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Thank You, Taoist Tai Chi Society
“Alright girls! Time for another Lion Dance demo!” Sifu enthusiastically announced. We sighed, it’s just been a week since we took a break, that was almost a record. Almost. Now we had another gig to do. It’s time to click pause again to our life and devote entirely to lion dance.
“When is it? For what?” I flooded him with questions, wanting to know everything to the very last detail.
“It’s in about two months from now, May 18. Grand opening!” he informed.
“Grand Opening for what?” My sister, and partner in Lion Dance, Maggie asked.
“I don’t know,” he smiled in the way he always did. I remembered when I was younger, I always wondered how he would look like when he didn’t smile, and how it’s funny how he’s still grinning whenever he spars with a student. He’s a kind-hearted Sifu, and the best.
“Oh yeah and there can be only one lion and it’s going to be you girls!” he decided, still grinning. So it was up to just Maggie and me to honor our dance school. All the responsibility thrown at us without our own say. Being chosen to represent our school at a grand opening for a Tai Chi School that’s not ours.
That decision Sifu made results in me inside a car where all the seats are occupied, as David and Quincy play a variety of songs. I try to focus on the fast-talking rapper’s unhearable words instead of my wild heart thumping with a mixture of anticipation and fretting anxiety.
This is the performance to redeem yourself. We messed up bad at the wedding, so this is the time to prove yourself that we can succeed. I say to myself. Unless we mess up. My pessimistic side awakens. I shake it away. The car ride there was always fun, so I try to distract myself with it.
“You know what I should’ve done?” David asks, looking at us in the backseat through the rearview mirror. David was Sifu’s son, and he pretty much trains us for Lion Dance, but today he was playing the drums.
Ohran, another Lion Dance team member and cymbalist for today, asks, “What?”
“I should’ve wore our Tai Chi shirt and advertise our school!” he jokes, cracking us all up.
“They’ll probably be like ‘Get out!’,” Quincy points out, laughing still. Quincy was a college student at University of Michigan, and an old member at the Lion Dance team, as well as highest jumper in the school (or even world). Luckily for us, he came to visit and was willing to help out.
“Hey, we’re doing a Lion Dance demonstration for them! They should give us some credit,” Ohran points out. David’s joke still lingers in the air.
After fifteen minutes of raps and pop music with laughs on the side, we arrive.
“How do you pronounce that name?” Quincy asks, pointing at their sign: Taoist Tai Chi Society. We stare at it as cars pass by not bothering to let us through.
“Tow-ist?” David guesses, driving us in.
“It looks like toast!” Quincy exclaims.
“Here comes Toast Tai Chi School!” David laughs.
“Oh there’s food, where?” Quincy adds. We crack up laughing again. “I want toast!”
“We probably shouldn’t mention this to them,” Ohran suggest. We nod agreeing.
We drive behind the walls of stores, discovering a humongous parking lot, with a herd of cars huddled near an open area roped off. Inside the roped off area was a group of about eleven people synchronize while doing Tai Chi forms, and behind them was the school. It’s average size, and it is pretty cool looking with Tai Chi going on in front.
We file out, heading to the trunk to get our bags, as Sifu’s car (alongside our trailer) and my mom’s pull in nearby. We regroup, heading inside. We wait while Sifu goes inside to ask for someone in charge that was expecting us. He comes back with a lady with short light cherry hair.
“Hello! I’m Patty,” she says politely with kind eyes. She shakes hands with each of us before leading us inside. A lined group of people was awaiting beside the door. They smile at us.
Comments were said as we shook five hands as they stated their names and we said ours. That is nice. I like this place. I admit. I suddenly feel bad for being bad with names, I could hardly remember the names I heard just a second ago. I guiltily let it slip.
Inside, it was decently big, but not as big as our school, but still big. In the front of the room was an empty space, with dozens of chairs facing it attentively. Patty leads us past the lined chairs to a busy kitchen preparing the lunch afterwards. We quickly did our needs, from the forty-five minute car ride, then went out to get ready for the performance.
We were getting the instruments ready when David tells us his improvisations. “Okay remember, this lion dance is going to be freestyle, but I want you two to start communicating about where the stacks you are going to do will be at. Nicole, what is the second most important rule?” he looks at me expectantly.
