First of all, it's a lion — not a dragon. And making it move across the stage takes strength, athletic ability and creativity, say dancers with St. Anthony's Church who will perform the lion dance at Saturday's Asian Festival at Century II.
A cultural staple at events, the lion dance is traditionally performed for the Chinese New Year, Jennifer Duong, stage director for the festival, said during a rehearsal at Wichita State University.
It's similar to the dragon dance that people often confuse it with, but the performers hide inside the lion costume. For the dragon dance, performers manipulate a large dragon on poles and are not inside the costume.
"A lot of the moves are martial arts moves," Duong explained. "It's almost like a sport because it's so physical."
Never miss a local story.
The dance is a symbol of good luck, as is "feeding the lion," or giving it red packets filled with money.
"It's supposed to bring you good luck, prosperity and longevity," Duong said.
Nhat Pham, 20, has been performing the lion dance for five to seven years, he said.
He learned the dance at church, "tradition passed on," Pham said.
The lion is supposed to ward off evil spirits for the new year, he said.
The movements he and his fellow dancers use to bring the lion to life are based on kung fu moves, he said.
"Only the best at kung fu are able to be in the lion," he said.
Some dancers participate in competitive lion dancing, he said. St. Anthony's team is not competitive.
On Saturday, Pham joined 16-year-old Ken Vu and 15-year-old Kenny Tien on stage to rehearse for next weekend's festival. Vu and Tien first practiced without the lion costume and then practiced inside it. The movements took on a new life inside the costume.
Using strings inside the head of the costume, Vu and Tien made the lion's ears flop and eyes blink.
The costume is heavy, and "it's hot," Tien said.
The St. Anthony's lion dance team will perform right before the Miss Asia pageant at the festival Saturday, probably about 7:30 p.m.
This year's festival, featuring food and several cultural performances, is the Wichita Asian Association's 30th.
It will begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. at the Convention Hall at Century II.
Admission is free, but donations are accepted.