On the top floor of the Victoria Public Chinese School, dozens of students dressed in vibrant silks and ribbons began warming up for their dance rehearsals.
Younger students clapped open silk fans, while older students worked to untangle the long tail of an ornate dragon costume.
“It’s part of the Chinese culture. The dragon dance, the lion dance are very important during the Chinese New Year,” said Kileasa Wong, principal of the Victoria Public Chinese School. “The drums and gongs chase away the bad spirits. It’s very important that the students can still learn the culture and traditions.”
Students at the Victoria Chinese Public School practised a tai chi fan dance in preparation for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration. Story to follow! #yyj #chinesenewyear2019 @VictoriaNews pic.twitter.com/HTmaZRfpEn
— Nicole Crescenzi (@NicoleCrescenzi) February 7, 2019
Starting at age five, students at the school begin learning Chinese folk dances and taking part in competitions. As they age, they learn more dances, including a tai chi fan dance, a flower dance, and the dragon dance. Students from the Wong Sheung Kung Fu club also help by performing the lion dance.
Wong herself has travelled to China to learn new dances, and bring them back to her students. The dances become a staple in the students’ education, prompting former students to come back each year to help teach and perform.
“I’d say it’s probably invaluable considering how our community … it’s quite small,” said Gary Sum, who graduated from the school several years ago. “If we didn’t keep up it might kind of die with us.”
For Wilson Liu, coming back to the school after graduation brings back a rush of nostalgia.
“So many memories come back of playing with friends and always having good times. I step back coming through the front doors,” Liu said, adding that even with so much experience he gets nervous to do performances. “But, it’s definitely worthwhile going to competition with the school, using their name and trying to have fun.”
Competitions and cultural performances become a normal part of life for the dance students. While the younger students practising the tai chi fan dance were under 12 years old, many had years of experience.
“This is my third year doing it, so it’s pretty fun,” said Amelia Robinson, age 8. “One time during a performance I dropped my fan twice.. it was embarrassing!”
Kenan Wong is a pro himself, having performed five times at age 10.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking, ” he said. “The best part of it is the free pizza!”
The students will perform at the Victoria Chinese New Year Celebration on Sunday, Feb. 10 at the gate of Harmonious Interest in China Town, on Fisgard Street. The event runs noon to 3:30 p.m.