Lions danced, dragons soared and drummers pounded to their own ethnic beat in the warm spring air as crowds gathered in a circle to watch on Thursday in Galloway Plaza at Pasadena City College (PCC).
PCC and the PCC Global Club hosted Chinese Culture Day on campus and invited the Developing Virtue Boys School’s Lion and Dragon Dance and 24 Seasons Drumming clubs to perform and teach workshops for the fourth year in a row.
The festivities for the annual Chinese Culture Day included a lion Dance, a dragon dance, 24 Seasons Drumming, a calligraphy lesson, healthy lifestyle, eating and meditation demonstrations and a workshop on learning the lion and dragon dances.
The two dances were fantastical and hinted at a bit of magic. The beautiful costume pieces are puppets and typically just called “lion heads” and “dragons.” Both are manned differently to bring these creatures to life.
The lion consisted of two performers, one for the head and another for the tail end, while the dragon requires nine performers.
The dances were eloquent and subtle with their movements. The lion itself slowly approached the audience through a type of bowing gesture and near the end of the piece the dancing became more enthusiastic. At moments the performer in the head will jump onto the shoulder of the tail-end performer to demonstrate the lion standing on it’s hind legs. This is a feat of great agility and core strength and the dancers were able to demonstrate it with ease and grace.
The dragon seemed to fly effortlessly through the sky in circles and fluid gestures and patterns, all while blowing a fireball forward in the air.
These dances, as well as the two featured animals, are iconic to Chinese culture and traditions and go back centuries.
“Lion dance and dragon dance are both very celebratory dances and are iconic and beloved products of Chinese Culture,” wrote Riley Fong, a senior at Developing Virtue Boys School, in an e-mail. “You will almost always see the lion dance at Chinese New Years celebration, while dragon dance is a bit more rare. You may see dragon dance at festivals where people want to call down rain, as dragons are ‘in charge’ of rain in the heavens.”
The drumming itself is a separate art form and a celebratory performance but it is performed in conjunction with the two dances by the school as the clubs travel and perform together as a unit. The drummers stacked the drums into a pyre and ended the number with three of the performers jumping up onto the drums and all finishing the piece on the single top drum and igniting confetti poppers from the top.
“Though drumming itself has obviously been around for centuries and has always been a large part of Chinese culture, the specific form of drumming that we perform—24 Seasons Drumming— is a relatively nascent form that was created in Malaysia around a decade ago,” Fong wrote.
This club featured 13 drummers and drums while a full team will have 24. Each drum represents one of the 24 Chinese farming seasons. The four main seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter, are each divided into six more.
The Developing Virtue Boys School is an all-boys boarding school in Ukiah, CA. It isn’t a large school but the students are dedicated and work hard to bring these performances to life with vigor.
“It’s very small and very intimate, and a large majority of the students are involved in these clubs. We rehearse, for all three clubs combined, about 5-6 hours a week,” Fong wrote.
While these art forms are not widely done professionally in the U.S., they are far more common in Southeast Asia.
The clubs that performed are not professional but performed on a professional level and with great decorum. They hope to spread these art forms across the Western world with the goal of sharing and teaching.
“Since we are both amateurs and a Buddhist school that is part of a Buddhist non-profit organization, we do not charge money for our performances,” Fong wrote. “Our goal is to bring Chinese culture as far as we can across the Western world, as many people have not been able to experience it the way we have.”