February 3, 2023

Chinese New Year brings to mind, not only the color red and yellow, the glutinous rice cake called tikoy, but also the much-loved lion dancers. We stop when we hear the beating of loud drums and look for the lion dancers. We wonder as our attention is caught by its mesmerizing head and body movements. These lion and dragon dancers are members of the Bell Church Athletic Club, under the auspices of the Baguio Bell Church. That beautiful church with its fascinating architecture that lies on top of a hill on the right side going to La Trinidad, Benguet.
The Bell Church is headed by Spiritual leader, Reverend Elias Ng with Andrew Leung as chairman of the Bell Church International. Francis Brito is the very wise, humble and accommodating management staff and athletic coordinator of the Bell Church Athletic Club.
In an article in 2007 written by both Elias Ng and Francis Brito, they called the Bell Church: Baguio’s Spiritual Haven. According to them, its name was literally taken from a bell, because of its function to call the attention of people. Its vision is to expand its horizons by establishing more permanent sites, thus propagating Bellism nationally and all over the world. At present, the church has chapters in Luzon: Baguio, Dagupan, Manila, Quezon City, and Bicol; in the Visayas: Dumaguete, Iloilo, and Bacolod City; and in Mindanao: Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Cotabato, and Zamboanga City.
Its mission is “to serve as catalyst for mankind’s spiritual awakening with the full acceptance of the importance of traversing the right path of life.”
Brito explains, “the Church venerates five patron saints: Chang Tze- Fang, Tao –Jih- Fu- Tsun, Lian Tai Sheng Mu, Leu Chun Yang, and Liau Chen Sham Shr. The five patron saints symbolize the five major religions in China namely: Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism.
The church welcomes all regardless of belief and affiliation. It was constructed in 1957 and inaugurated in 1960.” Located at the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad, about six kilometers away from Baguio; a stone’s throw away from Ambiong, the Church readily became a tourist attraction because of the personal miracles experienced by devotees. With the use of incense or sticks and divine blocks and with the spiritual guidance of the patron saints, countless visitors experienced the miracle of answered questions. Because of this, the Church is now visited by many devotees or even tourists asking for divine intervention. Some to take pictures and to experience Chinese culture.
“The Bell Church Athletic Club was born in the `60s. The members are more popularly known as the lion dancers. They usually start very young, some at age eight or 10 years old. The group started with the children of members. Then students from the Chinese school joined, then the students of the Lucban and Baguio Central Elementary schools were invited. The particpants wanted to learn the art of lion dancing, at the same time accept the challenge of a very demanding training program,” Brito said.
“When you see the final product it looks simple. But the graceful, bewildering and challenging movements, and synchronization of the head and the tail and the dances and exhibtions themselves, demand hard and intensive training. The discipline required to perfect such movements is hard and challenging. You cannot shortcut the process because we train traditionally,” Brito added.
Lion dance is done to ward off negative spirits and bring good luck during store openings and other occasions. The head has a mirror to bring good luck. If the lion dance has two people, the dragon dance requires about 10 people to fill up the 20 feet dragon.
Brito continued: “The continuous success of the club is due to the unending support of our seniors who sarifice their busy schedules during the Chinese New year to support the club. They are Andrew Lam, Jose Cheong and Greg Choy.”
Francis Brito himself who hails from Manila started as a scholar of the Church. He joined in 1997, he was then in college taking up BS Psychology at Saint Louis University. He became a lion dancer, then a mentor athletic coordinator. He has been with the church for the past two decades.
The Club invites all interested kids starting at age eight to join the Bell Church Athletic Club. Its open to all. It starts with a summer camp of about one and half months. If the child passes the summer camp training, he or she is then required to attend the continuous trainings during Saturdays from 1:30 p.m. to 5p.m. They must be passionate about learning. At present there are about sixty active members. Sometimes there are simultaneous performances and each group would have about fifteen people. For the lion dancer, it is his or her passion that can sustain him or her. The trainings are not easy because it requires stamina and discipline. The goal is to give service and happiness without expecting anything in return.
“Masaya ako with this club,” says Francis Brito. ‘I feel young because I deal with young people. Nakakatuwa kasi. Even Malaysia, best performers in lion dance in Asia, appreciate our performances. We give basic training to the kids and orient them on the importance of values, the smile, how to treat people right, courtesy and respect for the elderly. The trust given by the parents are also vital. We tell them that if the kids want to join they have to follow instructions. The girls are usually assigned instruments and dance while the boys dance.
People and organizations may invite the Lion dancers during Saturdays only. Please coordinate with Bell Church management for details and other requirements.
For those interested, please call the Bell Church at telephone number 442-2042. The performances are classified into: on stilts, on benches or the drunken lion dancer. Their beautiful costumes are imported from China supported by the members. Kung Hei Fat Choi and mabuhay!