By Dig Staff
The Lunar New Year is upon us and with it come massive celebrations within Asian communities across the world, United States, and right here in Baton Rouge.
More commonly known as Chinese New Year, the new Lunar Year of the Ram begins on Feb. 19. In BR, the celebration is certainly more toned down than the party in Beijing, or even New Orleans, but one martial arts studio isn’t letting the Year of the Ram slip by uncelebrated. The White Crane Kung Fu studio will be bringing performances of traditional Lion Dances, weapon and form demonstrations to BR, New Orleans, and beyond just before and after Feb. 19. Incidentally, Lou Illar, the studio’s head instructor, is the author of the only comprehensive history of the Chinese people in Louisiana: The Americanization of Chinese New Year.
“I think what [Chinese New Year] represents more than anything else is the unity and kinship within the Asian community here in the United States,” he said. “As the Asians came to the U.S. they suffered quite a bit, but they never really felt that it was too much for them to handle and, in fact, they learned to adapt. A bucket, a bar of soap, and some dirty clothes meant that they had work to do.”
Illar says that the first celebrations of the ancient holiday in the U.S. were simple, but became increasingly elaborate and entertaining with time.
“There first new years here, all they had were a few firecrackers – but this holiday that was brought to America was as big as Christmas. Chinese New Year is celebrated because people have expanded themselves,” Illar said. “They have expanded their families, enriched their lives and everything is about progress and improving.”
Children, however, are center stage during the holiday.
“Oh, Chinese New Year is all about children,” said Illar. “It’s about educating them to their family history, instructing them on how to live their lives, and of course taking care of kids.”
The first two or three weeks of the New Year is focused on friends and family after that, they welcome in strangers. There are smiling faces everywhere and children are told not to fight or cry. After all, the community is starting anew and they don’t want anyone messing that up.
“That’s when Lion Dances are all over the place,” said Illar.
Lion Dances began as street performances, but have since graduated to the noblest stages in Chinese Opera.You’ve probably seen a lion dance, but you may have confused it for a dragon.
“They chose a lion because they did not have them in their culture, though they had read about them,” said illar. “But it symbolizes something more than just a lion, it embodied our inability to control the events in our lives. There is always a monk that is visible in the dance and he represents the effort to present life as a system and when he tries to put the lion into the system, it just doesn’t work. They have to adapt and live with together and through that I see great humor in a lion dance.”
Illar often tells his students that the lion dance is one of the highest forms of kung fu. It takes months, even years, to practice the displays of acrobatics and strength necessary to put on a good show.
“The Chinese want to see everything done perfectly for the New Year – that’s the way to start the year,” said Illar. “Naturally, they would challenge kung fu lion dancers to do some of the most difficult tasks and tricks, but it becomes a great form of entertainment. The best part about it is that the dancers can make a mistake – and even hurt themselves – but everyone just keeps on smiling.”
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Upcoming Lion Dance Performances by the White Crane Studio
2.19 Harrah’s Casino (NOLA) at 7 p.m.
2.21 SOHO Asian Cuisine (Metarie) @ 12 p.m.
2.21 Panda King Restaraunt (Gretna) @ 1:30 p.m.
2.22 Hunan Restaraunt @ 12 p.m.
2.22 Dream Berrie Cafe @ 4 p.m.