Lion dancers bob and dance in a traditional lion's head. Jake Davis | Mustang News
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Rehearsing on the asphalt behind the Davidson Music Center (building 45), the Chinese Student Association’s (CSA) Lion Dance Team prepared for an upcoming performance. The student-led and student-taught troupe is the only one on the Central Coast, made up of 37 dancers of various majors, dancing backgrounds and cultures.

In rehearsal the dancers line up to practice in teams of two. Jake Davis | Mustang News

The tradition

Lion Dancing is a traditional Chinese dance once used to ward off demons. Today, it is used in celebrations and is also considered a way to bring good luck.

There are two dancers in each lion costume, which feature bright colors and beading complete with a moving lower jaw. One dancer controls the head while the other acts as the body. The dancing is done to the beat of drums, cymbals and gongs. Much of the dancing is done with the lions weaving in and out of one another while they follow a dancer outside of the lion who guides them around the room. The dances are choreographed by captain and business administration senior Adam Lin as well as other senior members. Their elegant costumes have been passed on through the years, with new ones coming all the way from China.

The Lion Dance Team at Cal Poly was founded in 1957 by Young Louis and has been a part of CSA ever since. Without a faculty advisor, they educate students and the community about the traditional Chinese dance.

“Lion Dance Team’s performances for blessing businesses during New Years and grand openings help maintain the cultural ties that the Chinese community in San Luis Obispo would otherwise have to give up,” according to the team’s website. Food science and nutrition freshman Joakim Nguyen said these cultural roots are key parts of dancing.

“More than the team itself, the dancing is part of my way of accepting my culture and being able to express it in ways I hadn’t before,” Nguyen said.

For many of the students, the lack of faculty involvement promotes student leadership and flexibility. Lin worked his way from co-captain to captain in the three years he has been a part of the team.

“It’s a lot of fun knowing that eventually one day, if one us works hard enough, we could become the boss, lead and help out,” industrial engineering sophomore Megan Chan said.

Lion Dancers bonding during a short break in rehearsal. Sabrina Thompson | Mustang News

A family bond

The bond between the teammates is strengthened through weekly rehearsals and traveling the California Coast for performances. Many members said they share fond memories of their annual visit to Hanford, California. The trip, which starts with a caravan of members’ cars getting on the road in the early morning, is an all-day performance at restaurants and venues.

“It was the first big performance we had and also the first time I hung out with a lot of people on the team, and also see everything we do,” biological sciences freshman Kelly Hongkham said.

Bonding between team members occurs in and outside of rehearsals. Before practice starts, and even during, members goof around and hang out, spending time after lunch playing video games and talking. For freshmen and sophomores, the upperclassmen are seen as mentors.

“They basically became my family,” Chan said. “We hang out at the library a lot and so I have never felt alone on campus because I know if I just hang out at the library, I’ll find someone I know.”

The Lion Dance Team can be seen performing at the Central Coast Chinese Association New Years’ banquet Feb. 3 at the Veterans Hall, in addition to local restaurants and elementary schools.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Adam Lin’s major. It has been corrected to say that he is a business administration senior. 

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