Lion kicks off celebrations

Culture: A noisy dance welcomes the start of the Chinese New Year.

February 06, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

There was something about the lion Nicolas Folcarelli simply didn't trust. For starters, it was dancing, the 2-year-old noticed. Secondly, it was swallowing children.

"Run away, Mommy! Run away!" he yelled as the glimmering papier-mache lion danced a little closer.

Nicolas and dozens of children crammed into Port Discovery yesterday to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which starts Wednesday. According to the Chinese zodiac, this will be the Year of the Rooster, but it was the lion that made the children squeal yesterday.

Officially, the lion dance - a must for Chinese New Year celebrations - is done for tradition as well as for the benefits it is supposed to bring.

"It brings good luck and chases away the evil spirits," said Tai Yim, a Kensington kung fu teacher whose students performed the dance.

But the dancers added a few twists of their own that seemed to fascinate, thrill and terrify the children all at once.

Dancing in a somewhat modern lion head (with glowing flashlights for eyes), kung fu student Lester Solomon captured a few children in the lion's mouth and dangled them as they squealed in gleeful terror.

"The lion's always hungry," Solomon explained later with a grin.

Wearing gold-colored sequined pants, the dancers made their way around a three-story jungle gym with kicks and jumps.

In waves, the children chased them to get a better view, only to run away in fright.

To some, the celebration represented more than fun.

Sharon Lerner of Pikesville brought her adopted daughter Hannah Li Lerner, hoping Hannah, 6, would learn more about the culture of her native China.

"It's important that she knows where she comes from, her heritage" Lerner said.

Hannah's verdict: "I liked the lion, but the music was really loud."

She clapped hands over her ears to muffle the booming drum, cymbal and gong.

The celebration's other events included coloring dragon masks, cutting out paper snakes and making sushi.

"It's not exactly Chinese," said the museum's program director, Nora Moynihan, of the sushi. "But we thought it'd be easier than dumplings. You know, a lot of hot oil - it gets messy."

Even so, the event seemed to be a hit among the children.

And at the end, the dancers got standing ovations from the crowd - even a few claps from 2-year-old Nicolas, who quelled his fear of the child-eating lion long enough to wave goodbye.

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