Chinese New Year Lion Dance

PSA believes that the holidays we celebrate at school should reflect the holidays celebrated by our families. For our broader Lunar New Year celebration, a group of Chinese families reached out about organizing a Chinese New Year Lion Dance, and we were thrilled to collaborate! One of our school’s guiding principles is the idea of Parent as Partner, and Lunar New Year was full of parent partners – parents who came in and made dumplings in their classrooms, sent in Lunar and Chinese New Year activities, and even treated us to a lion dance performance!

A lion dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture in which performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume to bring good luck and fortune. The lion dance is usually performed during the Chinese New Year and other Chinese traditional, cultural and religious festivals. It may also be performed at important occasions such as business opening events, special celebrations or wedding ceremonies, or may be used to honor special guests by the Chinese communities. The Lion Dance performance we had at PSA was provided by Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association, and graciously sponsored by our Chinese families.

After our whole school got to enjoy the Lion Dance, one of our Music Specialists decided to give the children they work with an opportunity to reflect upon and recreate that experience in the studio. They also brought in a traditional Chinese instrument called a guzheng (or Chinese zither, pronounced “goo-jung”) from home for the children to explore. 

In the Music Specialist’s words: Often when introducing instruments to children, I will hide them under a blanket, and give the children an opportunity to explore by feeling it through the fabric. This week, I hid the new guzheng, along with some more familiar instruments like drums and our big gong.

Student: I feel strings!

Student: It’s that one that we saw that was a circle!

After revealing the guzheng, the kids tried it out.  I demonstrated that they could play notes on one side of the “mountains” (bridge pieces), and on the other side they could push down on the strings to make the music “bounce” and fluctuate the pitch of each note. The guzheng is traditionally played with finger picks. Students tried the picks on and used their “lion claws” on the guzheng. Even when using props, all of the children were very gentle. More and more they are demonstrating their understanding of the care that needs to be taken with stringed instruments, as opposed to percussion.

Student: It makes a magical sound.

After exploring the guzheg, we spent more time with the instruments used in the lion dance: drums, gongs and cymbals. We crashed cymbals, beat drums, and hit the gong along to a recording of lion dance music. The kids quickly discovered that the gong can get REALLY LOUD. It was a good opportunity to practice dynamic control.

Using blankets, the children to made their own version of a lion dance. Each group decided to share the blanket so they could be the lion together. During the performance, the lion threw lettuce into the crowd. To recreate this, the children used rainbow scarves as the lettuce and threw them on each other. Some children wanted to stay faithful to the original dance and the separation of roles between the musicians and the audience.

Student: You’re not supposed to throw it on me, I’m doing the music!

This exploration is an example of my intention for the music studio; that children are empowered to not only be observers and enjoyers of music but also see themselves as active participants in the creation of music.

Reflection by Hannah Button-Harrison, Music Specialist

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