Lion Dance - A Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year

By Yueying Sarah Wang 25

Cymbals crashing! The familiar sound of drums beating in rhythm! During Language and Culture Celebration Week, Chinese language students participated in the Chinese Lunar New Year chapel performance. The performances included singing, presentations, instrumental performances and lion dancing, which I had the opportunity to participate in.

The lion dance is a Chinese folk dance that is performed by two people, who operate the head and tail respectively. The lion is seen as a symbol of luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, and the dance is performed to bring good fortune to the community. Led by Dr. Jiang and Zhao Laoshi, our performances were planned weeks in advance, and we practiced our songs for five to 10 minutes every class. We found it fun and lighthearted, and were rewarded with Chinese snacks at the end of every practice.

Though I found singing fun, I was most excited about lion dancing, having volunteered for it. Growing up in Hong Kong with a family from Mainland China as a child, I was entranced by lion dancing in the streets, propped up on my dad’s shoulders. Now as a teenager, I wanted to be the one in the costume. I was surprised that my teammates shared my enthusiasm and interest, despite many being non-Chinese. We discussed possible moves and routines, watched tutorials on the internet and practiced both in class and after dinner two days before the performance.

On the day of our performance, we enjoyed the other performances while waiting for our turn, watching a violin performance along with singing and presentations by Chinese Culture Club leaders. The atmosphere however, changed when it got to our performance. Not even three steps into the chapel, the teachers at the front door had already pulled their phones, visibly excited. Heads turned to watch us make our way down the aisle. Hands reached out to touch the costume while people looked into the blinking eyes of a lifelike, twitching lion head playfully snapping its mouth. In that moment, I remembered that my teacher once said a performance was an exchange of energy; that to feel truly rewarded, you would have to give the audience your all. For the first time, I understood those words with complete clarity. When we took off our costumes and bowed amidst applause, I knew we had made a memorable chapel.

From our first awkward steps to a full-fledged performance (though still partly improvised), I am both happy and proud to be able to contribute to the Peddie community by showcasing my culture. Had I told my freshman self that I was to lion dance for my first chapel performance, I would have found it hard to believe. I felt little need to stand out in front of the community, nor go the extra mile to represent my own culture for the fear of being “too much”. Instead, I now find myself thinking of next year’s lion dance — what stunts to learn, how to outdo the previous performance — the different ways to create something truly special. I am so grateful to Dr. Jiang not only to have had this opportunity to give back to the Peddie community, but also for a more personal reason. As I look back at the dance, I am once again brought back to the scene of booming drums, crashing cymbals and a wide-eyed child across the world, lifted above a once-again familiar crowd.

lion dance during language and culture chapel