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Lunar New Year: Young lion dancers connect to family roots in Richmond

Lion dancing connects family members of different generations despite language barriers

Seven-year-old Ryle is like other kids of his age, going to school during the day and hanging out after.

But every Monday evening and Sunday morning, Ryle’s parents drive him to a gym near the Olympic Oval to learn something most of his friends probably don’t know – lion dancing.

“My grandpa used to do lion dancing when I was little,” said Ryle.

Watching his grandfather perform, and other lion dancers on TV, Ryle asked his parents if he could learn about it.

Having practised lion dancing for nearly a year, he is one of the youngest members of the Richmond-based Vancouver Chinese Lion and Dragon Dance Team and has performed in multiple events.

“They give you good luck... When I don’t go to classes, I practise it at home,” said Ryle.

When asked which part of lion dancing he enjoys the most, Ryle said, “all of it.”

Lion dancing is a traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries, in which performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume.

It is believed that lion dancing can bring good luck and fortune, and it is usually performed during the Lunar New Year and other cultural festivals, as well as business openings.

Darren Yip, a 15-year-old performer on the team, said he got into lion dancing to be closer to his family members who moved to Canada from China a few decades ago.

“I was just trying to connect to my culture a lot more and connect with my grandparents, and then also find a really great hobby,” said Yip.

Yip said his grandparents have come to a lot of his shows and he can see real joy on their faces.

“They really enjoyed seeing me do something that they know since I don't speak Chinese,” said Yip.

“For my grandparents, it means keeping the culture alive and showing the roots, something they were familiar with when they were back in China.”

Over the past four years, Yip has practised lion dancing in class three times a week and is the second lead for the junior team, helping coach the younger performers.

“I have really enjoyed doing it,” he said.

“Number one, it’s good exercise. Number two. It's really nice doing something with a lot of kids of any age, race or anything. We all do it together like family."

Behind every performance, there is a lot of hard work from lion dance performers, said Eugenia Chau, coach of the Vancouver Chinese Lion and Dragon Dance Team.

“The adult's lion head costume alone weighs eight to nine pounds and performers carry it throughout the 10-12 minute show. And the person who plays the tail needs to bend the whole time,” she said.

“It puts a lot of requirements on their strength, coordination and techniques.”

There are about 30 members on the team aged from seven to 60 – some have been with the team for 20 years.

“We have lots of Asian families, but we do have non-Asians that want to learn about Chinese culture as well,” said Chau.

Chau said lion dancing has evolved over the past decades.

For example, there are LED-lit lion costumes and they weigh almost double what regular costumes weigh. And a larger variety of colours for the costumes are seen at lion dancing performances such as "macaron colours” from French dessert macarons, which are trending in some Asian countries.

“But organizations and businesses in B.C. like to stick to the traditional style,” said Chau.

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