Happy New Year: Chinese new year that is

Feb. 01, 2014 @ 04:03 PM

People gathered, clapped and cheered and snapped pictures as they watched the Chinese New Year celebration at Grand Asia Market Friday in Stallings.

The celebration consisted of a traditional lion dance performed by members of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy.

Friday’s performance began around 5 p.m. Additional performances were planned for Saturday and Sunday as well at the business. Today’s performance is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.

“Culture and food are so tied together and it’s also a chance to show how the Chinese New Year is celebrated,” Alice Chang, an owner of Grand Asia Market, said in reference to Friday’s performance.

Having a lion dance performed at your business is a tradition during the Chinese New Year. In addition to celebrating that tradition, having the dance performed at Grand Asia Market on the Chinese New Year and throughout the weekend, allows the community to attend and learn a little more about the culture in addition to being able to shop for and dine on the large selection of products offered at the business, Chang said.

The Chinese New Year is a big deal and similar to how a lot of people will come home for Christmas, many people return home to celebrate the Chinese New Year, she said.

The group of spectators who gathered in front of Grand Asia Market Friday got the chance to view three large colorful lions and a smaller lion operated by Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy members. The lions danced in front of the building before eventually entering it and prancing around the different aisles and parts of the store as Rick Panico, owner of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, banged on a drum.

“The first thing they do is eat the greens,” Panico said as he described the purpose of the lion dance.

He referred to when the dance started and greens (vegetable leaves) were hung from strings in front of the business’ doors.

The lions will bow three times to the doors and eat the greens. They then throw up the greens in front of the business. The lion dance functions as a blessing and a way to bring good luck and fortune to the business. Throwing the greens up at the business’ doors is part of this. There’s a lot of rituals behind different parts of the lion dance, which have to be performed properly in order for the business to be blessed. For instance, the lions danced around the inside of the Grand Asia Market as a way to bless the different parts of the store and when they left, they walked backwards out of the business instead of head first because it would be considered an insult for the lions to turn their backs to the business, Panico said.

“It went good, it went very well, the store should be very blessed,” Panico said after the dance.

His Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy is in Mooresville and consists of people of all ages and men and women. The youngest members of the academy are around 5 years old. Many different academy members participated in the lion dance Friday and had practiced hard to perfect it, he said.

“It takes practice, it’s not just putting on a head and running around,” Dan Starrette, a member of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, said.

He has been with the academy five years and has participated in the lion dance ever since. The lion’s head weighs about 15 pounds and it requires a lot of strength and skill to operate. They also have to make sure they know the appropriate rituals behind each of the lion’s moves in order to perform them correctly, Starrette said.

He thinks Friday’s performance went really well, he said.

Cheryl Greer, another student of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, has performed in lion dances and has been a part of the academy about nine years.

The skills you learn at a kung fu academy such as the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, are helpful when it comes to performing the dance and being able to operate and control the lion’s head, Greer said.

“It’s really difficult, it takes a lot of upper body strength and balance,” she said.

People from local areas and some who were just visiting the area traveled to Stallings Friday to see the lion dance.

“This is good, very good for the kids,” Pam Mat, who attended Friday’s performance, said.

Many people brought their children and families to the event and could be seen taking pictures with the lion costumes and asking questions afterwards.

“We haven’t seen one (a lion dance) before,” Barbara Saul, who along with her husband, son and daughter attended Friday, said.

Pauline Yanagimoto, who lives in South Carolina but visited Stallings Friday, said she looked forward to the lion dance.

She heard about the performance and decided to make a trip up to Stallings to see it while at the same time do some shopping at Grand Asia Market, Yanagimoto said.

Chang said she was happy with the crowd of people who came out on Friday for the performance and expected an even bigger crowd Saturday and Sunday since more people were likely off from work during the weekend.

In addition to performing at Grand Asia Market, members of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy also participated in other lion dance performances throughout the weekend. On Sunday, they were scheduled to perform at the Asian Corner Mall at the corner of North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road in Charlotte, Panico said.

According to the Nations Online website, the lion dance is performed to chase away ghosts and evil spirits and the lion’s every movement has a specific musical rhythm. The music follows the moves of the lion, the drum follows the lion and the gong follows the drum player. Throughout the performance, the lion will mimic different moves and demonstrate physical gestures to allow it to look life-like. The dance combines art, history and kung fu moves. Performers of the dance are usually kung fu practitioners and a group of Lion Dancers usually consists of 10 people. The lion dance is performed during the first few days of the Chinese New Year.

• Grand Asia Market is at 4400 Potters Road in Stallings. For more information visit www.grandasiamarket.com. For more information about the Hung Gar Kung Fu academy visit www.rickpanico.com.