Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Roar lion, roar!

Barefoot Dancing brings Chinese dance to Van Cortlandt Park

By Felix Holoszyc-Pimentel
Osjua A. Newton/The Riverdale Press
Ferocious performers from the Keito Academy conduct a Chinese Lion Dance on the lawn of the Van Cortlandt House museum on July 25.
Osjua A. Newton/The Riverdale Press
Keito St. James drums the dancers’ beat.
Osjua A. Newton/The Riverdale Press
José Cruz, center, helps lead a group of children.
Osjua A. Newton/The Riverdale Press
Emily Callejo, in a buddha mask, greets the crowd at Barefoot Dancing.

Don’t call the Bronx Zoo or the ASPCA. It’s true a lion was loose in Van Cortlandt Park, but it was there to dance, not devour. The colorful feline predator was actually a two-person puppet participating in the park’s popular Barefoot Dancing series.

Since 2007, when it moved from Wave Hill, the series has brought a different unique style of dance to the park at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays in summer. This year’s program began on July 11, and last Thursday it was the lion’s turn to edify and entertain as part of a traditional Lion Dance.

The indigenous Chinese dance, which dates back hundreds of years, was performed by the Austin, Texas-based Keito Academy of Ethno Preforming Arts, a 20-year-old academy that has revived and preformed indigenous dances from around the world throughout the United States.   

Jaime Flood, a first timer to the event, thought it provided an exceptional chance to culturally enrich children. “It lets them see and experience different cultures, especially for inner-city kids who don’t have that opportunity,” she said.

The dance incorporates a two-person lion costume reminiscent of the dragon costumes often associated with Chinese celebrations.  Both costumes consist of a headpiece and a long cape, but the lion costume uses just two people, whereas the dragon costume can have as many as 30 according to conductor and troupe leader, Keito St. James.  

Mr. James also gave a brief history of the lion tradition during the performance, which he says migrated from India. He credits Buddha for introducing the tradition to China.  In addition to the lion costume, the dance also features two masked Buddhas, one male and one female.  


Intricate headpiece


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