A Chinese New Year celebration Friday wrapped up a busy week for a group of foreign students visiting Mount Airy.
Mount Airy High School welcomed in “The Year of the Dog” with its Chinese guests, who spent the week lodging in the homes of volunteer high school students
During the week, the Chinese students went to the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, Surry Arts Council and the Historic Earle Theater, said Polly Long, city schools special projects coordinator. They learned clogging and the two-step, she said, along with our culture and an American high school experience.
As for the celebration, Long added that the students were far from home on a major holiday, and their hosts wanted to make them feel at home.
So, in addition to a banquet catered by China One served in the school’s commons area with the room and tables decorated in traditional Chinese New Year motifs, the evening culminated with a performance by lion dancers from Mooresville.
Rick Panico, the sifu (or teacher) at Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy in Mooresville, directed the group that performed the traditional dance. He explained the significance of the lion dance.
Many years ago, it was believed by people that their villages were surrounded by monsters. As the lion is considered the king of the jungle, the Emperor declared that a lion should run into the forest at the beginning of the year and scare the monsters away. As lions are not indigenous to China, two dancers dressed up in a lion costume and went into the forest to perform the dance that would scare away the monsters and bring safety and prosperity in the coming year.
After the dance concluded, Panico explained that the dances originated simply as three bows in three directions, one right, one left and one center. The dance became more elaborate over time, and Friday night, the lion was fed by a member of the audience, spewed food in the form of candy out of its mouth into the audience, and ultimately coughed up a big, red, velvet hairball before chasing any and all monsters out of MAHS.
Lion dances are now performed at all of the most important events as well as New Year, births, birthdays, weddings, funerals, grand openings and moving into a new house, according to Panico.
Anna Kate Tucker spoke about the experience of being a host for the first time. “We’re a lot more alike than we are different. We kind of bonded. I’m so happy I got to meet Jody.”
Jody then spoke of the experience of staying with Anna Kate. “Thank you for providing me with such a comfortable environment and treating me like family,” adding that family was among her favorite things. She spoke favorably of Mount Airy’s fresh air and sunsets.
Wendy Carriker, school board chair, greeted guests and spoke on the evening’s theme of cultural exchange, saying, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”
Gao Hong, known to those present as Ruby, handed out certificates from Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation to the visiting students and their hosts, honoring their participation in the 2018 Sino-American Youth Ambassadors Program.
When the lion dancing ended outside – lit by a blaze of sparklers – hosts and visitors made plans to take the visiting students to the Raleigh-Durham airport for the next leg of their journey.
The weather this week has been much better than the wintry mix that fell two years ago when a group of students arrived from China.
The visit continues a partnership that began three and a half years ago when Mount Airy City Schools decided to offer Mandarin Chinese at the high school. Each year the school welcomes a new instructor; members of the school board and some students have visited China in addition to the guests arriving here each winter.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.