Heads and Tails


Chinese legend may have dragons and lions gracefully prancing in the heavens, but for humans here on Earth, emulating their movements takes a lot of practice. Just ask members of the Yau Kung Moon martial arts and dance troupe, who will parade the 150-foot, 30-person golden dragon and several brightly bedecked lions through Chinatown on Saturday as part of the Lunar New Year festivities.

The dancers must train for several years before they engage in any prancing, head-dipping or hands-free piggyback leaps in public. “We don’t want them to go out and embarrass anyone,” says Richard Van, the sifu, or master teacher, of the Alhambra-based group. “The moves are difficult and dangerous if you’re not strong and don’t know how to do them correctly.”

First-timers usually start somewhere in the dragon’s middle, with more experienced dancers acting as either the head or tail of a two-person lion. “If they’re heavier, we would rather they be the tail because the head has to jump on the tail’s shoulders,” Van says. “That takes a lot of time to learn because there’s a lot of balancing and height and weight involved. Some people climb on top of the shoulders, but we don’t. We jump.”


Fourteen-year-old Amanda Hong, one of the youngest members of the troupe and a lion head, is still perfecting her one-leg jump. “Some of the lion heads on the team do all these really crazy moves and can jump really high,” she says. “For me, I just don’t want to look like a dead or boring lion.”

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