Although the Year of the Monkey begins on Feb. 8 this year, Northside Library welcomed in the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 23 with daylong festivities. About 2,800 people came and participated in events, from watching lion dancers soar sky high, to enjoying beats from the ShanXi Drummers, to sampling pieces of thousand-year old eggs.
“This Lunar New Year program gives you an idea of the arts and humanities in Chinese culture,” says Cheryl Lee, Northside Library’s branch manager and program coordinator.
The festivities began with the roaring drumbeats from the Buu Kim Tu Dragon & Lion Dance Association that announced the lion dancers, feisty in their sparkling, bright costumes. Next, Mr. Goofball, also known as Mike Toy, performed magic tricks and told silly jokes. In the late morning, graceful waves of silk glided through the air as a ribbon dancer and a long sleeve dancer performed.
“When silk was invented by the Chinese about 3,000 years ago, it was considered the most precious and expensive fabric of the time,” says Ann Woo, executive director of Chinese Performing Arts of America. “The royal family and upper class in China wore silk clothing with long sleeves to show their status, that they didn’t have to work. So that’s why we have the long sleeve dance. From that dance came the longer silk ribbon court dance. Back then, only royalty could afford this kind of clothing and entertainment.”
A qi gong demonstration came with air jumps and a long stick used as a weapon.
“Qi gong is about accumulating your energy and flow to protect your body,” Woo adds. “Qi gong, part of kung fu, has a focus on meditation.”
Shortly after noon, Wayne Huey from Red Panda Acrobats treated audiences to the artful balancing of blocks and household items on his face and lips, daring handstands on elevated surfaces, unconventional juggling and a tight escape through a narrow barrel.
“I’ve been a professional acrobat since 1991 and I turn 53 years-old this year,” Huey says. “Chinese acrobatics typically uses everyday household items, like bowls, barrels, cups and plates. You also share the cultural flavor with props, costumes and music.”
In the mid-afternoon, the library offered small tastings of what is considered exotic Chinese food to Westerners. These edibles, ingested with both smiles and cringes, included haw flakes (hawthorn), lotus seed candy, watermelon seeds, dried and preserved plums, and pieces of thousand year old eggs. The children favored the haw flakes, small round discs that taste like strawberries.
Before panelists from the audience took bites of thousand-year old eggs, a short video reassured them that in spite of its name, these eggs are stored only for a few months, at most. Reviewers judged the preserved egg to be “nasty” and “yucky.”
Alyssa Brown, 8, reflected on the various presentations she attended.
“I really liked the dancing because the [ribbon and long sleeve] dancers showed different kinds of dance and their costumes were really colorful and sparkly,” she says.