When can you see lions dancing in Toronto streets or shopping malls? My www.TorontoMulticulturalCalendar.com website has already posted dates and venues for Jan. 29 and 30 (Scarborough), Feb. 5 (Pacific Mall, Markham), and Feb. 6 (East Chinatown at Gerrard and Broadview, and in Scarborough). Lions will dance in the Dundas-Spadina Chinatown on Feb. 5. You will also find them at many celebrations in other Chinatowns.
Lions are an important part of the Chinese New Year festival. They are benevolent animals, bringing good luck to the people and businesses who feed them. They are vegetarian. They eat lettuce (a symbol of life), and money (put in red packets.) They come in a variety of colours. Their dance is so vigorous, dancers have to take turns.
Lions dance in Chinese communities, but anyone can hire lion dancers from Chinese martial arts clubs to perform at private events. The dance starts as the lions wake up from a long sleep, and then go from door to door, wherever there is food for them to eat. The lettuce is tied to a high place forcing the head dancer to stand on his partner’s shoulder to reach it. They dance to the loud beat of a Chinese drum and the sharp tat-tat-tat of firecrackers.
In some places, ethnic-savvy local politicians have accompanied the lions and given out lucky red packets to spectators and businesses. The packets could contain candy or their business cards. No money alas.
People who are timid about venturing into the wilds of Toronto’s Chinatowns on their own might want to go with guide Shirley Lum. Unfortunately she has to charge a fee (which usually covers your meal) but she gives a good introduction to Chinese culture. After that, you should be able to venture into a Chinatown by yourself.
Unfortunately also, Shirley’s Chinese New Year’s tours are almost fully booked this year. If you act quickly, she’s still got space on Sat. Feb 12 and Sun. Feb. 13. She does give tours at other times too, which will introduce you to the wonders of these multicultural Asian communities. Shirley Lum’s website is http://www.torontowalksbikes.com/ .
Very helpful, especially for people in northeast Toronto, is the list of events in : http://www.guidingstar.ca/Chinese_New_Year_Celebrations.htm . They range from demonstrations in local libraries (free) to lion dance performances and kung fu demonstrations in malls (free) to fancy banquets (not free).