Three large lions with flashing eyes and snarling faces danced to the beat of drums and cymbals as they swarmed the audience Sunday at a Lunar New Year celebration in Stony Brook.
More than 100 people attended the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 15th annual Chinese New Year Celebration to watch a slew of performances celebrating the Year of the Monkey.
In addition to the traditional lion dance, Sunday’s event included music, dance and martial arts, with local groups representing all three categories. The audience was entertained by Chinese folk dances and songs, traditional Japanese Taiko drumming and Shaolin kung fu demonstrations.
The Long Island Chinese Dance Group, based in Stony Brook, performed several traditional Chinese folk dances. The dancers, clad in diaphanous, embellished costumes, danced in sync to classic folk songs, including “Ma Yi La,” a popular tune from the northwest part of China.
One of the 14 members, Suolan Gao, said the group aimed to promote and spread Chinese culture through their dances. She said that to the Chinese community, Lunar New Year, on Feb. 8 this year, is like Christmas and Thanksgiving combined.
Gao said that she hoped to instill the same love of folk dancing in her two daughters, because she sees the activity as an important celebration of their heritage.
“The second generation is really different but I don’t want them to forget their roots,” said Gao, of Stony Brook. “We try to let them continue what we enjoy and what we think is very important.”
At Sunday’s celebration, children were invited up to join in the fun, learning a few moves from Holtsville-based Authentic Shaolin Kung Fu and even getting a chance to pound on Manhattan Taiko’s large barrel-shaped drums.
Jenna Loverro, director of the heritage organization’s cultural center, said the goal was to highlight new cultures and show youngsters how people in other parts of the world live. Stony Brook’s large Asian population was another important reason to recognize the holiday, Loverro said.
“We kind of felt that it’s something that needs to be noticed and celebrated,” she added.
Stony Brook’s Asian population has been growing over the past decade, more than doubling to nearly 9 percent of the village’s population, according to a 2014 demographic survey. Stony Brook University has a large community of Asians, at 39 percent of the population, according to the same survey.
Several parents who attended Sunday’s event said they hoped to teach their children to appreciate other cultures. East Patchogue resident Dashurije Rupolo said she brought her 2-year old daughter, Aliyah, to show her some cultural diversity.
“I just think living out here, there’s not a lot of diversity,” Rupolo said. “Growing up in Brooklyn, I went to Chinatown and watched the Chinese dragon dance every year. I want her to have the same experience.”