (for Lion Dance Enthusiasts)!

In case you couldn't tell by my lack of new blog entries, I've been pretty busy lately with my projects. I did want to make a quick update though to let you know about two great new resources that should have aspiring lion dance artists jumping up and down proclaiming it's a great time to be alive! Never before in history have there been resources like this available for people to learn the artistry side of the lion dance, and to have them in English is really good news for those of us whose native language is not Chinese.

Lion Dance Drawing Book

The first is an Amazon Kindle e-book called "Lion Dance Drawing: The First Book on How to Draw the Lion Dance" by fellow lion builder Bambang Edison Soekanto from Indonesia. A real steal for only $10. If you don't have a Kindle, there are readers and Apps available for PC, Mac, Android and IOS. Check it out in the Amazon Store here, and preview some of the things the book teaches on his YouTube feed here.

And check out some of Edison's work on actual lion heads here.

Edison and one of the lions he built


The second book coming out just in time for Chinese New Year (January 31, 2014) is the lion head build and restore manual I mentioned a couple posts ago. After three years it's finally ready to go!

Restore the Roar!

You won't find information like this in print anywhere else in the world, and it would cost many times more than the cost of this book if you wanted to travel to Asia to learn the art. I don't want to turn this blog into a commercial, so just go check it out by clicking here. There's sample pages and a special offer, good until Chinese New Year.

Click on the image below to read the Foreword:

Restore the Roar, foreword


So, how am I doing on my other projects? Well, I used the measurements and instructions in the building manual to build a lion frame as a way to check my work and make sure everything was understandable. I plan to make one more frame also based on the manual, but with some customizations and modifications, then paper and paint the both of them together. That build should be extra fun with the features I have in mind, stay tuned!

I haven't had time to take as many pictures as I did for the restoration project, but here's one to give you an idea of what I've been up to:Mini Lo On Kee Lion Frame

Until next time, happy new year and be safe as you prepare for lion dancing season!

Feel free to email me at if you have any questions or leave a comment below, thanks!


Laga, CA Circle Website

I am very happy to announce that our weavers are off to a wonderful start.

 First set of belts by our weavers before completion.A New Beginning: First set of belts by our weavers before completion.


Many completing their first belts and a few beginning their skirts. We have shared the Kalinga traditional art of Laga throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in three community celebrations in the larger FilAm communities of the Sonoma and San Mateo counties. I was very excited to see that our favorite fans are children, who are immediately intrigued by experiencing the art of Laga firsthand. Next year we will expand our work to children so that our families and the larger community can learn this tradition.

We are very happy to announce our new website which shares photos and thoughts about our work. Enjoy as you learn more about Laga, CA Circle.

You can connect with us on Facebook too. Join us & be our friend!!!

Transitions ~ Creating a Weaving Circle

It has been a year of transitions. Before the end of our wonderful Master Apprenticeship experience, Jenny and I discussed how to teach others the art of laga. We embarked on creating a weaving circle and now it has come into fruition. Our project endeavors to train 4-6 weavers in the process of laga. We initially thought that a peer teaching method would suffice to teach our adult weavers, but in actuality, when we recruited our weavers we at first found that no one's schedule matched. Modern society has everyone scrambling around with hectic schedules around work, school, family, community responsibilities, hobbies, etc... Matching up people's schedule was very confusing and so we ended up adopting the very model that worked so well with me.

Each of our wonderful weavers is experiencing not only learning laga, but learning about the kindness, patience, warmth and strong Jenny Bawer Young, our Master Teacher. I have received fantastic verbal feedback from some of our weavers who are basking in the personal one-on-one relationship with our Teacher. The Bawer family in Kalinga is a strong one. They are leaders in their community of Mabilong, Lubuagan. I have come to know Jenny as having this same strengh of leadership, but she is one who works with a quiet heart, not loud, strong and direct, like how I express myself from the Ilocano side of my grandmother, Mary Calica. I am learning how being soft, yet strong helps in building community, much like the bamboo that bends with the wind. 

I'll announce our new website soon, which will have links to each of the weavers' blogs, but I'm honored to present a few of them right now: Terry Bautista, Caroline Cabading, Mylene Cahambing, Grace Duenas, and Porling Rabara. While they are all at different stages of the weaving process, we are all delighted to be having our Laga, CA Circle meet once a month to weave and talk together, while creating a new community of weavers in the San Francisco Bay Area, inspired by the Mabilong Weavers of Lubuagan.


More to come later...

Ace in the Hole

Huang Zhong and Ace

The other day I was lucky enough to have fellow lion restoration artist Ryan Au and UCLA ACA Lion Dance team member Andy Ta come over for a visit after dinner. On their previous visit we were able to spend a couple of hours talking about the art of lion building, discussing techniques and sharing issues. Ryan blogged about it on his own Lionblogs website. Check it out and show him some love.

This time around we were getting together for the sole purpose of celebrating the completion of Ryan's latest project, the restoration of a Liu Bei lion named Ace for the Southern Young Tigers, a lion dance team based at UC Irvine. Being a full-time student, it's taken Ryan several years to complete the job which was a complete restoration similar to the project I was working on when I started this blog. He needed to strip the old lion down, repair the frame and build it all back up again. His work is all documented on his website so I won't repeat it here. What I do want to do here is take a closer look at some of the features Ryan built into Ace and give you some food for thought as you consider how you want your own lions to look.

Click any picture for a larger version.

Ace Side View The first thing I noticed was Ace was super shiny. There are many different finishing products you can use after you paint a lion and the level of glossiness is a personal preference issue. It's best to experiment with products from different companies and even different finishes from the same company to see which will give you the results you want. I really like the hihg-gloss finish that makes the painting seem all the more bold and brilliant.

From this side view you can also see that while most of the lion's main hair is traditional bristle, the lower eye lashes under the eye are rabbit fur instead. By using a type of fur with a shorter pile not as much of the painting patterns get hidden underneath. It also gives the lion's look a bit of variety to keep things interesting.

Ace Soy Moving back along Ace's side we come to the soy are and find a double soy each with it's own shape of fins and a red side ball. It's different than the double soy Lo An Kee made so it's interesting to see how different lion makers build the same features in different ways. You can also see the metal discs glued on and incorporated into the painting pattern. Many times these discs are glued on haphazardly with no rhyme or reason so it's nice to see some thought put into this. Ryan says there are over 200 discs on Ace. They're slightly smaller than normal which allows them to blend into the pattern better than large ones which tend to stick out and call attention to themselves. I would've liked to have seen pompoms attached to the triangular fins of the inner soy as well, but costs can be prohibitive and it's a minor thing.

Ace ear Taking a closer look at Ace's ear you can see that instead of leaving the rabbit fur strips plain Ryan added a layer of gold trim. The thicker, 1/2" gimp trim really makes the gold shimmer and creates a good transition border between the fur and the painting.

Ace Balls I really like the colors on Ace's hero balls (pompoms), they pull from the colors used on the painting and are a deep rich color that photos just don't do justice to. You'll have to see them up close in person to really appreciate them. Ryan also did a great job on the many background blends, orange, pink and green ones are visible here.

Ace Andy and Ryan Here's a nice shot of Andy and Ryan demonstrating stances and movements with the lions. Ace is sporting a really long silky white beard. In traditional lion design the color and length of the beard indicates the age and maturity of the lion. In this case it's very fitting for a Liu Bei lion to have a beard befitting his age and wisdom as the first emperor of China.


Andy has his own lion project going on as well so next year I want to see three lions in this picture!


Let me know what you think by commenting below or drop me an email:, I appreciate it!

Two More Mouths to Feed


Well, it's been almost a month and I haven't made any progress on the frames I mentioned in my last blog post, but I did make the mouths for them just so I could report some progress. The mouth is actually a pretty easy part to make and only requires an hour or so. It is a fun area to work on though because it requires a little more skill and challenge than just binding bamboo together.

Splitting Bamboo You get to feel like a lumberjack splitting wood! Well, maybe not quite, but you do start with a strip of bamboo twice the width of a standard framing strip and end up splitting each end into two legs. This makes the mouth base a unified piece while allowing the shape to be more complex than it otherwise could be. One set of legs gets turned into the main curve of the mouth shape and the other set becomes the "wings" on either side.

