by Julia Pierrepont, Gao Shan
SAN DIEGO, the United States, May 13 (Xinhua) — Sinuous yellow and purple dancing lions were cavorting around the verdant lawn of the San Diego Sheraton Convention Center as the sun set over the inlet on Sunday.
Sounds of Chinese instruments and drums accompanied the two life-size lion puppets as their handlers danced supporting the puppets’ voluminous folds.
The performance drew the eyes of more than 1,300 attendees of the 12th National Chinese Language Conference held in the western U.S. city of San Diego on May 9-11, which is the largest annual gathering in the field of Chinese language and culture in North America.
Since the lion dance has been popular in China in ancient times, it is no surprise that skilled Chinese artists carried this artform to the United States, where increasing lion-dancers are gracing the stage at many Chinese-U.S. ceremonies and festivals.
The surprise was an unexpected reveal when the dancers finished their performance and doffed their lion heads — in the suits were not professional Chinese dancers, but a quartet of young U.S. kids.
Good-looking and energetic, the four children divided into two pairs were Magdalena Abboud, 12, and her three younger siblings, triplets, Anastasie, Luca and Avalene, all 11.
Magdalena performed as the head of the yellow lion and her younger sister Avalene as the tail, while their brother Luca, as the head of the purple lion, was partnering with his sister Anastasie.
“It’s something fun and interesting we can all do as a family,” Magdalene told Xinhua, adding that after initial training from a Chinese performer, they learned many skills by watching YouTube videos.
These youngsters are the children of Nicholas Abboud, a Lebanese descent who immigrated to the United States as a college student, and Alexandra Chisholm, who was born in New York but spent most of her childhood years in France.
Due to their family background, they are loaded with love and curiosity for exploring diverse cultures around the globe, and China holds a special place in their heart and life.
The whole family has participated in the lion dance, with the kids performing inside the festive lion puppets, while their mother wearing a big Buddha mask plays cymbals or gongs, and their father riffs on drums.
The art is a mix of tradition and innovation, Luca said. “Both lions work together, but you can each come up with your own steps too. Then people see you perform and can get inspired to do it themselves.”
They got sucked in the intricate steps and the sheer physicality of the traditional dance, a kind of sport helping them keep grounded and gave them a great athletic outlet.
“All the training makes you really strong,” Luca said. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Beside the lion dance and the Chinese language, the family has also studied Chinese calligraphy, tea ceremonies and martial arts like Tai Chi and Kung Fu.
“Calligraphy is very peaceful, serene, almost like meditation,” Magdalena told Xinhua.
“Tai Chi was very calming too. It helps me release my negative energy,” said Anastasie, also a dab hand at the Chinese Guzheng, a floor-mounted string instrument similar with a zither.
Avalene can play another Chinese instrument, Erhu, sometimes referred to as the Chinese violin, saying “it was extremely challenging, but once you understand the right finger positions and learn the numbering system they use instead of notes, it gets easier.”
The kids said they love Chinese culture because of its unique and exciting differences from other cultures in the world.
“We’ve been to China twice and seen a lot of things there you don’t see in the United States,” Magdalena said. “Even simple things like unusual musical instruments with two strings or twelve.”
“It’s important for kids to know they are not center of the universe. There’s a whole world out there to explore and learn from,” Chisholm said.
“When you’re young, your mind and your perspectives are wide open. But, if you don’t get an understanding of different perspectives … you usually end up incapable of change and your mind narrows and solidifies,” she said.
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