“Don’t drop the lion, it’s worth more than your life. Don’t drop the money, it’s bad luck. When exiting the room, don’t show your back, that’s also bad luck.” I listed the important rules that was etched into my mind like a mindless robot, lessons learnt from each.
“Yes. So when you go inside to ‘spread good fortune’, come back inside and bow with your back okay? Do it slowly so Maggie can see also. Also the money will be hanging over there.” He points to a red beam with another stick sticking out on top before continuing his reminders for us. “Don’t drop it. Alright?” We nod, it was different from the things we’ve been practicing. I was nervous for that.
Maggie must’ve been nervous too, and it was probably glued onto our faces unconsciously because David started reassuring us. “You guys will do fine! You’ve been practicing remember? Just like the wedding, but no routine. You can redeem yourselves right?” Somehow the wedding part sparks something inside, because suddenly I wanted to do the performance right then. I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to show people what we can do.
Our last performance, a wedding at Michigan State, was a disappointment. Despite our practices, we messed up three times and the other lion at the time (Ohran and David) had all the glory, doing a flawless job. We were the understudies. Even though Sifu had said it was the best performance in the school's history (that was saying something) and we made the bride’s mom cry tears of joy, I couldn’t help but feel mad at myself. This was how we could redeem ourselves.
Maggie and I stood in front of the roped area, with it brushing our bellies, to study it for any potential stacking grounds.
“Right here?” I suggest, indicating near the entrance. “Just before we enter the building?
She nods. “Yeah, that’ll be good. Let’s do one more not counting when we eat.”
“Inside? Wait nevermind. The ceiling is too short.” Short ceilings limits our stacks, it was always a concern when doing stacks, which annoyed me, making me hate them.
“What about right here?” she pointed to a spot near the rope, right in front of a couple chairs.
“Yeah I think that’ll be fine. Front stance stack? I think that’ll look good.” Front stance stack is when I’m balancing on Maggie’s leg with one leg (hanging stance) while she does a front stance.
She shakes her head. “I think a horse stance stack would be better.” A horse stance stack was me on her leg as she holds a horse stance (a squat).
I ponder, not sure what to do or say. “How about we improvise? If we feel good, we’ll do a front stance, if we don’t: horse.” I suggest.
She nods, agreeing.
Before we knew it, it was time. We got the waiting golden lion from the trailer and brought it out, awaiting Patty’s cue. We carefully sit it down on the floor. Ohran, David, and Quincy gets to their positions while Sifu and Mom got behind their cameras as Maggie and I stand staggered with the lion between us. I try to busy my mind, to keep from being too nervous.
After finishing her speech about Taoist Tai Chi she announces, “Now a demonstration from Grand Rapids!”
That was our cue.
David hits the side of the drum as they applaud. Immediately we both put our hands out, beginning the salutation. I plead that I don’t look lame while doing the tornado kick.
We get under the silky traditional lion costume, me on head and Maggie being the tail. I seal the eyes closed from inside, making the lion asleep. I listen closely to the beating drums that resembles the beat of my heart, trying to match my movement with the music. It gets faster, I fidget the lion as if beginning to wake. Finally I open the eyes, batting it wildly, then shutting it back again. After repeating it once more, the lion “wakes” up.
I quickly itch, following the beginning routine, then bowed traditionally. Now it was freestyle. I happily walked towards the door, aiming to go inside. I stop two meters away, and gathered to do an horse stance stack. I hold my breath, hoping to make the stack, I felt a surge of pride as we succeeded. I leap down, heading to the door.
Just do a big walk around the room. You don’t have to spend much time there. David’s words echoing in my head. I follow his words, doing a fast big walk around the room while changing the level, something I needed to work on. I lift the head for the last section of the room, hitting something roughly with the Lion’s head. I wince inside, dreading the talk if David found out. I’m sorry, David.
I back out, shuffling backwards.
Once I was outside, I big walked again marching the perimeter of the roped area. By that time, I was more comfortable with this performance, careless about the concern of worry and nervous with the performance. I can do this.
I recklessly danced, hoping Maggie was able to read my footing, as I experimented, trying out new steppings. I barely remembered the stack we had agreed on. I lift the lion, trying to make out where we were through the golden strings of hair on the mouth. We were on the spot we had complied.
