Lee's Golden Dragon, one of Houston's oldest lion dance group, celebrates its 50th anniversary

ByRosie Nguyen Localish logo
Wednesday, July 3, 2024
Lee's Golden Dragon celebrates its 50th anniversary
When Allen Lee first decided in 1974 to form his lion dance group, he didn't know what the future held for them. The troupe is now marking 50 years in Houston.

HOUSTON, Texas -- When Allen Lee first made the decision in 1974 to form his own lion dance group, he didn't know what the future had in store for them. At the time, there wasn't really a formally organized team in the Greater Houston area that was dedicated to preserving the cultural tradition.

"I've always been interested and fascinated by lion dancing. When I went to school on the west coast, I had an opportunity to join a lion dance group and I learned how to do it," said Lee. "It's very important to me to keep our Asian culture alive and pass it on to future generations."

Lee explained that in ancient times, the symbolism behind the lion dance was to ward off evil spirits. Now, it is believed that the lion dance brings good luck, prosperity, and wealth.

Performances by his team, Lee's Golden Dragon, typically include a combination of live cultural music, choreographed dancing, acrobatics, firecrackers, crowd interactions, and daring stunts on high poles. Their members have been trained by different masters from all over the world.

Most lion dancers will perform into their 30s and some will transition into instructional and mentoring roles.

"There's a lot of agility, coordination, and strong muscle ability to dance, perform tricks, and do stunts like this," said Lee. "But all it really takes is devotion, discipline, and willingness to learn."

Lee, who is a native Houstonian, said recruitment has always been the biggest challenge in keeping his troupe alive. That's because lion dancing can be a very time-consuming and physically-taxing sport, due to the amount of training and practice it requires, as explained by the group's director, LK Nguyen.

"They say that lion dancing is 10 hours of training and 10 minutes of performing. The actual art itself is the grind and work you put in before you display it to the audience. The youth is teaching themselves motor skills, musicality, and how to understand their own bodies," said Nguyen.

The commitment that the sport requires is something that Lee knows very well. He works as a dentist by day, but often spends his evenings and weekends overseeing operations for Lee's Golden Dragon.

"I've sacrificed many vacations, enjoyment, and pleasure to work and devote myself to running this group. If I had to do it all over again, I would still do the same thing," said Lee. "One woman joked that I'm a dentist and doing lion dancing as a hobby. I told her, 'No, ma'am. I'm a lion dancer and doing dentistry as a hobby."

Over the last 50 years, Lee's Golden Dragon has grown to about 30 to 40 members. They are often seen performing throughout Houston during Lunar New Year and throughout the year at weddings, festivals, and events.

"The reception of lion dancing here has grown tremendously. I'm very happy and pleased. It becomes more in demand as time goes on. There's so much demand that we can't really please all of our clients. We literally have to turn some clients away because were booked so heavily," said Lee.

Some of Lee's favorite memories over the last half century include escorting Yao Ming out onto the basketball court when he first became a Houston Rockets player and meeting Presidents like Jimmy Carter during a Habitat for Humanity event.

However, his most cherished experiences are the joyful reactions from their audiences. With 50 years under his belt, Lee said he still plans on going for as long as he can until its time to pass the torch to people like Nguyen.

Their 50th anniversary banquet will be held on Saturday, July 6th at 6 p.m. at Lam Bo Ballroom.

For more information, visit Lee's Golden Dragon website.