The Reason Why

January 20, 2010
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Pulling into the spacious parking lot of Mekong , a Vietnamese styled mini-mall, units of red and yellow poured from the vehicles. A small army positioned itself in the shade of a nearby building. As they unloaded equipment, a veteran barked orders to two young boys to carry their unit’s ultimate weapon. As I turned around, a crowd had seemingly materialized at the mouth of Mekong, defending its bricks walls. I glanced and nodded to my partner as the army approached the crowd and we got into position. I heard the signal and instantly, the sleepy morning atmosphere was pierced by cheering and the sound of the drum. We are the lion dance team.

Whether the community calls us the lion, dragon, or more precise, kylin team , our function is still the same: to perform for and celebrate Chinese New Years with the community. The traditional and distinguishable red and yellow symbolize good luck and health and are represented by the lion itself. It consists of a two person machine, which is the head and tail. Since I’m a starting tail, I’m enabled to memorize the crowd in the beginning by wagging and shaking in a more or less squatting position. In order to create realism for the audience, both the head and tail must synchronize their movements. Children are usually afraid of the large eyes and flapping mouth of the head, but they scream in delight when they meet the other end of the lion. Every February, the team travels to dozens of locations throughout Maricopa County. We are always called to dance and bring the celebration for supermarkets, restaurants, and assorted stores. Each performance is based on the size of the store and the routine chosen by the coordinators.

One of the best annual performances occurs at Leelees, an enormous supermarket about twice the size of your local Fry’s or Safeway. Performances easily last over an hour at Leelees and it exhausts the entire team. Due to the routine, I was the second team, the switch out for the starters, and I saw the signal to relieve the starters. I rushed under the bright crimson underside of the tail cover of the yellow lion and within moments, kids squealed with laughter and tapped the tail as I passed them. Several minutes later, I felt my legs tighten and my wrists becoming sore from the mere intensity of dancing through the aisles and navigating towards the shoppers and smiling speculators. My body felt like dough that has been pounded too hard and too much. My energy was depleting as beads of sweat accumulated on my brow. My partner was taking smaller strides and steps as we rounded another aisle. We were crashing and we weren’t due a switch out until we were finished with this aisle. We were no longer the two person machine running at full capacity; we were real panting animals. I forced a deep breath of hot air into my lungs under the tail sheet and pushed on as I heard the red lion behind me. The third team quickly hopped in and I stood there panting with my hands on my knees. Sweat glistened over my face and the best thing to do in the world was to sit down, but I knew my partner and I were due back in the yellow lion when we reached the other side of Leelees. Kids ran past thanking me and commenting on how they liked me being a tail. Upon recognizing me as the previous tail, parents patted me on the back. I smiled and ran to catch up with the lions. This is why I lion danced. It was for the adults, kids, and community to enjoy the celebration of Chinese New Year coming to them.





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