JHU Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe

Name: Elizabeth Aucott

Position: President

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What is lion dance?

Lion dance is an ancient Chinese art that brings prosperity and blessings to its viewers. Lion dance originated in Kung fu schools as a way for its members to show off their skills. Two people perform together as one lion in a costume of papier mache and cloth, using Kung fu stances to dance to a drum, cymbals, and a gong. Today, lion dance has evolved into an art of its own, and often lion dance troupes are not associated with Kung fu schools.

Often a lion dance performance centers on an object called a chang. The chang can be a lettuce (a homonym for wealth in Chinese), a hong bao (red envelope with money), or a constructed snake that represents an evil to be overcome. The lion will stalk and overcome great obstacles to get to the chang; once it obtains the chang, it will eat it, and then spit it back out to share with the audience. In the case of a lettuce chang, the spitting out of the lettuce represents sharing of wealth with the audience.

 

Who are you?

The JHU Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe was founded in 2003 by a group of students who loved lion dance. They wanted to learn more about it, and founded the club to teach, practice, and perform lion dance at Johns Hopkins. Since then, we have become a well established troupe that performs at Chinese New Year events, weddings, and festivals throughout the Baltimore-D.C. area.

Our troupe meets twice a week for practices and will usually have around one or two performances a month on weekends. While some performances are on campus, many are paid off campus events. Everyone is welcome to join; while our founding members brought their experience to the club, all of our members now were new to lion dance. There’s no experience necessary; we’ll teach you everything you need to know.

As for me, my name is Elizabeth and I’m the current president of our troupe. I’m a junior pursuing a double degree in international studies and classical guitar.

 

How did (a small, white girl like) you get involved in lion dance?

There I was, walking around at SAC fair with hundreds of other freshman, looking for a club to join. Suddenly, I spotted a large drum (for some reason I failed to notice the large, flashy lion). I had seen a taiko (Japanese drum) performance earlier that year and loved it, so I walked over to the group. To my disappointment, it was not taiko, but lion dance. After some persuasion, I signed my name on the roster, and walked away to explore other groups. Later that week, I decided to go to the lion dance club’s first practice. After a brief example performance, I was entranced. To me, lion dance is an amazing art; it’s different than anything you’ll see in the West, yet it’s still wonderful to watch. It can be entertaining, but it can also be beautiful. That day I decided that I wanted to learn how to lion dance, so I joined the club (sorry ballet!).

 

Why should I join lion dance?

I’ll first start off with some commonly expressed, yet unsatisfactory, reasons for not joining lion dance:

1.     I’m not Asian – Some people think lion dance in just another cliquey, Asia-interest group. This certainly isn’t the case; we’re just a group of people who enjoy lion dancing (which happens to be a Chinese art). You don’t need to be Asian to join a martial arts club, and neither do you to join lion dance. And in case it isn’t clear enough, I (the president) am white.

2.     I’m too weak. – Many girls tell me this when I ask them to join lion dance. All I have to say to this excuse is that if I (a 5 foot, 100 pound girl) can lift a lion, so can you.

3.     I’m too uncoordinated. – At the risk of using myself as an example ad nauseam, I am one of the most uncoordinated people I know. I can’t dance; I can’t even clap my hands and move my feet side to side at the same time. It took me a while to learn how to do the basic movements of lion dance; older members had to move the head for me, I had to do everything in slow motion, etc. But eventually I got it, and now the movements are almost second nature to me. If I can do it, I’m pretty sure anyone can.

And while the reasons for joining lion dance are numerous and unique, I’ll give four things that I think highlight our club.

1.     Lion dance is fun. – Lion dance isn’t just about Kung fu dances or following a rhythm; it’s about acting out a character (who happens to be a lion). Chinese lions are essentially a giant kitten: they’re curious, playful, and generally suspicious of everything. They get happy, sad, angry, and sometimes even drunk. You also get to do cool things like stacks, which involve one person lifting the other to stand on their thighs, sit on their head, or even stand on their shoulders. You’ll also have the opportunity to play our drum.

In addition, hanging out with our troupe members is great. We’re fun people; we bond on long drives to performances, have potluck parties, and go out to eat together. My troupe members have become some of my best friends at Hopkins.

2.     Lion dance is good exercise. – If you want a fun way to stay in shape, lion dance is the way to go. From Kung fu stances to lifting a ten pound lion head twice a week, lion dance is a good way for someone like me to stay in shape.

3.     Lion dance offers you the opportunity to eat very good Chinese food. – After coming to Hopkins, you’ll probably notice a significant lack of good authentic Chinese food. We often get performance requests in the Rockville area (known for its Chinese population); after we finish our performance, we’ll go to a Chinese restaurant afterwards.

4.     Lion dance taught me professional business skills. – Surprisingly, I have learned a lot about dealing professionally with clients after becoming lion dance president. I often have to communicate both over email and the phone with those that request our troupe to perform. I arrange dates, prices, and performances with many different people, and have to keep my troupe informed of performance dates as well.

 

Lion Dance has been, by far, my best experience at Johns Hopkins. I’ve formed lasting friendships, had a lot of fun, and learned a lot. If you take nothing else away from of this blog, at take learn this: Freshman, join a club (even if it’s not lion dance)! It will be the best part of your four years at Hopkins.