Dragon Dance. Roaring in the Lunar New Year.
By Khoi Truong.
Photographs and video by Agnieszka Pajor.
When I was younger, I looked forward to the Lunar New Year celebrations. My family got together every year to celebrate; it gave us an opportunity to eat a metric tonne of food and catch up with each other. The adults dined at their adults table, and the kids dined everywhere else; it was perfect. We also got these little red envelopes from the adults with money; the Vietnamese kid’s equivalent of a Christmas bonus, but in February.
During Lunar New Year time I also had a chance to check out the Chinatown parades and street performances; mainly the dances. Back then I lumped all the dances into some variation of a dragon dance (I was wrong). There was the big blinky one with the flappity mouths (properly known as the Lion Dance), the long flowy one with no blinky eyes and flappity mouths (properly known as the Dragon Dance). Both performances brought to life by a group of really athletic people adorned in bright yellows and reds.
he younger version of me took it all for granted. The parades and the performances were just activities in which other, more skilled, people took part. It was not until I became acquainted with the Chinese Canadian Association of Yukon (CCAY) that I really gained an appreciation for the amount of effort, practice, and teamwork that it took to perform those dances.
The CCAY has been around since 2012. Not long after inception, the association hosted its first Lunar New Year celebration, and brought with it the Lion Dance performance in all of its blinky eyes and flappity mouth glory. The next year they brought in the Dragon Dance, and they would alternate between the two performances every subsequent year. At first having to use a shorter dragon due to venue limitations, they were eventually able to expand to a larger sized dragon. All in all, the dance performances have been a big hit, according to Alfred Au, president of CCAY.
I originally was invited to participate during a barbecue in the summer of 2017. A friend of a friend had asked me if I would be interested in being part of the dragon dance. For me the answer was extremely simple: yes. All of my life I had believed that these dances were performed by more qualified and, let us be honest, more coordinated people. Here was an opportunity for me to be a part of something that, until then, I never viewed as an option. Additionally, the opportunity to dress up in brightly coloured garments and do something that terrified me was too attractive of an opportunity to pass up. The first performance that I was a part of was the Lion Dance and that performance was equal parts terrifying, and challenging; not unlike holding an as possible; this is to ensure the dragon wards off as much of the negative energy oversized baby stroller over your head and making it move like a wild animal while your partner pretends to be your hind legs. We all had fun, and part what I enjoyed about the experience was the feeling of comradery that was built amongst the dancers. I was also humbled by my glimpse into the Chinese community in Whitehorse. A community with which the other dancers, as well as our dance choreographer /be -everywhere-at-the-same-time extraordinaire Alfred Au, seem to be heavily involved.
Chinese ethnicity and events like the Lunar New Year celebration give the Chinese community something special ofwhich they can be a part of Performances like the Dragon Dance bring in a sense of familiar tradition and wards off negative energy. Each performance sees the dragon taking up as much space as possible; this is to ensure the dragon wards off as much of the negative energy as possible. So there I was, February 2019, getting ready to start my second year of animal performances with the CCAY. When I arrived and was reunited with my dancing comrades from years prior. We caught up with, joked around a little bit, helped Alfred put up the central sign, and then we did a brief rehearsal. The instructions for the Dragon Dance were clear: do what the person in front of you did, but just with a slight delay.
With everyone following the person in front of them, the Dragon would flow to life in all of its colourful negative energy warding glory. We ran through our path for the dance once or twice and then we were ready to perform. Alfred made sure to run off and continue to be everywhere at once until the time of the performance. In the in-between time, I got to see a glimpse of the Chinese community get together as a varying array of volunteers, performers, and supporters. Cooking food, setting up, rehearsing, socializing, giving Chinese language lessons to me, the whole nine yards. There is a sizeable community up here that is in some ways connected to other Chinese communities around Canada; outside of events like these I tend to forget how big and connected it really is. According to Alfred, tickets sell out very quickly for the Lunar New Year event every year.
It was not long before it was time for us all to adorn ourselves in bright yellows and reds and bring our funky positivity dragon to life. If I am to be honest, the dance was a bit awkward for me; I had a bit of a hard time following the person in front of me. That did not really bother me however as we snaked through the crowd with Dragon finess; warding off as crowd with Dragon finess; warding off as much negative energy as we could. After a few dips, rises, twirls, and near misses with some of the guests, we ended the dance with a pose on stage.
I enjoy doing these performances. Board member, plucky socialite, and fellow dancer Jacky mentions the comradery, the team-building, and the spectacle as being highlights of the dance and I have to agree with him. I would also add that along with the spectacle, there is also a large novelty factor with being a part of something that I never imagined that I would be a part of; a part of something that I assumed would be more for more athletic and, let us be honest, more coordinated people. I would do it again and I probably will. Look for me during the Canada Day parade, I will probably be the tall one with the long hair, warding off bad energy in colourful style.