September 21, 2019

Webster celebrates Chinese New Year

EVA CONNORS/The Journal Thomas Johnson and Jesse Neminger play the dragon while Kevin Ceres, dressed as a priest, tames the beast in the Dragon Dance. The dancers are members of the Nine Dragon Academy who learned the dance as part of their Kung Fu school requirements.

By Alex Brandt

Webster students were introduced not only to professors from the Confucius Institute, but also to the mythical man-eating dragon Nian during the Chinese New Year celebration held at the Sunnen Lounge on Feb. 8.

Live traditional music, spring rolls and calligraphy were offered as entertainment by the Chinese Student Association (CSA) and the Confucius Institute, along with the anticipated Dragon dance.

Guangyu Lou, a volunteer and friend of Confucicus Institute professors, said the new year is to be celebrated with special people.

“It is a great time for the universe,” Lou said. “Families reunite and celebrate the new year and hope for future blessings.”

Andrea Kang, an assistant professor at the Confucius Institute, practiced her calligraphy for people to watch. Yan Geng, who teaches language and culture classes at Webster Groves schools, played the Guzheng. The Guzheng is an old, stringed instrument that has been part of Chinese musical history for centuries.

Lucky Chinese red and gold decorations were hanging on the walls where Jordan Wang, a junior economics major and president of the CSA, explained the Chinese horoscope to students. Wang said he wanted to introduce to students what the Chinese New Year is truly about.

“In China, we decorate from our heart,” Wang said. “Here, it’s more for marketing.”

Helena Lam, a senior biology major, is half Chinese and Vietnamese. She said she understands what the New Year celebration means.

“We usually celebrate the New Year Vietnamese style, but it has the same spirit,” Lam said.

As students were eating and talking, five members of the Nine Dragon Academy made the mythological dragon called Nian come to life as the Taiko drum and cymbals were played. Thomas Johnson animated the head of the dragon. He has been involved with the Nine Dragon Academy for five years.

“This (dragon dance) is part of the Kung Foo school requirements,” Johnson said.

Johnson said in northern China, the dance uses more acrobatics than the south.

“We’re a mix of both styles,” Johnson said. “The dance is completely authentic, except traditionally it’s done by Chinese people.”

Johnson held the head of the dragon while Jesse Nenninger held the back. Johnson twisted in the air with Nenninger following, making the dragon puppet life-like. The intricate dance lasted 15 minutes, with stunts showcasing Johnson hopping on Nenninger’s shoulders making the dragon appear to fly above the people watching. Johnson would open the mouth and act like the dragon was eating unsuspecting students.

Ricardo Falla, the graduate assistant to the Confucius Institute, said the festivities do not end at Sunnen as the celebration will continue on Feb. 10 at Marletto’s  Marketplace with free lunch. The celebration will later move to the library conference room where former Gov. Bob Holden who will speak about U.S. and China relations.

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