Valley Stream South students light up library with New Lunar Year lion dance


A lion was set loose in the Children’s Room at Waldinger Memorial Library on Feb. 10. Not the kind that prowls in tall savannah grass, but instead dances majestically to a pulsing drumbeat — as a bringer of good fortune — and rings in the Lunar New Year.  The Chinese lion dance performance, spearheaded by the Valley Stream South High School Cultural Society, gave village children a taste of the bevy of cultural celebrations around Asia this time of year.

While often associated with Chinese traditions, many Asian countries celebrate their version of the lunar new year, highlighting the beginning of spring and the new year based on the lunisolar calendar.

The lion dance was but one of a long set of cross-cultural performances performed by the club during its World Cultural Night in February. “It’s a nice experience to share with the kids what we’ve worked so hard on,” said club co-president Luke Lopez, 17, who has been in the club since 7th grade. “There are 26 acts in total that span different cultures from hip-hop to Indian.”

The club makes a series of smaller performances across the village, including the library, and various elementary schools, to show off their dancing stuff to students, which doubly serves as final rehearsal practice for the big show. 

For the library director Mamie Eng, it’s an opportunity to foster cultural understanding and celebrate diversity. “You’ll notice that a lot of the students and kids watching today are not of Asian descent,” said Eng. “It goes to show that people want to learn and experience different cultures in this community.” 

Much care and hours of practice are put into each performance. Club advisor Jeff Hsi, who began the club 18 years ago, said he had originally sent his earliest club members to the Chinese Center on Long Island to learn the step sequences and drum patterns for the lion dance.

“Those students brought back what they learned,” said Hsi. “So those students passed on what they learned to incoming students, and so on and so on down the line.” 

“Prior to joining the club, I had no idea about the cultures we performed for and now I’ve learned so much,” said co-president John Lenis, 17, who took part in 13 of the 26 acts this year. “It’s also just a lot of fun.” 

“It’s great to see students from all cultural backgrounds take part in these dances and appreciate people’s cultural differences and learn from each other,” said Hsi, who noted that the club’s popularity with students was made clear early on.

“In our first year, we managed to get 120 members,” said Hsi, who believes the club struck a deep chord among the high school’s increasingly diverse student population.

“I think there was a need for an outlet for expression of people’s cultural heritage,” said Hsi. “When we started the club, we just asked around, you know, who might be interested in teaching something from their own culture. It exploded from there.”