Using Fire to Bend the Bamboo And you get to play with fire! Knives and fire and building lions?!? Yay! Can this project have any more of my favorite things? (Note: please use all of the aforementioned things responsibly, I am not liable for any injuries if you try this at home.) Getting the right angle for the corner of the mouth requires softening up the bamboo to make it pliable enough to bend like that. Heating it up with a small candle flame is the perfect solution to do just that. Even with the use of heat, bend it slowly and carefully being sure not to break the bamboo or else the whole piece will be ruined. Also be sure to keep the piece moving around when bringing it close to the flame to keep it from catching on fire. A little scorching is normal and won't affect the strength of the corner too much.


Scorched Corner Mouth Base


Finished Mouth Frame

Add a few more pieces, then wrap the corners with rattan, and voila! There you have a brand new mouth, all ready for papering, painting and decorating. This probably feels like those cooking shows that show you all of the ingredients and then pull a fully-cooked dish out of the oven. I had planned on photographing each step but then I got caught up in the building process and forgot all about it. Next thing you know I'm looking at two fully completed mouths and only have pictures of the beginning steps of one of them. Sorry about that. Hopefully it's enough for you to understand the process and gives you a good idea for how to proceed with your own project.

Thanks for tuning in, if you're interested in more detailed instructions, including a full set of measurements and illustrated diagrams, check out the soon-to-be-released Lion Construction Manual! I'm working hard to get it done by Chinese New Year, 2014 (January 31) and building these two little lions at the same time. Wish me luck!

Are you working on a lion or dragon project of your own? I'd love to talk shop and see what others are doing, drop me an email: and let me know what you're up to, thanks! And if you need help finding parts and supplies, be sure to visit the all new

Back in a Bind Again

The lion dance is in my blood so even though I'm on sabbatical from performing I've still got a lot of projects to keep me busy and involved in the community. Since I am a family man as well, building lions for my kids is the perfect way to combine two of the most important things in my life. Unfortunately having kids leaves little time for lion building so even though I plan the projects out, actually getting them done is a really long process with huge gaps of time interrupting progress on them.

Son1's LiuBei Lion For instance, my first son was born almost 10 years ago and it took me over 2 years to build his lion. You can read more about it and see some close-up shots here.

Daughter's Frame By the time I finished that lion it was almost time for my daughter to be born and I started on her lion. And what you see here is still how it looks today. That's seven years worth of work you're looking at, baby.

Daughter's Frame Fast forward a few more years and number 2 son was on his way into the world. I was working on the Lo An Kee restoration at the time so I didn't actually start building his before birth like the other kids', but I did buy some supplies and start to plan it out. That was a year and a half ago and what you see over there is how far I've gotten since finishing the restoration about a year ago. Most of that amazing progress has happened in the past few days.

So now that I've cleared some other projects off of my schedule I'm ready to buckle down and start working on these two frames again! It feels good to dust off the work bench and start bending and binding again. As with my first son's lion you can see I'm using aluminum for the base and main framing sections of the lion. Kids aren't exactly known for being careful with their things so I figured some extra strong material was in order for their lions. What I learn about using different materials for their frames can be applied to building stronger and better full-sized lions as well.

The reverse is also true, what I learned restoring the Lo An Kee lion has helped me advance in skill and understanding and will definitely come in handy with these two builds. My plan is to start to get the ball rolling but still keep a realistic time frame considering my other obligations. Getting the frames done by the end of the year would be great and hopefully not too lofty of a goal. I'll keep my progress posted here, keep checking back if you're interested, thanks!

Let me know what you think by commenting below or dropping me an email:, I appreciate it!

Positively Glowing!

As we begin 2013 in the West, the Year of the Water Snake (4711) is rapidly approaching. Along with that will be lots of lion dance performances, including many at night or in other low-light conditions. So how do you make sure your lions are ready? By installing lights of course!

"Bright eyes" is a common expression to describe someone full of life and that's exactly the image we want lions to portray. In Chinese one term for the Southern Lion is "Sing Si" or "Awakened Lion" so anything that helps the lion look awake and alert is a good thing. Lights in the eyes really bring attention to the lions, especially in a darkened room or at an evening performance outdoors.

Original Eyes and Lights Here's a shot of the original setup to light the lion's eyes. You can see it was fitted with standard flashlight incandescant bulbs which would be hooked up to a switch and several batteries.

At the time the lion was originally built this was a great solution and worked well for many years. However there were several drawbacks to using it. The main one is that incandescant bulbs tend to use a lot of power so we would drain several sets of batteries over the course of our New Years performances. I remember our group coordinators getting after us to, "Remember to turn off the lights!" after every performance. You could always add more batteries or use a larger size (we had lions that used everything from AA to a couple of D cell batteries) but this would add significant weight to the lions.

New LED Bulbs and Fittings For the restoration I wanted to keep the weight down as much as possible. After researching online and asking other experienced people on the Lion Dance Forum I came up with a design I believe is one of the best in use today in terms of weight, light output, ease of installing and durability. I went with LED lights which use energy much more efficiently and reflective chrome lamp holders. Because of the greater energy efficiency and higher reflectivity I could get away with a minimal number and smaller sized batteries while actually over doubling the amount of light output compared to the original lights. To keep the bulbs from burning out prematurely each bulb is protected by an electrical resistor to regulate the current flowing through them.

Since installing them and showing them off I've actually gotten requests to build and sell light sets to other groups and have sold a dozen or so. I never thought there was much of a market for things like this, but what a nice confirmation that the work I put into researching, designing and building them is recognized and appreciated by others and also that my work is going on to help other groups as they help spread the art.

Glowing Eyes I'm watching you!

Here's the final result. What do you think? Feel free to comment below or drop me an email:, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

For more information...

Read more about the I-Hotel & Manilatown History here:

Two local SF BAY ~ Baybayin Artists ~ Christian Cabuay & Christine Balza:

Laga, Language, Ancestors & Children


I have enjoyed learning Laga from my Master Teacher, Jenny Bawer Young. One of the things I've enjoyed most is our developing friendship and the passion we share for weaving. We are preparing for one last demonstration at Manilatown Heritage Foundation and I am humbled to bring laga to the former site of the I-Hotel, with its rich history and the legacy of the Manongs, like my grandparents, who immigrated to the United States in the earyl 1900s. It feels like a homecoming to me, brought to the I-Hotel by my father as a teen, Rudy Caluza Calica, to meet his friend Manong Al Robles, and to observe how my father's deep respect and admiration of "Our Father of Filipino American Poetry of San Francisco," devoted his life to the elderly Filipinos of Manilatown. I was inspired to write poetry and make art by the Kearny Street Workshop artists, muralists and photographers. I have always been more involved in community arts, rather than walk the road of a fine artist. It's really true that what we know runs in our blood, exists already in our DNA, and comes to us through dreams and visions from our ancestors and forces unseen in the Western World which attempts to erase us. After viewing my paintings, my painting teacher observed the colors I used and asked me about my heritage. She commented afterwards that she thought I was a Filipino because another Filipino student of hers used similary vivid and bright colors. Colorful paint covers our colorful heritage. Last Demo @ Manilatown Heritage Foundation's Holiday Fundraiser & Arts SaleMaligayong Pasko: Last Demo @ Manilatown Heritage Foundation's Holiday Fundraiser & Arts Sale

It is an honor to have this opportunity to weave at the former site of the I-Hotel, as the land there is sacred ground. It's a site where many of our community members struggled to bring the building to code, to fight for affordable housing, to embrace the beloved I-Hotel in a protective hug as they held off the SFPD before the elderly were forcibly evicted. It's a great homage to our elders that Jenny and I bring Laga and Christian Cabuay brings Baybayin (ancient script), to Manilatown Heritage Foundation, precolonial arts that reach back into our past and spring us into our future. Embracing the traditions of our people moves the generations that follow forward in a way that honors our ancestors, honors our memories as a people and honors our connection with the Earth. At an ACTA seminar we talked of how traditional art heal us and heal our community. I am so honored to be a part of this healing. I am so humbled by the company I walk with, my good friend and Master Teacher, Jenny Bawer Young.

