When 14-year old Sarana (not his real name) went to Manila’s Chinatown on the eve of Chinese New Year in 2014, he brought with him nothing but his sense of humor.
Purely for fun, Sarana and his friend made up a makeshift Chinese dragon out of a discarded fruit crate and cloth, and began freestlye dragon-dancing at Ongpin Street.
From midday til night, Sarana danced while his buddy tapped on a water gallon as his beat.
And just before the Chinese New Year officially arrived, the teenage boys earned P2500.
The year after, Sarana made sure that his made-up “Pinoy dragon” would make a comeback at Ongpin Street.
This time around, he brought with him assistants – kids from his neighborhood in Parola, Tondo.
His only selection process? “ Basta marunong sumayaw. ” (As long as they know how to dance.)
That year, 2015, they earned P4000.
The next two years, Sarana upgraded his gimmick with better-crafted dragons made with cartons, cloth, and paper cups. He would hand-paint them himself, and spend at least P300 on the props.
As usual, his hard work paid off, as his troupe went home with a whopping P5000 on both years. Each of the “members” – boys between 8 to 17 years old – were given P400 each, while Sarana took home whatever money was left.
“Kesa naman pasaway lang sa bahay, sinama ko na, ” Sarana told Rappler. “Lakad lang papunta at pauwi. Diskarte lang para magka-pera.” (Instead of being unruly at home, I let them join. They just walk to Ongpin and back. It's just a strategy for earning money.)
Keeping with the tradition
This year, like always, Sarana went with his troupe and danced to the beat of whatever song they fancied to tap on their makeshift water-gallon drum, like the "Baby Shark" dance, for one.
What was once a one-man performance is now composed of 8 dancers and drummers, and 4 “Pinoy dragons.”
Sarana had thought of upgrading his prop to a “real” dragon like those usually paraded in Chinatown, but figured it wasn’t worth it to spend P1500 for its rental.
“Mas madami pa din natutuwa sa ganyan, kasi gawang-Pinoy (People enjoy this more because it's Pinoy-made),” Sarana said, boasting that they would sometimes earn more than dancers with “real” dragons.
On Friday, February 16, they began performing at 8 am , strolling from Binondo to Ongpin and back, performing for any willing audience. Sarana has stopped dancing two years ago, and opted to “lead” the troupe instead. He claims he’s “grown” out of it.
“May girlfriend na kasi (It's because I already have a girlfriend),” he explained.
The sun has set and the crowd is slimming but the troupe is alive and cheerful. They’ve only earned P3000 so far, but Sarana does not mind .
His motivation is simple: “ Pandagdag saya lang sa mga taong pumupunta dito. ” (It's just something extra for the people who come here
Every year, more and more groups of children like them have “copied” the idea of a makeshift dragon dance. Rappler found at least two other groups – one from Delpan, Manila, and another consisting of locals in the area.
Still, no matter how many come and copy Sarana’s accidental money-making gimmick, he’s certain he will come back every year.
“Hanggang pagtanda ko isasama ko pa rin sila (Even when I grow old, I'll still bring them).” – Rappler.com