A popular lion and dragon dance troupe in Ho Chi Minh City was founded by a street boy and it has opened its arms to thousands of other boys from the streets.
Luong Tan Hang, now 53, started Hang Anh Duong after studying and training with another troupe in the city for 13 years.
He had to earn a living from age 10 by selling lottery tickets on the street. More than a year later he asked to join Tinh Anh Duong dance troupe, which not only taught him dancing but also helped him learn how to read and write besides feeding him.
“My life became less hard.”
Hang said he loves martial arts and so learned quickly and was given special training to be a teacher in the troupe, before he left and started his own 30 years ago.
“And immediately I thought about street boys.”
Hang said none the boys who come to him have a home and many are thieves or drug addicts.
Hang checks the situation of each boy himself before taking them in.
He said he tries to give them all the help he himself once received so that they could be better people.
“We do not come from a good background and so have to try harder than other people for society to have a better view of us,” he said.
The troupe, based in District 11, did not have its own place in the beginning.
Hang had to borrow a local person’s yard to practice at night and rented rooms for the boys.
The troupe now has more than 100 boys, all poor and disadvantaged.
They get monthly wages and performance bonuses. They make lions, dragons and other tools, more of them than they need and sell to smaller troupes or interested people.
Hao, a member, said they practice from dawn to dusk every day unless they are booked for a show.
“Some of the boys are not used to discipline and express disagreement, and Hang would punish them with more practice.
“The teacher is very strict. But thanks to that, we improve rapidly.”
He said Hang also teaches them how to behave, to be respectful to older people and generous to younger ones.
Hang, who is still single, has seen many of his students leave and build their own life. Some have started dance troupes in the city or nearby provinces.
But Hang said his troupe was not the final answer for all of them. “Some of them relapsed and had to go to rehab centers.”
Huynh Hoai Chung, one of the first students who is now the troupe’s chief coach, became an addict during his early years in the troupe.
He had been born into a large, poor family, and joined the troupe when he was 10 years old.
Smart and talented, he was one of Hang’s favorite students.
But the master found out a few years later that Chung was using drugs.
“He kept asking me for more money but I refused; so he left to work other jobs.”
After two years Chung came back and asked for another chance, and he has been working much harder since.
“I was very happy,” Hang said. “He has escaped the life of a drug addict.”
He has taught Chung all the secrets of the art so that he could replace him as the troupe’s leader soon.