If I am successful in uploading, I hope to upload video in my next post, which takes us back to the beginning of the ACTA Master/Apprenticeship I've had with Jenny Bawer Young. I chose this video because a part of it includes the Kalinga language lesson I am receiving from her. Being a "Fil-Am" (born in U.S.) Pin@y, one thing immigrants always commented on was my lack of knowledge of "Pilipino" (Tagalog). Being Ilocano & Pangasinan, my exposure to Tagalog was non-existent until college. I grew up hearing my grandparents speak Ilocano & Pangasinan, and Tagalog was foreign to me. I had a brief lesson in Tagalog before I first went to the Philippines, but it was funny because that particular visit was mostly to Mindanao, where people speak their tribal or Bangsamoro languages and then Visayan (the lengua franca of the Southern Philippines) I had to quickly pick up terms in Visaya, which helped a bit, but it ended up that I always needed translations anyways when meeting tribal or Bangsamoro people. There is one Tagalog word I love ~ Mabuhay ~ not only because the Manongs used it constantly, but because Apo Reyna, a Primary Babaylan, advised me not to use the Tagalog word for thank you, as it's root meant "to cut." In Tagalog, the root buhay means life.

When I visited Jenny's family, her father, Manong Cirilio "Sapi" Bawer and I had a long discussion about the need for the Kalinga people to have bilingual education in the schools so that the children would not lose their mother tongue of Kalinga to Tagalog & Ilocano (the lengua franca of the Northern Philippines). In my discussions today during a brunch held for Latino volunteers for AARP, we discussed the importance of knowing more than one language, how "ENGLISH ONLY" policies were hard to bear for immigrating children in the schools...we discussed the beauty of being multilingual, with one young man sharing his being trilingual. The video shows the struggle I have with language learning, but it also demonstrates the importance of the words I am learning... come to think of it, as I write I am not even sure what the ENGLISH word for sakyotan or ipitan is... I post this video because language is our identity. Language holds our past and denial of our language attempts to wipe us out as a people. Just as many of the first nations of the Americas are working to teach the young their original mother tongue, I post this video to encourage young Kalingas to be proud of their heritage and language.

Being a third generation Fil-Am, I know the pain of losing one's mother tongue. My grandparents' generation is gone and many of my parents' generation are leaving, so I do not hear the wonderful "sing-song" like melodies of Pangasinan anymore or my other grandmother's voice calling her husband lovingly, "Lakay." My knowing Tagalog is helpful, but my learning Ilocano or Pangasinan, even Kalinga because they are located closer to my homeland than Manila, brings a source of pride and inner healing. I encourage our folks back home to speak their original languages to their children and make sure that it is taught in the schools as well. Learning English is helpful in the modern world, but it takes us away from our heritage, our richness, what makes each humans uniquely different and beautiful wherever they are in this world. Words belong to places and that is the difficulty in being in a diaspora. 

Today, ENGLISH as an international language has its benefits, but the methods of acquiring it shouldn't erase the language, culture, heritage and history that we each carry. The use of ENGLISH and other "official" languages help us communicate across borders, but these languages are used to create real borders, as it does through local, state, national and international law by restricting people from crossing borders, whether over land or sea. We should be like the birds, who fly when the seasons change. Languages should be the same. If our words are free, we too are free. Our traditions continue with the words and songs needed to continue properly.

As Jenny & I weave, I am able to learn new things about the Kalinga people and their language. With this post, she is able to show her pride in being Kalinga and teaching not only weaving, but sharing vocabulary from her language that is bound in the weavings we do. Now that my tapis is almost completed, I have only one thing I can say about my Master/Apprenticeship experience with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts ~ napintas = marakep = maganda = linda = beautiful ~ & continue my language lesson ~ ok Jenny, how do you say that in Kalinga?


Two Blocks of Art for KulArts at Bayanihan Center

Holly's First Weaving Demo: Demonstration of Kalinga Laga of tapis (skirt) by Holly CalicaHolly's First Weaving Demo: Demonstration of Kalinga Laga of tapis (skirt) by Holly Calica


With my belt completed, I began the weaving of my tapis (skirt) in the summer. We encountered a problem with the thread Jenny Bawer Young, my Master Teacher, brought back from the Philippines. The threads were very sticky with the flour preparation making it close to impossible to weave properly. Jenny made the decision to use other threads she found and so we used those instead for my tapis.

The demonstration I did at the Bayanihan Community Center for KulArts' 2 Blocks of Art on October 19th was quite an experience.

There is a huge dilemma with traditional arts when one doesn't have the proper materials. I had to figure out how to do a demonstration on a traditional art form in public, not necessarily what one would do in a traditional setting. When I visited weavers in Lubuagen,  I visited them in their home or the home of their teacher. Often, children and others would observe the weavers and the weavers seemed content to do their work. 

I wish I could say I was totally at ease with weaving in public, but that wouldn't be true. Weaving at my own home or at Jenny's house has been very comfortable and I have been at ease with my experience of laga in an informal setting, but doing so in public was more of a mixed bag set of emotions. First of all, I was using my pilates machine as the support for the loom. Artists cannot nail things into community centers and so the bar attached to the end of the machine was suitable to hold the backstrap loom. I think only one man asked me if it indeed was a pilates machine, to which I replied yes and then we laughed about it as I explained my dilemma to him. 

I enjoyed talking with people, answering questions and then referring them to Jenny, who would be able to explain more about laga to them. What made me feel somewhat uncomfortable was one point when many people were standing around and then I felt a barage of photo flashes going off. I think my nerves got the best of me, so I just hunkered down and concentrated on weaving. I didn't realize I would feel this way, but now that I've had time to think about it, it might've been like STAGE FRIGHT, although the wave of nerves didn't come at the beginning of the performance. Rather, it came in the middle, when a crowd gathered and I became the center of their attention.

I much prefer weaving in the privacy of my home or Jenny's, but being in the diaspora, there's a ton of benefits to weaving in public. During the whole session there were quite a few people asking for information on how to learn to weave. There was lots of interest on the different traditions of weaving in the Philippines across the islands. I even met two great men from the South Pacific, one from Tonga and one from Fiji. We spent quite a bit of time discussing textile traditions, such as tapa cloth, and how the Austronesian peoples had so much in common, especially linguistically. I learned that there were many Visayan words, based on one man's travels to Cebu, that were very similar to the words from his islands. I think my time spent talking with them, first sharing the Kalinga Laga tradition, and then moving on to the cultural similarities between Pilipinos and South Pacific Islanders was delightful and informative.

 Apprentice's children and grandchildren hang out with the Weaving ApprenticeArt Time is Family Time: Apprentice's children and grandchildren hang out with the Weaving Apprentice

Another delightful thing was that three of my children and two of my grandchildren took time out from the SF Giants' game to come see me weave. If you knew my family real well you'd know this was a huge sacrifice for my kids...of course, their nerves would've been fine if they were to have read into the future to know that we'd end up as World Champions. Our lives criss-cross between the traditional things I've brought in to their lives and the modern things they live with every day. I remember encouraging my children to walk around and check out all the art in the two block are of SOMA on 6th Street between Market and Howard, but like the children who watched the weavers in Lubuagen, my own children would sit down right next to me and hang out as I wove. Only now do I fully appreciate the wonder of this moment in time. I don't see my grandchildren every day, but their expose to laga will last into their adulthood and perhaps their hands too will love the feel of threads on a laga loom one day.


 Laga Demo by ApprenticeFocused on Weaving: Laga Demo by Apprentice

With only a month to go the tapis is almost completed. Despite the nervousness I have with weaving in public, Jenny and I have decided to continue with a weaving demonstation at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, site of the former International Hotel (I-Hotel) on December 9, 2012 for their holiday sales.

I am totally honored to do this demonstration because as a teenager, my now deceased father, Rudy Calica, brought me to the I-Hotel to see the "Manongs" who lived there. I met Manong Al Robles, our own Father of Pilipino American Poetry, and many other Asian American Artists, many who inspired me to follow in their footsteps as a community artist. The I-Hotel was more that a symbol of the need for low-income housing for the bachelor Pilipinos who came as migrant workers in the 1920s and 1930s. It is a place my father loved enough to teach us about it and share with us memories of a time long past, and where my niece continues the tradition of helping the community be a better place. Doing a weaving demo at the former site of the I-Hotel is such an honor. I willingly will get over my STAGE FRIGHT to share this wonderful Kalinga tradition of laga, taught to me by my humble and generous friend and Master Teacher, Jenny Bawer Young.


