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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) – Cymbals, drums and whistles energetically marked the pace of the Lion Dance ritualistic performance at the Super Cao Nguyen Market in Oklahoma City.

They were welcoming the Lunar New Year, which started February 1st.

Preparations

The Giac Quang Buddhist Temple Lion Dance (GQ Dance) Troupe has been getting ready for the Lunar New Year’s (February 1st) celebration for more than three months. 

The dance is usually performed in groups of two, where the front person moves the head of the lion and the other person the rear. The performance appends a musical group in charge of setting up the rhythm of the dance. It takes a great amount of practice and coordination to move in harmony. 

The dance

The troupe started the ritual around noon on Saturday, February 12 in the supermarket parking lot where thousands of firecrackers were lit to cheer the crowd, signal the beginning of the performance and, most importantly, chase evil spirits away with its loudness. 

Most of the dancers are kids in their teenage years who volunteer so that OKC businesses and establishments can welcome the Year of the Tiger with good luck and abundance while also chasing evil spirits away. 

Lunar New Year
Alex Nguyen offers a dollar bill to a lion for good luck, prosperity and abundance throughout the Year of the Tiger. His sister Arissa danced with the Giac Quang Buddhist Temple dance troupe Feb 12, 2022. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

GQ Dance leader Hoang Tran,18, and his co-leader Donny Nguyen,20, were really proud of the team for showing up to dance even after taking the ACT test a few hours prior to the performance. 

The leaders told us that dancing helps spread their culture and make them feel more seen and present in OKC. 

“We wanted to give our best to make sure that everyone knows we’re here, doing our thing, giving everyone a good year,” Nguyen told us.

Tran, an Asian-American, said performing is important to him because he wants to share his culture and heritage with everyone so people can enjoy, appreciate, support and learn about these old traditions and different ways of expression.

In the past two weeks, various OKC establishments have invited dance groups to perform the Lion Dance and keep the tradition alive and present in the metro area. 

Dancers from the Giac Quang Buddhist Temple wear a lion costume and dance through a field of fire crackers to celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Super Cao Nguyen Market parking lot Saturday February 12, 2022. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

Since the Lion Dance is a millennial-old tradition, it exists in many countries and different religions. 

In Oklahoma City, the dance groups range from Buddhist to Catholic and are mainly Vietnamese, but not exclusively so.

Multiple businesses in the Asian District like Lido’s Restaurant, VII Asian Bistro, Golden Phoenix opened their spaces so that the lions could go inside the establishment, setting a prosperous tone for the Year of the Tiger.

“Every year, whenever we dance for stores or whenever people ask us to dance, we’re really giving them that good luck, longevity and prosperity that they wish for in the upcoming year,” Tran said.

The tradition 

The lion dance is one of the most popular, wide-spread celebrations of the Lunar New Year.

Its origins date back over two thousand years ago in China. 

Most Lion Dances can be traced back to Northern and Southern regions of China, even though there are multiple dance forms nowadays that can differ widely in style thanks to the diaspora who carried the tradition across borders.

The performance of the dance itself, and lion’s representation and decoration, mutated as they merged into other cultures outside of China.

Lunar New Year
The leader, also known as monk or landowner, poses for a photo after guiding the troupe through the Super Cao Nguyen Market. Traditionally, the lions enter a building to bring in good luck and scare evil spirits away. Feb 12, 2022. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

Saturday was the first time Ever Pereira and his family watched a Lion Dance.

Pereira is originally from Dallas, with Mexican and Salvadorian heritage, living in Oklahoma for over eight years. His wife is Native-American, and they enjoy experiencing other people’s cultures, traditions and foods. 

He said the experience was an interactive and playful moment for the family. His favorite thing was the interaction between the lions and the spectators.

“You can touch the lion’s fur, pet them and give them money for good luck,” said Pereira. 

“Even though there are many cultures out there, all cultures are family based, and we really enjoyed this one with my family,” he told us. 

The myth

The story that anchors the dance is about a village being attacked by an evil creature. In despair, the people of the community asked the lion for help, and the animal scared the evil creature away. 

When the evil creature returned for vengeance a year later, there was no lion around to protect them. Thus, the villagers dressed up as lions and mimicked its moves to keep the devilish creature away. 

Those dressed as the lion would then go around the village sharing good luck while graciously receiving donations for its service to the community.


Last Updated February 12, 2022, 8:18 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor