Meet the ‘Little Bornean Birdie’

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Dion, the ‘Little Bornean Birdie’, ready to take flight to WCOPA 2024 this June. — Photo by Chimon Upon

IN saying someone’s passion for something knows no bounds, Dion Das Louis is perhaps an apt example of this in terms of his inclination for traditional dance.

Born and raised in Kuching, this eight-year-old boy has the talent as well.

Fondly known as the ‘Little Bornean Birdie’, Dion first got involved in the art when he was six, which kicked off a journey that would soon carry him to international acclaim.

The pride of Louis Lansam and Edina Lanying is out to make Sarawak proud at the grand stage of the 27th World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA), to take place at Long Beach in California, the USA, this June.

“His talent was nurtured by his teacher at Smart Reader Kids Rubber Road West, which wanted him to represent them for a ‘Kumang’ (Princess) and ‘Keling’ (Warrior) competition,” recalls Louis.

“His interest grew when we taught him what he needed to know to present or compete.

“We noticed his inclination for the performing arts early on, and we’ve been nurturing it ever since,” the beaming father tells thesundaypost.

Adding on, Louis acknowledges that his youngest son has a natural talent for the ‘ngajat’, the traditional dance of the Iban community.

Louis and Edina with their sons, Dion and his big brother Evan Nyelang, age 10.

‘Interest and dedication’

Louis recalls seeing Dion’s interest and dedication grow more and more after that exposure during the boy’s preschool days.

“He began exploring the videos about traditional dancing on YouTube, and also traditional music, especially that of the ‘sape’.

“He learned every dance by himself, and then, he would ask us whether his steps were correct.”

Eventually, Dion’s talent blossomed, giving him the confidence to take part in local competitions, where he showcased his skills and earned recognition for them.

According to Louis, the moniker ‘Little Bornean Birdie’ was born out of a desire to create a unique identity for Dion, reflecting his cultural heritage and artistic flair.

“Every Iban could dance the ‘ngajat’, but we wanted something unique, a trademark – a wow factor, so to speak.

“So, we decided to combine elements of ‘Ruai’ (Great Malayan Argus Pheasant) and the ‘Kenyalang’ (Hornbill), both symbols of Sarawak, with Dion’s performances; thus. creating the ‘Little Bornean Birdie’.

Dion with Aeroville Mall director Kapitan Tan Kun Gee, one of the sponsors.

‘Never giving up’

It was this affiliation with the majestic Borneo birds that had helped shine at the grand final of the Malaysian Championship of Performing Arts (MCOPA), staged in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 27 this year, where he clinched a gold medal for his performance.

“He beautifully captured the essence of these Borneo birds in his choreography, detailing their graceful movements, down to the intricate details of the plumage,” says Edina, revealing that it was Dion’s second time joining the MCOPA.

“I found out about this year’s championship on Facebook last year.

“His first time was when he was seven years old – there was the state’s leg of the nationwide audition tour, taking place at Plaza Merdeka last year.

“From that outing, Dion actually won a gold medal and a golden ticket to Los Angeles.”

Dion being presented the prizes, including the RM3,000 scholarship, at the closing of the grand finale of this year’s MCOPA in Kuala Lumpur – earning him a spot in the Malaysian contingent for WCOPA 2024 in the USA this June.

However, there were setbacks, mainly financial, that left Dion being unable to participate in the WCOPA that time.

Undeterred by this, Dion persevered on and thus, he got to showcase his talent once again this year.

“Winning a gold medal and securing a RM3,000 scholarship, this time, have reaffirmed Dion’s dedication to his craft, and paved the way for his participation in WCOPA,” says Edina.

Also, Dion’s family is very encouraged in that this time, they have secured funding for WCOPA 2024 from the Ministry of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Sarawak amounting to RM58,000, and from Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, totalling RM30,000.

“All these should be able to cover Dion’s expenses during the WCOPA, including the participation fees and costs related to previews.

“We would also need to fly to Kuala Lumpur often, around four to five times starting April, for performance monitoring.

“The final preview will be attended by the people from MoTAC (federal Tourism Arts and Culture Ministry).

“That’s why we need the funding; for Dion and us, as his chaperones for the WCOPA,” says Edina.

Louis, Edina and Dion will be in the USA for about 12 days, arriving in Los Angeles this June 28 for registration.

“The competition runs from June 27 to July 6. It’s a tight schedule that include boot camps, preliminary rounds, division rounds, and the grand finale,” she adds.

Edina says handling all the arrangements has been very challenging for her and her husbands, as working parents.

On top of that, it is also a juggle between Dion’s preparations and his schooling at SK Green Road.

“It’s tricky, but we’ve got it all down. Dion focuses on school during the weekdays, and saves the dance events for weekends. It’s all about managing time effectively,” says Edina.

Dion receives a contribution from the National Consumer Action Council Sarawak Branch, presented by its chairman Wynson Ong, in support of Dion’s journey to WCOPA 2024.

Packed schedule

As the WCOPA 2024 date draws near, Dion’s excitement is becoming more and more palpable.

“I feel happy and nervous.

“I can’t wait to showcase my talent in the USA,” says the boy, who will be traveling to the USA with fellow members of the Malaysian contingent.

Apart from participating in the Junior Dance category, Dion will also be competing in Junior Modelling, being run from July 1 to 5 with the presentation of medals to take place on July 6.

Preparations for WCOPA 2024 are already underway with Dion undergoing scheduled training under the guidance of his parents and also teachers from Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak (SSeMS).

“For now, we train Dion every night. During the day, he attends school, and in the afternoon, he completes his homework and does some revision.

“Then, he rests before training commences,” says Louis.

“We recently found a choreographer to guide him. Hopefully, by April, Dion would have already begun intensive training for WCOPA 2024, where for the performance category, he would have only one minute to perform.

“Our goal is to refine his movements, which blend traditional and contemporary dance elements, in ensuring that Dion shines on the global stage as a proud representative of Sarawak and Malaysia,” adds Edina, while expressing gratitude to SSeM principal Reduan Taha for his support.

Dion has been active many performing arts’ competitions. This photo, taken in January this year, shows him and his father at the Popularisation of Arts Festival carried out in connection with the Malaysian Arts Academy’s Sarawak Tour 2024, where the boy earned the ‘Best Creative Performance Award’.

Full support

For Louis and Edina, they pledge never-ending love and support for whatever endeavours that Dion chooses to take in the future.

“Whether it is dance, pageantry, or any other artistic expression, we are out to support him every step of the way.

“As his parents, we’ll always be his motivators. We’ll support him in competitions to enhance his skills.

“We’ll also support him in modelling or pageants; he does seem interested in going into that direction.”

Apart from dance-performing, Dion also exhibits interest in modelling and pageant.

Dion, who aspires to become a firefighter, excels not only in dancing, but also in painting which he has shown in a number of children’s colouring competitions.

Amidst his preparations, Dion remains grounded.

He also manages to take time to cherish the lessons learned from his journey, while embracing cultural heritage.

“It’s crucial for the younger generation to embrace their roots and cultural heritage,” says Louis.

“Through Dion’s performances, we hope to inspire others to celebrate their identity and preserve our rich traditions.”

Adding on to this, Edina highlights the need to have the right platforms for talented children to showcase their skills at different levels.

Both the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should also play their respective roles in opening the opportunities for these children to join competitions or festivals, she says.

“Moreover, it is very important to foster children’s talents that go beyond academics.

“If any children show any potential or talent, it’s crucial to support them. We should encourage them not only academically but also socially, helping them grow and develop their self-confidence,” she emphasises.

As Sarawak’s ‘Little Bornean Birdie’ takes flight on the international stage, Dion carries with him the hopes and dreams of a nation, and with the support of his family, community and the nation behind him, the boy is all set to shine brightly.

Photo from Dion’s album shows him and other performers of the 2022 Sarawak International Festival of Music and Arts 2022, staged in Kuching.