 Celebrating our first demonstration at KulArts' 2 Blocks of Art @ the Bayanihan Community CenterMaster Teacher and Apprentice: Celebrating our first demonstration at KulArts' 2 Blocks of Art @ the Bayanihan Community Center


Blog #3: Preparing for Demonstrations

I've since complete my first belt and have worn it with my regalia already. Last weekend I joined Ron Quesada, Porling Rabara, Manong Napoleon Batalao, Jenny Bawer Young and Titania Buchholdt in providing music for a moving dance ceremony by "Las Companeras" for Cece Carpio's Altar Installation at the "Laughing Bones, Weeping Hearts" Dia De Los Muertos exhibition at the Oakland Museum.  We weren't in full regalia, but I was asked by my Master Weaver to wear my belt over my clothing.  I delighted in playing music with my friends, and was happy to see Ron, who flew in from Hawaii to inspire such dancers as Erin Wadell, Lisa Juachon and others.  Choreographed by Patricia Ong, the modern movements were inspired by our ancestors who boarded ships, and worked as laborers in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska.  That night our tongatong and gangsa rhythms wove in and out between the threads of present, past, and into the future.  Check out Cece's installation of carved canoes hanging in space reminding us of the carved canoe images atop the ancient burial jars back home, like the images from Egypt with the ancestors going home in their canoes... I'm digressing, but it's amazing how one thing connects to another.  Several friends in the FilAm community dream of carving traditional canoes, like back home, and last Friday I learned Cece has carved several small models... we've been looking for carvers & one amongst has been there all the time!

Dreams can be woven together and as each day passes I see how dreams come alive and manifest into the future.  This LAGA (backstrap weaving) project is one such dream.  I am in the midst of the dream and until now, didn't realize that it was difficult to write about while trying to complete it.  Sometimes writing and living just don't quite match up.  On living the LAGA DREAM:

1.  Completing the LAGA belt went fairly smoothly.

2. Completing the LAGA tapis has had its complications. (Not to be discussed in this blog, but let it be known that I am half way completed...)

3. Figuring out how to bring the LAGA DEMOS on the road is a mind boggler!

Normally, the LAGA weaver has the weaving attached to the wall, with a strap behind her back to provide the tension, and with her feet braced against wood on the floor (see photo.)  Jenny & I have had to use closet dowels attached to furniture and between doors to simulate what is done in Lubuagan.  I've had to place a chair against the wall (yes, I'm SHORT!) to push my feet against for the proper tension & YES! it works!  But figuring out how to have a contraption that will support the weaving during a demonstration has occupied my mind the last several weeks.  I've talked to Patrick Tamayo, an excellent Sagayan Dancer and carpenter, who has made kulintang stands for FilAms for advice and I'm hoping he'll help me figure out a good, sturdy, light, and portable solution to my dilemma for future live demonstrations.  In fact, maybe some of you can suggest designs for me by replying to this blog... in the meantime, I am going to recruit my pilates machine for my solo demonstration through KulArts at 2 Blocks of Art this Friday, October 19th, 2012, from 4:00 - 8:00 p.m.  Check all the art out in SOMA.  Drop on by the Bayanihan Center for more art and my first ever LAGA DEMONSTRATION & the debut of my pilates support for LAGA this Friday at:

Bayanihan Community Center
1010 Mission Street @ 6th
San Francisco

Here's the website:


Flyer Announcement: Hope you can make it!!!
Flyer Announcement: 
Hope you can make it!!!

1st Belt: Close up of Kalinga Belt completed in Spring, 2012 by Holly Calica.
1st Belt:
Close up of Kalinga Belt completed in Spring, 2012 by Holly Calica.

Belt Preparation: Loom preparation ~ one of my beginning sessions with Jenny.
Belt Preparation:
Loom preparation ~ one of my beginning sessions with Jenny.

Summer Weaving in Castro Valley: We rigged up the family's weight lifting rack so I could weave outside. Weaving my tapis (skirt) couldn't have a happier setting!
Summer Weaving in Castro Valley:
We rigged up the family's weight lifting rack so I could weave outside. Weaving my tapis (skirt) couldn't have a happier setting!

Luguagan Weaver: Mabilong weaver braces her feet while Irene Bimuyag holds her baby.
Luguagan Weaver:
Mabilong weaver braces her feet while Irene Bimuyag holds her baby.


Working on tapis: Summer weaving at home...
Working on tapis:
Summer weaving at home...

Creating tension: These bamboos came in handy pressed against the chairs by my feet. (No, I am not accepting comments on my unpolished toes!)
Creating tension:
These bamboos came in handy pressed against the chairs by my feet. (No, I am not accepting comments on my unpolished toes!)

Taking Action!




I am immensely grateful that I was awarded the prestigious Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) apprenticeship for 2011-2012, in which I was able to study intensively with my mother to unearth even deeper stories from she hails on the remote island of LaGonave. The traditional education system on this island draws upon a rich history of storytelling; dance and percussion that has constantly informed my work. Through this apprenticeship, I was able to engage with my mother's knowledge and vision in ways that I could not have foreseen.   Since February 2012 we had been meeting weekly for 2 hours one on one session and at the final six weeks of the training we had been working together to prepare for the showcase “Krik-krak” that we will presented on September 27th and 29th. The Songs, the dances and the stories I learned through this apprenticeship will be using to enrich my dance company Afoutayi repertoire and will be incorporated into our performances, workshops and classes. Summarily, this apprenticeship was a new beginning for me and a spark of a deeper, richer and more rounded journey as a custodian of my people’s tradition and heritage. I am looking forward to expand the fruits of this process in future works and also continue on my mission of promoting, preserving and sharing Haitian culture with our community through our October annual Haitian Festival. I am extremely thankful to my mother and master artist Florencia Piere as know as FOFO for the blessing and this unique opportunity to learn from her several deep and old sacred songs and stories of our people that had make a very significant change in my art work and my personal life. After the conclusion of this apprenticeship program I am more determine to look forward to carrying the torch as high as my mother and my grandmother did. And at the present my action will consist to encourage and prepare my son Hassen Ortega to continue the journey that it is in his blood.

Haitian Drumming with Daniel Brevil #2

September 23 2012

The past few weeks we've been working on Petro rhythms. Daniel's approach is to show a number of phrases that work with the given support parts, and have me learn them so well they can be mixed at will to match the feeling of the dance. He wants me to play with energy, to send the rhythm out for the dancers, to inspire them. He points out that if you're playing for a strong dancer, you have to be strong enough to support them. Drummers can have individual artistry, but the job is a service-oriented one: you have to have enough options and flexibility to blend with the different dancer's ways of expressing themselves. Playing the rhythm without having your antenae up to feel the nuance in a dancer is to miss something important. My friend Taji shared a story about observing a rehearsal with the great Ghanaian drummer C.K. Ladzekpo. When C.K. wanted more commitment and force from a drummer, he said "You're playing like a ghost." He wanted to feel the drummer's energy and involvment, not just a correct, intellectual approach.

Another aspect of our work has been for me to come to dance class and carefully observe how different steps work with particular basse parts. The basse can be played on Petro drums, or on 4 congas with hands, or even congas with sticks if the ensemble is loud and they need volume. The basse creates a melody line, often with a gap for crucial tones from the maman and segon to talk in. I've been using my hands, and there are several different parts for each rhythm. When the basse can change with the steps the music becomes more alive and spontaneous and the dancers can feel it.

I give thanks to my father, who passed this summer, for all his support that allowed my life to be spent with the drums.


Ti Batiman Blan


The goal of the apprenticeship was to teach, train and prepare me (the apprentice) to carry on the rich cultural heritage of Vodou songs and stories that has been in my maternal family lineage for generations.  My mother, Ms Florencia Pierre (the Master) is a well respected vessel of these songs and stories has been teaching and guide me on this journey for the last couple month.


We had been working on songs and storytellinsg from Lagonave region of Haiti. We did one-on-one sessions of focused learning and practice of the sacred songs, chants and stories that have been in our family for generations. "Ti Batiman Blan", the white little boat was the last song my master Florencia Pierre taught me at the Civic Center Park in San Rafael. This song talks about the faith and hopes of the people of Lagonave, mostly in the region of "Ti Cotfe". The boat is coming to the Island, carrying food, people and stories (See attach video link on Youtube)

larivye mwen te ye- AFOUTAYI- ACTA part 2  . 

