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Binondo dragon dancers welcome Lunar New Year minus the bang

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2021 01:04 AM

With a steady stroke, 43-year-old Robert Sicat applies paint on a dragon head made of bamboo and onionskin, the bright neon colors standing in stark contrast to the dull grey walls of his house. With every pass, the faint tang of paint fills the air, mixing with the slight musky smell of the creek right beside his home on Thursday. 

Sicat, along with his brothers, manages the Philippine Binondo Phoenix Dragon and Lion Dance group, one of many dance troupes in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, that see the bulk of their earnings during the Lunar New Year. 

“Dati 2 weeks bago mag-Chinese New Year lumalabas na kami. Pagtapos ng Chinese New Year, may 2 weeks pa kaming labas nyan, tuloy-tuloy. Ngayon isang araw lang talaga,” he says.

(Before, 2 weeks before Chinese New Year we would already be performing. After the Chinese New Year, that is another 2 weeks where we would still be performing. Now it is just for one day.)

Dragon and lion dancers, ubiquitous every Lunar New Year in Binondo, are conspicuously absent this year, as are the usual crowds and celebrations in the days leading up to the holiday. This is after the country’s capital banned dragon dances and parties as a precaution against COVID-19 which has so far infected 543,282.

Like many in the performing arts, Sicat and his brothers have been hit hard by the pandemic, losing a majority of their income due to various COVID-19 restrictions and quarantines. To augment their income, Sicat tailors costumes for the dance on the side. 

“Mga 70% ng kita namin nawala talaga. (We’ve lost about 70% of our income),” he says.

Sicat also shares that a client who acquired their services previously refused to book them this year. The reason, Sicad says, was they are from Binondo. “Maraming Chinese at baka doon daw galing ang COVID. (There’s a lot of Chinese there and maybe that’s where COVID came from).” This was when clients started cancelling their bookings.

While requests for dances have definitely been fewer compared to past years, those have not entirely disappeared. Sicat says they have a performance, but in a different city. He says they still do dances but the requests are usually for private events and in different cities to avoid any possible violations.

Robert Sicat applies paint to costumes used for dragon and lion dances inside their home in Binondo on Thursday. The Philippine Binondo Phoenix Dragon and Lion Dance group, managed by Sicat and his brothers, have seen a huge decline in their business, since the start of the community quarantines last year after the pandemic hit. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Like many in the performing arts, Sicat’s income has been adversely affected by the pandemic. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Various costumes line the walls of Sicat’s home. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Anthony, 49 Robert’s brother, plays with their puppy inside their home. “Dati ganitong araw busy na kami lahat niyan, may labas lahat. Dati ganitong araw wala na tao dito. Ngayon nakatambay kami dito. (Before we would already be busy at this time, no one would be home anymore. Now we are just here doing nothing.)” he says. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Sicat augments his income by tailoring costumes used for dances. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The brothers’ dog plays beside a dragon costume. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Sicat says there are still those who acquire their services, usually for private events and in other cities to avoid possible violations after Manila banned dragon dances and parties as a precaution against COVID-19. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Brothers Robert and Anthony Sicat lay freshly painted costumes to dry as they ready for a private performance tomorrow. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News