From left, Jennifer Bui, Joshua “Panda” Lee and Jayleen Castaneda play live, traditional Chinese music during the lion dance.
CLEARWATER – Students at Clearwater High School got a taste of China on Feb. 7, as the school’s Chinese Club in conjunction with the USF Confucius Institute and Mt. Song Martial Arts Academy of Tampa hosted a Chinese New Years celebration.
Students giggled and smiled at the colorful lion dance with live drumming, and were wowed by a Kung Fu and Chinese yo-yo presentation.
Yao Tsai, the school’s Chinese teacher, founded the Chinese Club about five years ago, and each year have celebrated Chinese New Year. This year was by far the biggest year yet, he said.
“The Chinese culture, everybody hears about it, but a lot of people don’t experience it,” Tsai said. “So I’m trying to bring more awareness of learning Chinese classes and learning the culture and hopefully some kids will be interested in it, and in the future hopefully they will take the class as well. And then it can help them in the future in the business world or any subject.”
In China, people celebrate its New Years holiday for 15 days, Tsai said. There are lots of celebrations, decorations, food and entertainment. Traditionally, each type of food has a symbolic meaning, such as prosperity or luck, he said. Other traditions include dragon dances and lion dances. It takes many people to man a dragon dance costume, so those are most often seen just in parades and other large celebrations like that, Tsai said. However, it only takes two people to fill out a lion dance costume, so it is much more common for businesses to invite lion dancers to perform at their businesses, as it is supposed to bring in good luck for the new year, he said.
At the Clearwater High event, Mt. Song Martial Arts academy provided the lion dancers, who
performed an entertaining, comical and athletic dance. One person acts as and controls the lion’s head, and another person is the lion’s tail end, which included lifting the head performer into the air for acrobatic stunts. Midway through the performance, which was done to live music, the lion dancers came down off the stage and danced its way into the audience, where students petted the lion and scratched under its chin, as the lion wiggled its tail and interacted with the students.
Next came a Kung Fu demonstration, which included people from kids to adults, students to teachers.
Joshua Lee, 24, of Tampa is a coach, or lao shi at Mt. Song Martial Arts Academy. He both participated in the Kung Fu demonstration and also was the drummer for the lion dance. He has been doing Kung Fu since he was just 5 years old.
“We’re a traditional martial arts school, and traditionally in the Chinese culture, the lion dance is very prevalent for Chinese New Years and is traditionally only done by Kung Fu students,” Lee said.
The USF Confucius Institute helped connect the academy with the high school for the New Years event, Lee said. The academy practices traditional Shaolin Kung Fu, which is practiced by Buddhist monks as self-defense and meditation, Lee said. Many at the academy have even trained at temple in China, he said.
“Once you get into it, it develops into something you become really passionate about and it becomes a part of you,” Lee said.
Lee said he was glad that the academy had the opportunity to participate in Clearwater High’s event.
“I like performing, and it’s great fun to be able to show everyone something different,” Lee said. “Particularly when we come to schools like this, we like to bring our younger students with us to show people you aren’t born doing this. You can be anyone. You can be a high school student, you can be a lawyer, a firefighter. You can learn and pick up on this. You don’t drink special water – it’s just through hard work. That’s what Kung Fu is. It’s discipline and hard work.”
Lee hoped that the audience walked away with a feeling of wonder and an appreciation of another culture and its traditions.
Carolina Aguirre, 18, of Clearwater is a senior at Clearwater High and the historian of the Chinese Club. She also served as moderator at the Chinese New Years event. She has been in the club her freshman, sophomore and senior years and has enjoyed learning about the culture as well as making new friends through the club. The club has workshops, learns Chinese songs, does origami and watches movies about the culture, she said. Aguirre said she thinks it’s important that people continue to learn about different cultures.
“It’s very important,” Aguirre said. “I’m from Argentina, so I know how different things can be out of the U.S. So it’s good to expand your knowledge and reach out to the different cultures that are out there. It helps to keep the mind open.”
Kimberly Olguin, 17, of Clearwater is also a senior at Clearwater High and is president of the club. She has been part of Chinese Club since she was a freshman and has also taken Chinese class.
“I wanted to choose something different (to study,) not ordinary, and I don’t really see this anywhere else,” Olguin said.
She hopes to be able to travel to China one day and plans on going into either business or the medical field and would like to go to China for her job, so her experience in the club has been valuable, she said.
The USF Confucius Institute has a number of upcoming events, including tea tastings and numerous lectures. For full details, visit www.