Most of the training sessions was held in Ms. Pierre’s home in San Rafael and in the Civic Center park in San Rafael, however, towards the last few weeks of the training, we had been transfer the sessions to Dance with Sherry Studio on 4140 Redwood Hway in San Rafael. This is where we had begin to animate the songs and stories, practice with the other members of Afoutayi Dance, Music and Arts company and get ready for our culminating event which will be a public showcase on the 29th of September.  

At the showcase, the master, Florencia Pierre and apprentice, Djenane Saint Juste and Afoutayi dance company  will perform together a piece about family tradition in Lagonave called Krik-Krak. The showcase will invoke the folkloric life in Lagonave where in the evenings and under the moonlight, the children and the adults sit down together around a bonfire as the adults sing and tell stories to educate the children about the heritage, ancestry and life lessons.

Hope you can come to Krik-Krak on September 27th at Bissap Baobab (19th st and Mission, San Francisco) and on September 29th at Dance with Sherry studio (4140 Redwood Hway, San Rafael) to enjoy the community time that reminds the islands of Lagonave.




Title of the event: Krik-Krak

Brief description: Afoutayi Dance, Music and Arts Company present Krik-Krak a night of storytelling that remains the village of Lagonave in Haiti. In “Lagonave”, night time is considering family time where people of all ages are gathering around a bound fire to take pleasure from “yon ti istwa" storytelling. Is the perfect time to dance, sing, drum, play games, gossip and more to educate each other.  Come up to”krik-krak" and let yourself travel to the magic island of lagonave where the stories become a live. This presentation will be possible thanks to the generous support from The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) Apprenticeship Program and Baobab village.

Date and time:

Thursday September 27th

 Baobab Village (3388 19th Street San Francisco, CA 94110)

 7:00pm to 9:00pm


Saturday September 29th

Dance with sherry studio (4140 Redwood Highway San Rafael, CA 94903)

6:00pm to 7:30pm

Photo by Babylon Train

Traditional Haitian arts role and importance in our cultural community

Traditional Haitian Dance and drumming is a living cultural art form deeply connected to spirituallity of the "Lwa" or deities of the Haitian Vodou religion, wich connects the Haitian people to their spiritual and cultural heritage. It is a living cultural art form passed down through family lineage of African and Indigenous ancestry. Vodou ceremonies and storytelling moments are where this traditional form is kept alive through ritual music, dance and song. The connection between the singers, storytellers, drummers and dancers helps to create the spiritual symbolism of the dance. The songs in call-and-response style contain magical words that inspire the lwa to come and bless us. It is very important to share this tradition with and pass it on to the next generation especially when they are overseas in order to keep this tradition alive and for the younger ones to know their identity. I am very grateful to ACTA to had given me the opportunity to be one of the 2012 apprentice and be able to do a deeper study of he important songs and storytelling from "Lagonave", Haiti with my master artist Florencia Pierre. We feel that with "Westernization" our religion and culture is under attack and I am only blessed and "Lucky" to come from a strong lineage of culture bearers. I feel I am ready to take on the responsability as my grandmother and mother did of becoming a custodian of my people's culture and on a direct way pass it on to My son Hassen Ortega.




Sweet and Spicy flavor of Haiti

Afoutayi Dance Music and Arts Company


Master artist:Florencia Pierre and Apprentice: Djenane saint Juste

For the first time in Marin County Madame Pierre and Madame Saint Juste

are offering Sweet and Spicy flavor of Haitian Culture to the community.

Starting in August 10th 2012 , Every Saturdays from 4pm to 6pm

Come and get pleasure from dancing YANVALOU, IBO, RABODAY,Kongo and many more... Classes held at Dance with Sherry studio (4140 Redwood Hwy # 8, San Rafael, CA 94903). Contact: (415)574-7205

"Ti Gason" Haitian dance-game from Lagonave Haiti



This video is about my first apprenticeship class by the master artist Florencia Pierre.

In this class she is teaching me "Ti gason piga'w pile sobo" a popular dance game from Pointe a Raquette LaGonave Island in Haiti.

"Ti Gason piga'w pile sobo" is a well liked kind of dance that children of all ages enjoy to do. In the afternoon or evening family and friends gather together around a bonfire were they enjoy singing, dancing, playing music, "tire Kont" storytelling and also dancing to " Ti Gason piga'w pile sobo". This dance specially captivates my attention because of its fun and educational aspect. The kids when they are dancing to it are having a lot of fun and they exercising but they also are aware about the message that it conveys.    I personally have had a lot of fun learning it and I wish you will too.

Description of the dance game:

You need a long piece of stick, or tape or fabric, something that symbolizes the danger. The children get in front of the object. They start singing and jumping by switching their legs without touching the object. Their jumping gradually goes faster as the song goes faster. The winner is the one who can jump on top of the object as fast as possible without touching it.

Song and translantion:

Ti Gason piga'w pile sobo, male va rive'w

Ti Gason piga'w pile sobo, male va rive'w

Ti Gason, male va rive'w

Ti Gason, male va rive'w

"Young boy d on't put yourself in peril lest you get in trouble".


Photo by: Babylon Train

Haitian Drums in the Bay Area: Apprenticeship with Daniel Brevil

July 17, 2012

Today was a good day: three hours of practice with the drums. Daniel is pushing me to be able to move from one rhythm to another without a break. This is a great way to memorize a lot of music, but also practical:in a dance class both the warm-up and specific rhythms flow into each other and the drummer needs to be able to respond to the movements by choosing a rhythm that fits the moment. The amount of information is challenging. Each dance has drum introductions, calls, variations on the steps, breaks, conversations and ways of heating up the energy for the dancer. One thing that has been revolutionary for me is Daniel's approach to  developing a student's own voice. He insists on me knowing the traditional approaches to a given rhythm (sometimes he will show several styles that have been used by different drummers), but he also doesn't want me to only copy the moves he's given me. For example, since I'm a drumset player, he says "Take some of what you would play on the drumset and find out how to put it on the drum. It can't be something crazy, it has to be something that will fit well with the rhythm you are playing, but put some of yourself in there. Be willing to improvise...". This advice is a good counterbalance for my tendency  to play what I've heard other drummers play, and it leads to exploring my own voice.

    Daniel isn't a good teacher, he's a great teacher. He's patient, and consistently finds where my edges are and puts something where I have to work to get it, but not so far away that it feels impossible. He has an amzing memory, and given that these ensembles can have bell, shaker, 4 or 5 drum parts plus singers, it's obvious that he hears the whole music and can create inside it with great sensitivity and force. One area we have been studying is the transposition of rhythms that are played with the baget, or stick, to a hand style. This can apply to both the lead drum and the segon, which converses with it. There is also a way of playing these rhythms solo on one drum,. or with minimal support, which requires different strokes and techniques with the hands to give the impression of the full rhythm. It's been interesting to see how Daniel will cover the segon and maman (the lead drum) on one drum if I'm playing bula, or if I'm playing segon, how he will adjust and cover the lead and the missing bula. Then he'll sing and I'm supposed to answer! The bottom line is to know the music well enough to express it with sticks or hands on whatever drums are available.

More later. Check out Rara Tou Limen's website for information about Rasanble, the annual gathering of Haitian culture and dance in Oakland July 20-22.

Reunited and it Feels So Good

A private collector from Southern California expressed interest in the tail and he had a traditional Liu Bei head that it would match well with it so I met up with him and a friend one Sunday afternoon.

As we unpacked the tail and spread it out for them to inspect we talked shop about different tails we've seen over the years and compared similarities and differences with this tail. The head he had matched colors nearly perfectly as you can see in these shots of the front and back.

front back

Although I'll miss the tail I'm glad to know that it's part of a whole lion once again, and even better it'll be used in actual performances, not just stuck collecting dust in a museum or stuffed in a box forgotten somewhere. What a great ending to this tail's story!

Chasing a Tail

As I was browsing eBay for interesting things I came across a listing for a "~~CHINESE Ancient Art RARE Handmade Ceremonial Pagent Satin LION DANCING ROBE~~" and lo and behold the picture wasn't of a robe at all but a vintage tail for a Liu Bei lion. From the pictures it appeared to be in great condition, especially considering its age. The description was a bit odd, but I was intrigued--what was the story of this tail? Where was the head? What group did it come from? What maker? So I contacted the lister to find out what I could.

