Dancers have lion’s share of good luck

Jaclyn Wong is among the lion dance performers at Traditional Kung Fu Training Centre who are preparing for a busy Chinese New Year.  - Matthew Hoekstra
Jaclyn Wong is among the lion dance performers at Traditional Kung Fu Training Centre who are preparing for a busy Chinese New Year.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

Inside a nondescript building in an East Richmond warehouse district, 12 vibrant symbols of Chinese New Year quietly wait on their mezzanine perches.

Below, lion dance specialists tune their technique ahead of the important Chinese holiday they’ll help ring in.

“We love it,” said Jaclyn Wong, looking to her teammates Monday night during practice at the Traditional Kung Fu Training Centre. “Well, some of us love it more than others. I love it because I don’t have to lift anyone.”

The lion dancers will soon fan out across Metro Vancouver to help usher in the Year of the Horse—which begins Jan. 31—by performing the traditional cultural dance at numerous venues.

“It’s a symbol of good luck,” said Wong, 24. “It’s really a way to get the community together.”

Wong is the daughter of Jack Wong, who in 1980 co-founded the Traditional Kung Fu Training Centre, which specializes in the Chinese martial art, along with tai chi and lion dance. The elder Wong, now a coach, learned the art in his native land; black-and-white photographs of his own teachers rest in frames inside the centre. His daughter started donning the distinctive 14-kilogram papier-mâché lion head nearly 10 years ago.

“Learning kung fu is just like hockey in Canada,” he said. “You just do it. All kids, especially boys.”

The lion dance is a long tradition—said to be a thousand years old—and different styles exist. Two athletic dancers bring the lion to life, and performances are set to the percussion sounds of a drum, symbols and gong.

Acrobatics are key to the performance, as is strength. The rear dancer—the tail—requires power to hoist his dance partner at the head throughout the performance. The dance mimics a lion’s movements, and is different than the Chinese dragon dance, which involves a larger team of dancers who create movement with poles.

The origin of the lion dance is of legend. One suggests the art originates with an emperor who, in a dream, was saved by a mysterious creature that resembled a lion. The animal subsequently became a symbol of good luck throughout China.

That symbolism carries through to the lion dance. It’s believed to bring good luck, fortune and drive away evil spirits. It’s also loud, rowdy and known to turn heads.

Said Jaclyn Wong: “We have all our percussions and music, and when it comes to the lion you just can’t help but stop and stare because of all the colours and the intricate footwork.”

•Aberdeen Centre announced Monday it will again host a countdown night to Chinese New Year. This year’s event runs from 9 p.m. to 12:10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 30. The mall will remain open until 12:30 a.m.

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