I turn back, to “itch”, a technique I use to talk to Maggie. “Maggie, horse or front?” I move less excitedly, to try to hear Maggie’s reply.
It took a little while before I do. “Horse,” she squeaks softly. I reply quickly back.
I bow down to make room, before lifting the lion to gather. Don’t drop the lion.
I rocket into the air, landing on Maggie in an horse stance. I agitatedly shake the lion to try to make it alive. This is all I could do, I thought in a lame irritated way wanting to do more, which quickly evaporated as the applause cheer us on. I smile under the lion, flattered.
I carefully jump down from Maggie’s legs, doing a couple shakes before promenading to the red beam with the lettuce food alongside a “lucky” red envelope with dollars inside. I switch my emotions from cheerful to curiously searching for the food. I lift the head side to side, as if to look past it. I eye it from all kinds of directions, approaching it with care and suspiciousness. My steps were cautious as if I was stepping gravel that would explode in any second if I made even a single wrong step. I try to make the lion be attentive to the food, like nothing else existed.
I back up to do our stack combo: jump kick, 1800, turn around, sniff, then head stack. I hold my breath, hoping this would accomplish it. We gather before doing a jump kick, I land on the gravel floor as if it was lava, then jumped straight up as Maggie turned us halfway around. I lost my footing when I land, but quickly recover, acting as if it never happened. I look back, eyeing the food like a monster. I cross step turn, reaching up to sniff it. Declaring it was safe, I straggle backwards, then gather. I pilot up into the sky, landing with control on Maggie’s head. I wrap my right leg around her torso, just under her armpit, with my left leg resting on her chest to make it lion-like.
Maggie walks up, right in front of the lettuce. I widen the lion’s mouth, chomping on the lettuce. I wasn’t looking forward to this part, it was my first time. Maggie has always done it. I struggled to grab it, with David’s rule sewed into my mind. Don’t drop this please.
I finally got the tie loose, but instead of landing on top of the mouth, it crashes down onto the ground. The red envelope was on top of the big piece of lettuce, with bits surrounding it. I quickly jump down, attempting to cover it. I wince. Sorry again, David.
I struggle to make the mouth contact the gravel cement, leaving no space in-between the floor and mouth so no one will see my hand reach out to grab the “food”. I grab it, bringing my hand inside. I sit down, to rip the lettuce, tucking away the envelope, while still blinking and shaking the lion.
After ripping the lettuce to decent pieces, I held them against my chest, before “spitting” them out towards the entrance to “wish them good fortune”. I look up with pride, then crossed up to do the ending routine.
And the performance was done. Applause flooding the area. We packed up, before going inside for a tai chi demonstration and speech. During the demo we received millions of compliments, we were even asked for pictures when we waited outside as they set the tables up for lunch.
“When you guys first came here, I thought the guys were doing it but when I saw you two girls appear from underneath it, we were impressed. All the girls here cheered. You were wonderful!” A kind lady had told us, her words still fresh in my mind.
There we were treated like celebrities, and it was an honorable experience. The compliments never stopped as we ate lunch, even the most authoritative person there, Tony, was suppose to sit at our table, but was too busy to. Nonetheless, it was one of the funnest performance we had.
The celebrity-like treatment never stopped, even when we had to leave. I left satisfied with our success, despite our flaws. I was proud. That was what counts.
Thank you Taoist Tai Chi Society at Kalamazoo/Portland, Michigan.
At this performance, I have learned a valuable lesson, and that was to be content. Have confidence and do your best and it will pay off. Don’t worry about messing up, because you tried and that’s what matters. Yes, I wanted the performance to be perfect, but I made mistakes despite that. I’m human and it’s not possible to be flawless, so all you can do for now is try to be meticulous, but still aware of it’s impossibility. Have confidence, try hard and give 100% because it will pay off. I made countless mistakes at this performance. Before watching a recording of it, I thought we did well based off of the praises we received, but I saw all of my mistakes, that didn’t matter though, because next time I’ll just try harder. And next time I did, with their comments glued in my head, and it was the “Best Lion Dance performance in school history,” as said by Sifu, beating our other wedding. They helped me achieve that, and I really appreciated it. I can cross “be treated like a celebrity” off my bucket list, because in that performance, I might as well be.