As the pulsing rumbling of a drum started, silence fell over the crowd of 500 gathered Saturday night to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
The curtains of the stage parted and revealed a multi-colored lion costume, animated by two people. The acrobatic lion wound itself into circles, jumping and rolling around with the music and drawing applause from the audience.
The lion dance is a traditional part of the Chinese New Year celebration, said April Chiung-Tao Sheu, a Ph.D. student and president of the University’s Minnesota Chinese Student Association.
“In the new year, some people believe there are ghosts, and the dragon and lion dancers work to scare the ghosts away,” Sheu said. “It’s kind of an ancient belief, but most people like it because it’s part of tradition.”
The event was held in the St. Paul Student Center’s Northstar Ballroom and was hosted by the Minnesota Chinese Student Association and the Taiwan Student Alliance along with other Asian community organizations.
Although the actual Chinese New Year’s Day was Feb. 7, the organizers had several reasons for waiting one week.
“Usually the New Year celebration is supposed to be held within three days of the New Year,” said Chaohui Chen, vice-president of the Minnesota Chinese Student Association. “We wanted to reserve the room for Feb. 1 or 2, but the room was already booked by other organizations.”
But Chen said it was a good thing that the event was postponed, because many students were busy with midterms.
Among the night’s activities was a 14-piece orchestra that played traditional Chinese music. The high-pitched piping of flute-like instruments along with the violin-sounding strings started the audience’s toes tapping during the three-song set.
Next came the dancers, outfitted in bright pink and blue costumes. The young performers waved colorful green and pink fans as they danced and jumped across the stage.
Near the end of the celebration, performer Chen-Fu Liou came out on stage, dressed as the Chinese god of fortune. Wearing a large mask and traditional silken robes extended to his ankles, he waved colorful red banners with gold lettering toward the audience. According to tradition, the god holds the banners up to offer luck to those who see his signs.
Then came the time to pass out the lucky money. More than 100 children raced to the front of the auditorium to get a red envelope stuffed with pocket change.
“Everything went very smoothly and according to schedule,” said Chen after the event. “Everyone was devoting their energy and spirit to this event. Everything just went very good.”
For Sheu, the most important issue was safety. At an earlier Chinese New Year celebration in the Northstar ballroom, hosted by the Friendly Association of Chinese Scholars and Students, a fire alarm cut the festivities short and sent hundreds of celebrants into the streets.
“We were very happy that everything went well,” said Sheu.
Audience response was also very positive, she said.
“The audience said the place was very beautiful and really felt like a Chinese New Year,” Sheu said. “One man said he hadn’t heard the (New Year) songs for many years, and it made him feel very happy to celebrate.”