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Kids & parents mesmerized by Lunar New Year at Woodstock Library

by: MERRY MACKINNON - Members of the local Northwest Dragon and Lion Dance Association performed a lion dance at the Woodstock Branch Library on February 10th to welcome in the Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year. The same troupe also performed a Chinese dragon dance at President Obamas 2013 inaugural parade.Their flight arrived late and their luggage got lost, but members of the Northwest Dragon and Lion Dance Association made it to the nation’s capitol in time to perform a Chinese dragon dance at President Obama's January 21, 2013, inaugural parade.

“Bad things happened,” reflected dancer Clarisa Chow. “But the inauguration was a great experience.”

The dragon at the inauguration measured eighty feet in length. It took a team of ten dancers maneuvering poles to hold it up, and to create the dragon’s winding movement.

“The dragon was so big,” reported Woodstock Library Assistant Amber Houston, "That it stretched to the whole street."

Now back home in Portland, Chow and other members of the dance troupe were at the Woodstock Branch Library on Sunday, February 10th, to perform a lion dance to welcome in the Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Signifying wisdom and power, dragons are an important part of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. But their long frames need more space than there is in the Woodstock Library. Lion costumes are smaller, and don’t require many people to manipulate them – only two dancers are needed per creature.

At this year’s celebration at Woodstock Library three such lions, festooned with faux fur and sequins, gyrated and butted heads in front of the standing-room only crowd, to the sounds of drum rolls and clangs.

Toward the end of the performance, the lions batted around a head of iceberg lettuce, which was eventually shredded and tossed in bits toward the crowd – a gesture symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.

Librarian Houston, who was born in China, helped organize the Woodstock Library New Year event, and invited the participation of the Northwest Dragon and Lion Dance Association, which is a martial arts program of the Wisdom Arts Academy. That is based in the Foster-Powell neighborhood at 7411 S.E. Powell Boulevard, where Houston also takes classes.

“Wisdom Arts Academy is very local,” observed Houston. “That's one reason why I like them.”

Along with dragon and lion dances, the academy offers instruction in Chinese culture through music, martial arts, calligraphy, and other arts classes. Also performing at the Woodstock Library on February 10th was the academy’s “Orchids and Bamboo Children's Ensemble”, which played traditional Chinese music on instruments whose use dates back 2,000 years.

One song played by the ensemble was “Dance of the Golden Snake”, selected, explained the teacher, because this is the year of the snake. Because of that, at the library celebration, Chinese Calligrapher Jean Choy also provided instruction in Chinese snake crafts.

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