Dancing with dragons: year of the ram festival

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By Brendan Luke

Contributing Writer

 

 

 

Dragons performing at a previous Crow Collection Chinese New Year celebration. -Photo courtesy of crowcollection.org
Dragons performing at a previous Crow Collection Chinese New Year celebration.
-Photo courtesy of crowcollection.org

One of the most important Chinese holidays, Chinese New Year, is celebrated by Chinese all over the world. Over the past four years, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has experienced an influx of over 10,000 Chinese people, a population increase of almost 20 percent from 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau. Incidentally, the holiday coincides with Vietnamese and Korean New Year celebrations, both of which are also well represented ethnicities in the Dallas area.

Like Easter, the exact date is determined on a yearly basis by relating the seasonal position of the sun to a phase of the moon. This year, Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, Feb. 19.

The Chinese Zodiac, which cycles through 12 different animals, falls this year on the ram, alternatively known as the sheep or the goat. Each animal is associated with astrological forecasts that are used to predict the outlook for the year, and the character traits of people born in that year. Whatever the predictions, one thing is certain wherever Chinese culture is found: a massive, animal-themed festival. Such festivals are held in cities all over the world — and Dallas is no different.

The Crow Collection of Asian Art in the Dallas Arts District is hosting its annual Chinese New Year Celebration next Saturday, Feb. 21. The ram-themed extravaganza features food trucks with Taiwanese, Indian, Vietnamese and, of course, Chinese food. Booths include opportunities for making sheep headbands, face painting and traditional paper lanterns. Attendees can also paint their own “hong baos.” Literally translated as “red envelope,” these paper packets symbolize life, prosperity and a spirit of generosity.

But all these will be overshadowed by the featured performances of traditional Chinese artists. The lion and dragon dances, a fundamental aspect of every Chinese New Year festival, feature highly skilled dancers inside vividly-colored and spectacular beasts. They sway and rock to the beat of drums, massive eyelids fluttering and furred mouths agape. The beasts are meant to evoke the “Nian,” a lion-like creature from Chinese mythology that is said to have terrorized the villages of China every year. Fortunately, the “Nian” is frightened by loud noises, fire and the color red.

“Our annual Chinese New Year Celebration has grown into one of the most popular and biggest events at the Crow Collection since we opened 16 years ago,” Crow Collection executive director Amy Hofland said in a recent media release. “We were thrilled with last year’s incredible attendance and are expecting over 13,000 guests to join us this year.”

In addition, the Jiaping Dance School, then the Jasmines Chinese Dance Troupe will perform Chinese classical and folk dance. They will be followed by a performance by the Chinese magician Ben Tsao.

Senior Timothy Nguyen expressed excitement for the upcoming festival, adding that he would enjoy it more if he were with his family. Nguyen said that the Lunar New Year, for his family, is an opportunity to enjoy a traditional Vietnamese meal, typically involving eggrolls, vermicelli noodles and the red money-containing envelopes particular to the occasion.

“[We] spend time, as a family, just eating and having a nice dinner,” he said.

Junior Aaron Kim celebrates his Korean heritage on the Lunar New Year with his family by venerating the Kim ancestors, giving thanks for their presence in their lives and offering a gift of food and prayer to the family’s angelic guardian. Fish cakes, rice and rice cakes, noodles seaweed soup, and traditional Korean cookies and desserts are served — a quintessentially Korean meal. Like Nguyen, Kim expressed a deep appreciation for the closeness the new year fosters in the Kim household and the presence of his ancestors he and his family feel during their celebrations. Kim was unable to attend the Crow’s New Year festival last year but expressed his enthusiasm for this year’s festival with true Southern California flair, using words like “dope,” “sick” and “gnarly.”

Nguyen discussed the meaning of the celebration.

“Being prosperous and happy and healthy is the main thing about the Lunar New Year. What people should really get from our tradition [is that] it’s not just about flair and money, it’s about health and happiness.”

With that in mind, consider ringing in the New Year at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, located just off the Pearl/Arts District DART station (Orange Line), on Feb. 21, 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. To close the night, the Dallas Asian American Youth Orchestra will perform a unique blend of classical Western and Eastern Asian pieces, and a firework show finale, to frighten away the mythic “Nian.” Don’t forget to wear red — definitely don’t wear white — and “Kung Hei Fat Choi!”

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