Thursday, February 2, 2017

Chinese New Year in Fairfax

On Sunday Janice and I went out to Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax to watch the Chinese New Year celebrations being held there. This was billed as one of the largest Lunar New Year Celebrations in the DC area, running from Saturday through Sunday. Today we would see a dragon dance, martial arts displays and traditional dancing from countries and regions, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Polynesia, Tibet, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. 
As I walked in from the parking lot, the volume escalated, bombarding my ears with noise as it echoed around the shopping complex. A loud chatter was interspersed with shouts, yells, kids screaming, a voice on the intercom and at a lower level, some Asian music, to which I started walking towards.
I was impressed with the amount of decoration the mall had put up, loving the red and gold theme. Fabric lanterns with fishes, dragon heads and drapes along the railings were everywhere. This is the year of the rooster, but I didn't see any of those. On the lower level, tables were set up for children to enter drawings into a competition, make lanterns or have their names written in Chinese. I pondered about having mine done, but then decided against it, just in case I ended up with my Chinese symbols reading 'beef with broccoli' or something similar.
Janice was late turning up and the program was about to begin so I managed to squeeze in to the crowd, amazingly managing to secure a chair, which a little old lady pushed toward me. Maybe I looked like I needed saving.... A loud drumming began and cymbals crashed then an orange and gold dragon poked its head above peoples' heads, snaking towards the open area which we were all standing or sitting around.The dancers were all dressed in black and moved smoothly like liquid as the dragon above them weaved and rolled in front of us. It had lights running throughout its body and inside its head, it was magical. I snapped a few photos but then had to put my camera down and watch the performance.
This was a long routine, starting with a show in front of us, then the dragon left to begin winding its way around the shopping mall. The percussion continued its rhythm as the beast disappeared, later to be seen upstairs as it moved along past spectators, bobbing above their heads. Then it disappeared again, a few minutes later arriving back into the arena in front of us, and continuing with a more elaborate routine, the dancers having to leap over the body of the dragon and roll on the floor, making the beast gyrate and leap like flames in a fire. It really was a spectacular performance and we all clapped enthusiastically when they finished, the whole routine having lasted a good 20 minutes.
These two pretty girls  introduced each act before they came on. Part of the Washington Hai Hua community Center who presented the whole weekend's festival, they looked beautiful in their traditionally styled dresses. They presented each dance group, performing traditional routines from Korea, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Polynesia and the 50th state of Hawaii as well as China.
The next dancers were school kids enacting a story that included 3 dragons and people from a village.
This dance routine was a huge hit with everyone, including me, involving a monster who was seen off by the dragons in the end with lots of celebratory banging and confetti being thrown. I found the original story here. I loved watching the kids giving the dragons the red envelopes as payment, reaching into the dragons' mouths tentatively as though expecting their arm to be bitten off.
We were then introduced to a variety of martial arts, including kung fu, tai chi chuan, and routines with classical weapons. The audience was advised to keep well back while these were being performed by children and adults.
A group of kids ranging from about 6 years to 17 took it in turns to perform with Diabolos, a spinning act originating from Chinese yo-yos. The plastic diabolo has to keep spinning and is run up and down a piece of string between two sticks, thrown up in the air, twirled around the body, some of the performers even managed to use 3 of them at a time, while the crowd held their breath, cheering tremendously if any of them were dropped. I was impressed with their skills, even wanting to have a go myself. Here's a video of some tricks here.
A belly dancer and some Polynesian ladies performed, followed by different groups with beautifully elaborate costumes and dances.
The children always stole the show. My absolute favorites were the little girls with their camels. They didn't undertake any difficult moves or poses but just stole the whole audience's heart by looking impossibly cute and adorable. Everyone wanted their photos, cameras clicking non-stop.
I watched a couple more routines then spotted Janice over the back, standing behind the scenes and taking photos as the performers entered or exited the arena. I got up to join her, glad to stretch my legs and walk about. I'd been sitting for nearly 2 hours without realizing it!
A group of Asian ladies were adding last minute touches to their costumes before going out and performing a ribbon dance. We couldn't see their act as the crowds were now quite deep, surrounding the arena, and also above as they peered down over the railing from the upper level. We decided to call it a day but were fortunate enough to meet a sister act who we'd seen dancing earlier and were now about to leave with their parents. They were more than happy to pose for our cameras, the parents visibly busting with pride.
I'd come to this mall without high hopes, not really expecting to see much, but had instead witnessed half the world's wonderful traditional dances and costumes in about 2 hours. It had been a riveting experience, colorful and dynamic, wonderful to enjoy so many varieties of music too, from floor moving drumming to stringed melodies. A spellbinding day!

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