67-year old Chan Tak Fai has taken part in the traditional Hong Kong fire dragon dance for more than 50 years. As the director-general of this popular event, Chan is busy directing the performance during this Mid-Autumn festival, as every year in the past 40 years.
"The dance has been staged every year since 1880, only except the three years when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation," Chan told Xinhua.
Born and raised in the Tai Hang village, Chan started to know fire dragon dance when he was a teenager.
"When I was a boy of about 12 years old, I began to participate in the dance by holding lotus lantern," he recalled, adding that he was only responsible for one of the dragon's body part when he was a little older.
The legend of fire dragon can be traced back to more than a decade ago when Tai Hang was only a small village of farmers and fishermen.
The tale started when the villagers once killed a serpent in a stormy night, but in the next morning, the dead body of the serpent had disappeared. A few days later, a plague spread out in the village, claiming many lives.
Then a villager was told in his dream to perform fire dragon dance and burn fire cracker during Mid-Autumn festival to dispel the plague. Miraculously, the plague was stopped when the villagers followed the instruction. Since then, fire dragon dance was staged for three consecutive nights in the village around each year's Mid-Autumn festival.
According to Chan, the special techniques of making the dragon was kept and passed on largely unchanged in all these years. The 67-meter-long dragon, with its head weighing about 40 kilograms, is made of rattan wrapped in pearl straw. The dragon is prompted forward by two "pearls" which are actually pomelos.
"It takes us three days to get the dragon ready. It needs hard work," said Chan.
Before the dancing, numerals burning sticks of incenses are inserted in the dragon and "pearls." The commemorative performance wends its way in fire, smoke and festive fury through the backstreets of Tai Hang. More than 300 residents take part in it.
In 2011, Tai Hang fire dragon dance was listed as China's official intangible cultural heritage.
"Thanks to media and Hong Kong Tourism Board, fire dragon dance is known all over the world. Now, people from other countries will come to see us dance," said he.
Chan said he is so proud the tradition would contribute to Hong Kong's economy.
In order to attract more youngsters, Tai Hang residents' welfare association, where Chan belongs to, organizes free training sessions on regular basis for new comers. Chan said there is no age limit for dancers, anyone more than 13 or 14 years old can manage.
"Our team has around 200 fixed members. Every year there are 60 or 70 people joining in," he said proudly, adding that some neighbors who have moved out of Tai Hang sometimes come back during the festival just for the dance.
"It will be considered losing face if you are not part of fire dragon dance in Tai Hang," Chan said with a big smile.