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New West casino hosts ‘lion dance’ to celebrate Lunar New Year

This ancient Chinese dance form is believed to bring you good luck
Ring in the year of the rabbit watching a lion dance show at Starlight Casino.

Luck favours the bold, they say. So muster up the courage to attend a “lion dance” ceremony at New West’s Starlight Casino this weekend to attract some.

The dance form, according to Tony Chan, a longtime teacher of lion dance in B.C., is believed to bring in wealth and prosperity. 

Expect to see no large cats though, but dancers dressed in bright, colourful lion costumes “leaping and twirling to the sound of loud drums and cymbals.”

The dance dates back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty period of Chinese history, and has its roots in the northern Choy Li Fu style of martial art, said Chan.

“It’s fairly common for Kung Fu schools to also perform the lion dance, dragon dance, and Choy Li Fu is no exception. These cultural performances are a chance to apply specific stances, techniques and movement from Kung Fu class,” added Chan, who started a career in lion dancing 38 years ago. 

He has taught hundreds of students in Vancouver, and, at present, manages a team of around 50 dancers at TL Production dance company. 

Mastering the art of lion dance can take years. 

“I started in 1985; my teacher taught me to be a musician learning the basics, and the lion’s beat of the drum. As I progressed, he taught me the dance steps and the significance of the cultural dance in the third year. I started learning the lion head and all of its facets and skills from then on,” said Chan. 

The lion dance team has performed at several venues across the Lower Mainland including shopping complexes such as the Crystal Mall, Empire Centre, Oakridge Mall, Guildford Centre, and at banking, business and financial institutions including the Bank of Montreal and Richmond Chamber of Commerce. 

And while they are booked throughout the year for occasions such as grand openings, weddings and birthdays, Chinese new year is when it gets the busiest for them, he said.

“It’s a time for gathering for families, friends and relatives. There are many events that happen during this period, usually singing, cultural food, floral displays, children’s games, and many others” — like the lion dance, said Chan. 

As part of the 30-minute (approximate) performance, dancers will tour around the four corners of the building, and will be seen tearing apart lettuce. 

The leafy vegetable is then “spit back out at the business owners and audience.”  

Since the word for leafy greens in Chinese and Cantonese sounds similar to the word for “becoming wealthy,” as per Chan, the act of spitting out the lettuce symbolizes the spreading of good fortune.  

“It symbolizes blessing them with wealth and prosperity in the new year.”

Watch the lion dance show at 3 p.m. on Jan. 22 at Starlight Casino (350 Gifford St.). The Lunar New Year Day celebrations will also include a ceremonial procession by The Fortune God, and the presence of municipal government leaders including Mayor Patrick Johnstone, and councillors Ruby Campbell and Daniel Fontaine. 


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