© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WFAE's "Finding Joy" explores stories of joy and hope, offering you a bright spot in the news landscape.

Ushering in the Lunar New Year in Charlotte with ancient art of lion dancing

lion dance in charlotte for lunar new year 2024
Layna Hong
Two children give a lion lucky red envelopes at a Lunar New Year performance in Pineville on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2024.

Smoke filled the air as firecrackers erupted and spectators gathered outside Lula Bánh Mì and Bakery in Pineville on Sunday. Crowds came out to usher in the Year of the Dragon with a beloved tradition: the lion dance.

This performance was one of many by the local Vietnamese cultural group Queen City Lion Dance throughout this past weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which was Feb. 10.

Kaden Tran, leader of Queen City Lion Dance, said the performers were in high demand, booked more than ever this year.

“We did a total of 20 performances just this weekend, which is approximately almost double what we did last year,” he said. “We were just really excited for everyone wanting us to come and dance.”

Queen City Lion Dance began in 2021. Alexus Tran (no relation to Kaden), one of its performers, said that the group started when some friends wanted to learn more about their Vietnamese heritage.

“We decided that maybe we should learn some new tricks. Maybe we should learn how these traditions really work, in our point of view,” she said. “We ended up learning how to do lion dance, and learning all the special traditions and the certain ways that you had to do the art of lion dance.”

The lion dance, or múa lân in Vietnamese, is a Chinese and Vietnamese tradition that is performed at special events, like weddings and cultural festivals. The performance goes back over 2,000 years and is believed to chase away evil spirits and bring good luck.

WFAE wants to hear from you! Amid all the conflict in the world, what activities are bringing you joy, comfort or happiness? Find out how to share your story with WFAE by clicking here.

“Lion dancing is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to either your restaurant, your shop or just your family in general,” Alexus said. “And because the lion is such a lucky animal and such a majestic animal, it brings all that good luck and strength into your family.”

Each lion is made up of two people, one controls the head and the other the tail of the costume. The dance mimics the movements of a living animal. It’s accompanied by drums, cymbals and gongs.

“The lion head is very strong, very sharp movements, very similar to how an actual living breathing animal would be — strong, fierce, something that’s not to be messed with,” Kaden said.

Queen City Lion Dance performed at Devil's Logic Brewing in uptown Charlotte on Saturday. This was one of their many performances on Lunar New Year weekend.
Layna Hong
Queen City Lion Dance performs at Devil's Logic Brewing in uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Feb.9, 2024, one of their many performances on Lunar New Year weekend this year.

The lions weave and move through the crowd, and spectators are encouraged to pet the lions and “feed” them lucky red envelopes filled with money, called lì xì in Vietnamese. It’s a unique spectacle, and Kaden hopes that audiences will appreciate the tradition.

“I hope they experience something that is both shocking in a way, but also this is something ... that they don't come across every very often,” he said. “It's a beautiful tradition. It is a beautiful dance, and it is a beautiful culture.”

Each performance is only about 15 minutes long, but Queen City Lion Dance practices for months in advance of their performances. It takes many years to build up the physical strength and coordination to be a lion dancer — but Alexus says it’s worth it.

“It’s a rigorous activity, but at the end of the day, I feel like it's so worth it to me because as a child, I grew up watching lion dance,” she said. “So being able to bring another child their childhood and for them to have these memories, it means a lot to me.”

Sign up for our Finding Joy Newsletter

Layna Hong is a digital producer at WFAE. She is a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she concentrated in graphic design and reporting.