The lister had bought it at an auction and only knew that it came from a group who had used it in the Seattle Seafair Parade so that really didn't tell me much. My passion for lion restoration was ignited however and I began to wonder about the possibility of reuniting this tail with an old head so it could be properly seen as it was meant to be.

I knew of several lion heads on display in museums around the country that are displayed without tails: (none of these pictures were taken by me):

Wing Luke Store Private Chinese Historical Museum This lion is in the collection of the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. This lion was rescued from a trash bin in Los Angeles' Chinatown. A rare traditional Hok San lion made by Lo An Kee. This lion is currently on display at the Chinese Historical Museum in San Diego.

The asking price of $299 was out of my league though, especially for a tail without a head and considering that a majority of the craftsmanship and value is in the head not the tail. Luckily the lister was open to bargaining and I was able to purchase it for less.

When the package arrived and I was able to inspect it further I found it was in great condition, almost appearing unused. There was no staining, even on the white undercloth where the tail player's sweat usually leaves tell-tale black marks and on the white rabbit fur along the bottom edges that are among the first areas to soil. On a close inspection I ohnly found one are that was slightly tattered, one small metal disc missing and a couple of metal discs that were bent. Other than that everything was intact. One sort of disappointing thing was the description listed it as 15 feet long which would make it really traditional and probably pre 1960s, but when I measured it came out to only 10 feet which was more common from the 70s to 80s. I think the lister didn't know how to measure it and included the back part that drapes down in her calculation. You could also tell the tail had been in storage for a while because of the wrinkles and how some of the triangles didn't lay flat anymore due to the way it had been folded.

There were also some other interesting things I noticed:

Large Discs Loops Ties Bells All of the discs are gold color, instead of the more common silver used today. The three large discs on the top pink layer were not evenly spaced, I'm not sure if it was meant to be like that or if one fell off and was sewn back on in the wrong place. A series of nylon web loops were sewn down the back of the lion. Obviously a much later addition, it looked like something put on to attach the tail to a pole or tie strings on to hang it for display. On the bottom there were ties sewn in directly under the loops and some additional pieces of nylon webbing. Very curious what these were added for. Under every other triangle brass bells were sewn in. These are usually missing from modern tails but were an important part of the lion's ability to frighten away evil as the sound of bells are said to scatter the spirtis.

All in all it was a rare find and it was great to see it up close and personal. Many lion dancers these days have never gotten to see a tail like this and it brought back may good memories of dancing under the long traditional tails. Hopefully soon I'll be able to post some pictures of it reunited with an old head and people can really see what things looked like "back in the day."


Blog #2: DIWA Threads in Winter

Balls of Thread ~ DIWA Rehearsal: My very first lesson that took place at Porling's house, where our all women ensemble of kulintang and gangsa performing artists learn & practice their music & dance. We gather at each others' homes to rehearse, but also to share a meal and catch up with each others' lives.

All the DIWA members had a chance to wind the red sting too, so my first project has the spirit (DIWA) of the DIWA members ~ cool ~ the DIWA of the DIWA ~ ...ANYWAYS, I had homework once I left rehearsal, but I am so glad my friends had a hand in Laga (weaving) with me.

 ...winding away...My turn making a ball... courtesy, Mylene Cahambing

What seemed to take me a long time was making round balls of red string. I would sit in front of my tv & wind away day after day & sometimes in my bedroom. I had to remember to put my hair in a ponytail or bun, otherwise if I wasn't paying attention strings of hair might get caught up in the ball of string. Part of our project was to find materials here, but in our rounds to different crafts & big box stores (well, with Globalization that's pretty much what's become of shopping as the smaller stores are almost non-existent), we couldn't find the large quantity that Jenny is used to getting in the Philippines. She eventually found something online & we decided to experiment with it. I would call Jenny, as she volunteered to make balls of the other colors, always used along with red for traditional Kalinga Laga belts:white, black and yellow. Making a belt is the first project given to children by the elder weavers. Jenny learned from her maternal grandmother, Mambot Cusay, and her aunt, Alice Dumatog, in Mabilong, Lubuagan. It was her grandmother that instructed her at the age of ten to complete her first belt...for me, it's been many decades since I was ten, but with the excitement of a child, I was eagerly awaiting my chance to make a belt. I hadn't expected making the balls of string to be tiresome for me, yet I found out that I was excellent at dropping the ball and chasing it under my bed!   

Reflections on Kalinga Weaving: Blog #1 (5/3/2012)

I’m honored to be an ACTA Apprentice, and to have this opportunity to learn Kalinga Backstrap Weaving from Jenny Bawer Young.  The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) has enabled me to manifest a desire to learn and practice traditional arts, something I envisioned for over ten years while still painting and printmaking in San Francisco. The road leading me to this apprenticeship and to Jenny Bawer Young is literally based on my feet, through dance.

We first met a few years back at the Malonga Center for the Arts in Oakland, California, during a special workshop on tribal dances of the Cordillera Mountains held for the Likha Pilipino Folk Ensemble. Having studied many world dance forms, I was delighted to learn the dance and music practices of the tribal peoples of the Philippines.  As a student of Maguindanaoan Kulintang Master Danongan Kalanduyan, and performing member of Palibuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, I was more familiar with music and dance from Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago than the gangsa music where my family was from, Luzon.

Manong Cirilio "Sapi" Bawer (far left), with daughter Mimi (seated next to Marcos Rabara), lead a music workshop in San Francisco (2007).

In 2008 I traveled throughout the Cordilleras, where I conducted research on the relationship between contemporary and tribal art forms. In addition to spending time with the “Father of Philippine Filmaking,” Kidlat Tahimik, I was able to meet Kalinga Culture Bearer and father of Jenny, Mr. Cirilio “Sapi” Bawer, the tribal elder who introduced Kalinga music and dance to the world through the famous Bayanihan Dance Company. I was particularly happy to spend time in Lubuagan and was invited back to participate in the 100th Year of Provincial Government celebration in the summer of 2008 where I was presented a special tapis (skirt) by the Mabilong weavers. Dozens of weavers prepared months in advance for this celebration and specifically wove this particular design of the tapis for the Mabilong community.

Mabilong weaver prepares for Lumin-Awa Festival.

Mabilong Elders overlook Lubuagen, Kalinga in preparation for Lumin-Awa Festival.

Mabilong Weavers begin procession in Lubuagen to town square from Mabilong.

Mabilong Community gathered in town square of Lubuagen.

Entire town of Lubuagen gathered before music & dance celebrations begin.

Mr. Bawer, his daughter, Jenny, and other Kalinga elders, such as Manong Napoleon Batalao, have shared their wealth of knowledge in Kalinga dance, music and ritual with Filipino performing artists of the San Francisco Bay Area. Jenny Bawer Young has consulted with my performing group, DIWA, the all-female music and dance group initially formed to practice kulintang music.  Her participation as creative consultant to our group has enabled us to add Kalinga music, dance and culture to our repertoire. As a culture bearer of the Philippines, she has been critical to maintaining her traditional culture while living in California.

As my friendship with Jenny grew, we came to share other passions as well, this time it was in the visual arts. Through a casual conversation I was to learn that her greatest passion was weaving. Little did she know that I had a small collection of textile weavings from Latin America. Nor did she know that I first fell in love with traditional Filipino weaving of the T’boli called T’nalak, which is made from the abaca tree. She also didn’t know that I had loved making headpiece regalia for the Bahaina section of Carlos Aceituno’s Fogo Na Roupa for San Francisco’s Carnaval and Oakland’s Carijama celebrations.

The relationship a dancer has with his or her regalia is significant, especially when the dancer creates his or her own regalia. These experiences are meaningful on a spiritual and soulful level and they become more so after one dances in their regalia. I was honored to have the tapis given to me by her family in Lubuagan and had danced with her family in the celebration before thousands of people. I am ecstatic at having the opportunity to learn to weave the traditional Kalinga belt and tapis necessary for performing Kalinga music and dance. Most often, performing artists have to travel to the Philippines and/or purchase the regalia from people who collect the textiles. In December, 2011, both she and I were doubly surprised to receive this apprenticeship. The opportunity to weave had finally arrived for me!

