Chinese New Year comes in like a lion at Pa. campus

January 23, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MONT ALTO, Pa. - The legend of the lion, a story that goes back thousands of years in Chinese folklore, was performed by a six-member troupe of martial arts dancers Thursday to ring in Penn State Mont Alto's celebration of the Chinese New Year.

The legend was interpreted by six members of the Tai Yim Kung Fu lion dancing team from Kensington, Md. Their audience included about 100 students and guests who sat in the school's Millstream Cafe eating Chinese food.

The dinner and performance were part of the celebration sponsored by the school's Asian Student Association, said Sandy Nguyen, 19, a sophomore and president of the association. The 19-member group was organized last year.


"We're trying to bring more culture to our programs and celebrate more holidays that represent our student population," said Amy Cotner-Klingler, associate director of student affairs on the campus.

James Whitley, 23, of Kensington, spokesman for the dance team, said it performs professionally.

"We do parades and business promotions. Last week we were at the MCI Center for a (Washington) Wizards (basketball) game and this morning we were on Channel 5 news," he said.

The legend of the lion, which the dance interprets, tells of a village that is visited by a fierce lion every Chinese New Year to terrorize its inhabitants. The people prayed and the gods told them to get out of the village the next time the lion came and leave a certain vegetable for it to eat.

The lion ate the vegetable and got sick. The villages returned and scared the lion back to its mountain by banging pots and pans, Whitley said. It returned the next Chinese New Year, befriended the people and protected them from then on, the legend said.

The lion dance symbolizes good luck and driving away bad spirits, Whitley said. Its props are the lion costume - a paper mach head with eyes that light up, ears that wiggle and a 12-foot train. Two dancers get under it, one at the head and one under the train.

A drum and cymbals, representing the pots and pans, pound out the rhythm that the dancers move to in perfect time. The sound reverberated off the concrete walls of the cafe in an ear-piercing pulse.

The dancers careened under the costume, climbing on tables and each other, and pranced among the seated audience. Mostly the people sat and stared at the wild movements of the dancers.

Whitely explained the historic lack of lions in China, saying that ancient Chinese people learned of the animals in travels to Africa. The lion used in the dance is a "composite animal," he said.

"It has the eyes of a fish, the horn of a unicorn and features of other big cats."

Several families brought their adopted Chinese children to see the event.

George and Lois Manfull of Hedgesville, W.Va., took their two adopted Chinese girls, Maddasyn, 9, and Hailley, 5.

"We always celebrate the Chinese New Year with them, always something different," George Manfull said.

"Last year we took them to Chinatown in D.C." his wife said.

The couple adopted Maddasyn - or Huiying, as she is known in Chinese - when she was about 18 months old and Hailley, or Coa Hong Pin, when she was 8 months old.

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