The costumed Chinese lion dance, a vibrant and ancient tradition, is a captivating spectacle that has mesmerized audiences for centuries.

The Lion Dance Team of the Houston Police Department is keeping the tradition alive by performing at area events as part of the department’s outreach efforts.

In a vivid ceremony that showed the team’s dedication to tradition, members gathered recently to follow an ancient rite – painting their costume lion heads’ eyes – at the HPD Westside Command Station on S. Dairy Ashford Road.

With Mayor Sylvester Turner and other government officials also taking part, ceremonial paint was applied to the team’s lion heads — they’d just arrived from China — as a sacred and symbolic act, said Lt. Jonathan Lui, the HPD Westside Differential Response Team leader and dance team organizer.

“Ceremonial paint is an essential part of the lion dance,” Lui explained. “It symbolically transforms the lion from an inanimate object into a vibrant, living entity.”

In Chinese culture, the lion is considered a symbol of courage, strength and good luck. And, the dotting of the eyes – 點睛 (Diǎn jīng) in Chinese – doesn’t just include the eyes, but also the ears mouth, nose, legs, forehead and the entire body of the lion.

Lion Dance teams like HPD’s are often seen at celebrations like the Chinese New Year, grand openings of businesses and other occasions. Dancers are believed to bring good fortune, prosperity, and ward off evil spirits. The rhythmic and pulsating beat of traditional drums provides a soundtrack, enhancing the overall experience in guiding the lion’s movements while adding excitement to performances.

About 20 HPD officers take part in the HPD dance team, Lui noted. Dancers wear elaborate red, gold and black shimmering costumes that together magically transform into a large dancing “lion.”

The idea for such a team came from HPD Executive Assistant Chief Ban Tien as he hosted a national policing conference in Houston where another local lion dance team performed. When the chief found out that the San Francisco Police Department had a team, he mentioned the idea of a team for Houston.

“I asked some colleagues if they would be interested and they jumped at the chance,” Lui recalled

The troupe began meeting weekly to rehearse over several months before making some local appearances to enthusiastic audiences, mainly largely ethnically Asian senior citizens.

“They truly enjoyed our team and interacting with our officers,” Lui said.

HPD Sgt. Alex Chan, who has been involved in lion dancing since age 9, has helped make sure the performances are authentic.

The International Management District and Southwest   Management District, along with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, helped fund the team’s purchase of costumes. Additional donations allowed the team to buy its first three lion heads; previously it borrowed heads from private lion teams to perform.

“Our goal is to continue to be good ambassadors for the department and perform at events in the area,” Lui said. “It’s great for camaraderie and we enjoy seeing smiles on residents’ faces.”