My first lesson actually took place amongst other DIWA members at one of our rehearsals in Castro Valley. Weaving, Kalinga style, is a group activity, at least it was that day at our rehearsal. DIWA members and I tried our best to roll perfect balls of string. This activity reminded me of a quiet evening in Lubuagan sitting with Jenny’s mother, Maria, enjoying time after our evening meal while she steadily spun a ball of yarn, explaining to me that this was the most important part of the weaving.

All photos by Holly Calica.

Who's in the House? Zhang Fei's in the House! Well, I'm pretty sure it's him…

Recently this picture showed up online in a group I participate in on Facebook and it sparked a lively little debate. The original poster was wondering who (which historical general, if any) the lion represented and the answer, according to the lion maker, is Zhang Fei. This made a few people pause a bit because there is a lot of blue and not so much green used on the lion. What does that matter, you might ask. As I mentioned in a previous post, the colors of traditional lions are determined by the colors of the face paint of that general as portrayed in the Cantonese opera. For Zhang Fei this has always been black and white (and/or gray) with black hair and beard. Touches of green are often used as accents.

Here are some examples (all were found online, none of these pictures were taken by me):

Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example Zhang Fei Example

As you can see from the other pictures above there is a lot of room for variation even when using the original color scheme. So without a compelling reason to deviate from the tradition, it would be unnecessary to change the overall color pallette for traditional lions. There is even precedent on the Zhang Fei lions to use blue (usually on the eyelids) sparingly as a supporting color, but not a main color.

Although the first picture above is what sparked the debate, it really isn't just about that lion.

At the heart of the debate are questions about the evolution of traditions and the validity of artistic license. Art forms are constantly changing and subject to reinterpretation according to the visions of individual artists. At the same time if there are no overarching guidelines then the results are often unrecognizable bastardizations of the originals. How many times have we sat through a horrible remake of a classic film that completely missed the mark of the original?

So what place do ancient traditions play in modern society? How do we as artists express our individuality while still remaining true to the customs that have been handed down through the generations? Can we disregard the teachings of our lineage and claim artistic differences? Are modern aesthetics more important than historical precedents? These are not easy questions to answer and there are no clear cut lines dividing the camps.

For me, as a performing artist, there are at least two major criteria I would use before changing a standing tradition. 1) Is there a compelling reason for the tradition that would be violated by the change? And 2) Would the intended audience still understand what is being conveyed?

Like it or not, traditions started and became engrained for a reason; sometimes a good reason, sometimes a more questionable one. Arbitrary, superstitious and no longer relevant practices can be disregarded as we pare an art form down to its essentials. For example the Chinese tradition that says women shouldn't bathe for a week after giving birth was most likely started at a time when river water posed a greater threat of parasites and other illnesses than not bathing. We've luckily advanced as a society to where we can end this practice. We always want to make sure we aren't just blindly holding onto the past without basis. However we also have to recognize that there might be a reason we are not aware of. We need to do our due diligence and consult with others who can give guidance on this rather than just trusting our own, often limited, judgment.

As for the second criterion, the whole reason we perform is not for ourselves but for the audience, whether that's a merchant that's hired our team to bless their business, a couple celebrating their marriage, or the viewers at an exhibition performance. An actor could give the most inspired performance in the history of the stage, but if there is a disconnect with the audience it will all be in vain. So as performers we want to make sure every aspect of our presentation gets our intended message across. In terms of the lion dance, there are several things that a knowledgeable audience would expect to see. As a specific example, let's apply these to the lion pictured above. What are the reasons for the traditional colors of Zhang Fei? Black hair and beard to signify his youth, and black markings on his face to portray his dark complexion. In the Cantonese Opera, each of the Five Tiger Generals was assigned his own color(s) to differentiate him from other characters and make him consistently and easily recognizable even among different acting troops and from play to play. Every actor/troop could apply the makeup in their own style, but all used the same color schemes. Major deviations were liable to cause confusion among an often illiterate audience who relied on visual cues to follow the action.

But is this outdated? Would a modern audience know enough to recognize Zhang Fei in a slightly different color scheme? Given the right context, i.e. sitting next to the other 4 Tiger Generals, an informed audience would probably be able to figure out who was who. Also, given that many people don't know enough about the lions or the generals they represent beyond the main three (Liu Bei, Guan Gung and Zhang Fei) by process of elimination most would probably guess that this was Zhang Fei anyway. But if it appears by itself and even people in the know need to ask who it is supposed to represent, it might indicate that the artist should have stuck a little closer to tradition.

So the jury is still out. Personally I really like this lion. It has the fierce look of a traditional general and it has touches that make it stand out from the usual slew of lions. But whether or not I would consider it a good representation of Zhang Fei is debatable.

As a final bit of food for thought, here is a picture of an opera troop portraying Zhang Fei with a blue headdress:

Want to weigh in on the issue? Feel free to comment below or drop me an email:, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Still Weaving

I have one last post for the ACTA blog. I have continued to weave since the Master-Apprentice program with ACTA. A few weeks ago I collected willow and began my third basket. (Please see the photo of the willow and new start.) I will make another large burden or cone shaped basket with a striped pattern of willow, skin on and off. I have also included a photo of my great-great grandmother’s (Rosa Shipes) acorn design tray which is housed at UC Berkeley. I am incredibly proud of my Maidu family from Plumas County and the legacy of many skilled weavers which I am part. In addition to the valuable time spent learning to gather and weave though the project, I have been given an opportunity to serve the California Indian Basket Weavers Association (CIBA) which works for current and future weavers throughout California. This year, the organization will hold their annual gathering June 22, 23, & 24 at the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indian Reservation.  If you are interested in attending the gathering or California Indian basketry, please visit their website for more information: I hope more Master-Apprentice teams will consider partnering with ACTA in the future and I thank them once again for the opportunity.

Mountain Maidu Basketry

I am excited to share I have completed my second basket! A bowl made of willow and red bud, please see pictures. This will be my final entry for the ACTA apprenticeship blog. Ennis and I have really enjoyed our time working together for the duration of a little over a year. I have learned a lot about basketry and our Maidu heritage. One important lesson I learned was basketry takes time and a lot of patience. Let me emphasize a lot of time and patience! Sometimes, I would get frustrated and find myself "cussing and weaving" as we jokingly referred to it. But I also found immense joy and satisfaction in the entire process, from gathering to giving the basket away. Before beginning my apprenticeship, I totally underestimated the time, dedication, and patience involved. I have a new appreciation and respect for the process in the creation of a basket. I understand more why basket weaving is becoming more rare as the fast paced technology driven world we live in does not foster a healthy environment for weaving, and more importantly new weavers. Ennis and I would like to thank ACTA for providing us with this important opportunity.

Lion Under Glass

Quick Update: Exhibit will be taken down April 7, go see it before it's too late!
Nestled in the Asian/Pacific Thematic Historic District of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter is a great little museum. The Chinese Historical Museum is comprised of two buildings on opposite corners of Third and J. The original building used to be a mission building built in the 1920s to be an outreach and community center to the Chinese in San Diego at the time. Behind this building is a small Asian garden and fish pond.

Across the street the rotating exhibits are housed in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Extension. Just in time for the Chinese New Year (February 23 this year) a new exhibit opened featuring traditional new year prints, a small collection of tiger hats, a performance dragon, and a late entry to the lineup: the restored lion.

The curator, Alex Chuang, was kind enough to allow me to display the lion and as we emailed back and forth about the details the plan grew until I had to borrow a minivan to take all of the components down south. I'm glad Alex had the foresight to ask probing questions about how to go from, "Hi, I have something people might like to see" to a real museum-quality display.

Between the Hoi Gung ceremony and the museum display there was only a week to prepare everything including deciding what to display, how to arrange it, and all the signs to create. Good thing my wife and I love a challenge and work well under pressure.

So, here's what we came up with. Let me know what you think and if you get a chance, go see it in person. Pictures just don't convey the same scope as seeing it in real life.
Click any picture for a larger version.

