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A camera operator films a lion dancer

Diversity and Inclusion

Lion dancing goes virtual in the Year of the Ox

Microsoft Teams keeps a colorful and ancient tradition alive during the pandemic

Got used to remote working? Well now there’s remote dancing.

The spectacular, ancient and noisy Chinese tradition of the lion dance has gone virtual during the pandemic – thanks to Microsoft Teams.

In normal times, companies and organizations across many parts of Asia would host lion dances to mark the Lunar New Year.

It’s a fun and colorful way to launch a new beginning. At Microsoft’s Asia headquarters in Singapore, hundreds of employees would come together to watch live performances held in their offices and at festive lunches.

Now with strict social distancing rules still very much in place and with many people working from home, such big gatherings are out of the question for the new Year of the Ox.

Two people watch a Chines lion dance
Microsoft Asia President Ahmed Mazhari (left) watches the dance from a safe distance with Executive Assistant Cheryl Wong.

Organizers at Microsoft could have opted to cancel the auspicious annual event this time. Instead, they asked everyone to log onto Teams, not for a call or a meeting but to celebrate online with a heritage dance group – complete with red and gold costumes and deafening drums and cymbals.

A video crew streamed the show from the company’s almost empty downtown offices and into employees’ homes via their laptops and devices.

The video shoot was done with health and safety in mind. Everyone wore a face mask and maintained social distancing.

Among the few physically on hand to make offerings and ask for blessings was Microsoft President Asia Ahmed Mazhari.

“It’s good for staff morale. It’s good luck for the business. And it demonstrates that the world is adapting,” he said.

A screenshot of a lion dance video
A Microsoft Teams view of the dancing.

“We can use new technology and solutions to keep traditions alive despite all these restrictions.

“The world is going through constant change and we are dealing with that. Who would have ever thought we’d be holding a virtual lion dance?”

Lion dancing is thought to date back more than 1,500 years when China was ruled by powerful emperors. The ritual is celebrated by millions across many parts of Asia and elsewhere as a way of bringing good fortune and prosperity.

Michelle Siuw Hwa Tan, a Microsoft business program manager, watched the performance from her home in Singapore. She described it as “a new norm for lion dancing.”

“It was wonderful being able to see it happen in real time,” she said. “It really made me connect with everyone and keep the joy and tradition of Lunar New Year alive.”

A Chinese lion dance
The tradition of lion dancing dates back more than 1,500 years.

Before the pandemic, dance troupes would be busy every day throughout the Lunar New Year season, giving live performances in multiple locations and venues.

This year bookings down dramatically. So being able to turn to technology to stage lion dances virtually and safely is a stroke of festive good luck for audiences and performers.

TOP IMAGE: Live video streaming the lion dance via Microsoft Teams. All photos by Geoff Spencer