Practice Setup Signage Setup Hanging the Poster Helpers Setting Up Rejected Items
Playing around with possible layouts at home. It was fun trying to come up with a way to fit everything into the space requirement without it looking crowded. I was also trying to come up with some sort of order so the display would take the viewers through a logical progression of the project. Coming up with signage that would be interesting to both lion dancers who know their stuff and the general public was a bit of a challenge. Good thing my wife is an excellent editor! Figuring out where to place each sign in the display presented other issues as well. I also decided to reuse the poster we made for the Beyond the Pride exhibit. Even though it says, "There's still more work to be done" in big red letters on the bottom, it gives a good background on the project and has a lot of information on the process so I thought it'd still be relevant. Besides it'd be a shame to have made a poster like that only to be used once! I recruited my kids to help arrange the displays so setting them up at the museum was a real family affair. These didn't actually make the cut for the final display, but my daughter thought she'd bring them along anyway.
First Display Case Second Display Case Third Display Case, Front Third Display Case, Back Closing the Case
The main display case is right at the entrance to the exhibit so you can't miss it. The frame in the second case is also from an old Lo An Kee lion around the same age as the restored one. Eventually it will also go through the restoration process. The third case has a collection of parts showing the variety of pieces that make up a lion. Parts from a variety of lions and makers were chosen from my collection to show the similarities and differences. The museum staff putting the acrylic covers over the cases. The cases look so nice, I have to build some to keep the lion in at home!
One of the best comments I've gotten is from the museum staff who said that many people don't bother to read the signs on display pieces, but so far everyone has taken the time to read mine. Guess all the time and effort my wife and I put into them was worth it! Read on and let me know what you think.
Types of Chinse Lions Meanings in the Colors and Patterns Why do Lions Have Horns?, Front Rebuilding the Framework The Lion's Paper-Thin Skin
Choy Ching, Plucking the Greens Base Frame Paper Ties Bamboo Strips Bristle Hair
Rice Paper Rabbit Fur Gold Trim Rattan Wrap Mirror
Eyes Hero Balls The Artist The Family Certificate of Appreciation
  Dragon Here are a few of the other items on display. Tiger Hats  

There are a few signs that I didn't get good pictures of so if you want to read them all you'll have to go visit America's finest city and spend the $2 for admission to the museum. The rest of the exhibits are more than worth the price.

After this exhibit closes some other venues might be interested in displaying it down the line (details will be posted here if anything works out), but I don't have any set plans. If you know of a location or event that would be interested in showing it feel free to let me know.

Embarrassingly, I just realized I never put my email address here for people to contact me. Feel free to drop me a line at, I look forward to hearing from you!

Open Your Eyes and Wake Up!

I may have mentioned before that lions are seen as agents of heaven, used to frighten evil spirits away and bring a blessing to those for whom it performs. Before it can do that however it needs to be blessed or awakened by going through a special ceremony known as the Dim Jing (點睛) or "Eye Dotting" ceremony. Red paint mixed with whiskey and held in a piece of hollowed out ginger is brushed onto key parts of the lion imbuing it with a strong spirit to carry out its work. In Chinese culture, red is the color of happiness and celebration, and in this case the color of blood to represent the life being instilled in the new lion. In days of old it really was blood, squeezed from the comb of a live rooster, that was used in the ceremony and some groups still use cinnebar powder for this.

Tray of Implements Following Chinese principles of Yin and Yang, the whiskey and ginger are both considered strong Yang elements and will give the lion characteristics such as strength, confidence and intelligence.

During the ceremony other symbolic elements are attached to the horn of the lion. The horn of a lion is considered its link to heaven and a source of its power. Adornments used here strengthen the link and add wishes for additional blessings. For instance the golden flowers with the peacock feather symbolize a high rank, and the green onions are homonyms for intelligence. The red ribbon tying it all together shows that the lion is tamed and is performing for a happy occasion.

Horn of Plenty

This ceremony is also known as Hoi Gung (開光) or "Opening Brightness." In many cultures the eyes are considered the windows to the soul, so this ceremony opens the eyes and lights the soul of the lion.

Many other people have written extensively about the ceremony so rather than just reiterate what they've said here are a few links if you're interested: Hoi Gwong (開光) - Giving Life to the Lion Hoi Gong - Eye Dotting

Now, on to the pictures! Click any picture for a larger version.

The Setup Dotting the Mirror Stalking the Greens Spreading the Wealth Greetings The setup, lions eat lettuce (more on that in my next blog post) and the money in the red envelop is an offering to the team performing the ceremony. The bills attached to the golden stem are folded in the shape of a RuYi Scepter which represents fulfilled wishes. Marty Chiu, who donated the lion for the restoration, dots the mirror. Hungry after being "asleep" for so long, the lion stalks his first meal. The lettuce represents wealth so when the lion throws or spits it out it represents spreading the wealth. After the main part of the routine the newly awakened lion greets the other lions from the troop. Vince Demonstrating The Old Timers It was great to see people who could remember the original Lo An Kee lions admiring and appreciating the restoration. Vince Chan and Yogi Tam even got under the lion to demonstrate the powerful traditional movements that are rarely seen in today's modern performances.

We were also honored to have a special guest, Ryan Au in attendance all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area. Ryan is a fellow lion builder and has his own lion dance blog where he explores many aspects of the art.

Special Guest

Special thanks to the Vince Chan, Yogi Tam, and the Immortals Lion Dance Team of Los Angeles for helping with the ceremony.

Many people have asked, "Now that the restoration is done what are you going to do with the lion? It'd be a shame to just put it into storage." I couldn't agree more! The lion is currently on display at the Chinese Historical Museum in San Diego. If you're in the area please stop by to check it out. I understand the exhibit that it is part of will be running at least through March. More on this in my next post, stay tuned!

Continuing the Tradition

Hello to everyone! I am giving an update on my progress in basket making. I finished my first burden basket (see picture) this past June 2011. I am beginning the process for my next basket which will be a smaller bowl. For this basket, I am going to focus on preparing of materials before weaving and a more uniform selection of willow used. My first basket ended up taking me nearly 6 months to complete. This involved learning to gather, preparing, starting, weaving, adding, and finally completing the basket. I expect my second basket will be completed at a much quicker pace. My favorite experience thus far in basket making is spending time with Ennis and his sister Carol. I also enjoyed giving my first basket to a friend and seeing how happy it made them to receive it.

Finishing Strong

As the year came to a close the final order of parts arrived from China on the afternoon of December 29, a late but very exciting and welcome Christmas present! So as you can imagine it was a mad dash to finish up by the end of the year. Luckily the last stage of the process, embellishing, is also in some ways the quickest. A lot of time was spent cutting rabbit pelts into strips and sewing the bristle hair attachments onto the head, and I pulled an all-nighter on December 30-31, but overall it was much less intense work than the other stages. Even something as repetitive as gluing on the 263 silver scales was much less tedious that the papering stage. In many ways this was my favorite part since you can really see everything coming together in the last few weeks.

Click any picture for a larger version.

Here's what it looked like after all of the painting was complete: Painted Front Painted Horn Painted Forehead Painted Cheek Painted Side Here's some shots of the embellishment process: Eyelid Pattern Gold Rope Bristle Hair Rabbit Fur Mirror Creating a paper pattern before cutting the eyelids out of cloth can save you from a costly mistake. The gold rope is traditionally made from paper rope covered with gold foil. Using this gold braid was a time saver. Bristle hair is attached to several different areas on the lion head. Rabbit fur is glued on to accentuate the curves of certain parts. The lion's mirror is usually surrounded by a single strip of rabbit fur. I've always thought it would look nice with a second strip of a contrasting color for emphasis. And here's the finished product! Finished Front All done! Finished Top Finished Side Finished Back

Initial Front Initial Back Looking back at the state of this lion before the project started you can definitely see a restoration that is true to the original yet has some enhancements that make it stand out even more from the cookie-cutter lions prevalent today. Even still, there are some things that just can't be replicated. For example, greater range of color choices aside, for sheer volume there's just no beating the old pompoms. It's things like this that keep me waxing nostalgic for the heyday of lion craftsmanship.

Old and New On the left, the original nose pompom--approximately 13cm diameter. On the right, one from the new set a mere 8cm. No comparison.

Although this project is now complete, there is still a lot I need to learn and I can definitely use practice on everything Corey taught me so far. I am very grateful to Corey and ACTA; especially Amy Lawrence who patiently guided us through the process, Suzanne Hildebrand who was instrumental in getting this blog going, and Russell Rodriguez for spending a day documenting our work and facilitating fruitful discussion on the history of the lion dance and it's role in Chinese culture. And of course a very special thank you to my wife and kids for all their support and understanding while I was working on this! I know it has been an awesome and life-enhancing experience for me and I hope it has inspired a new generation of lion dancers take the time to repair and build lions with the love and care they deserve.