When the music started, 10 little girls, all dressed in red, picked up paper bamboo parasols and playfully spun them as they began to dance.
The girls, ages 8 – 10, represented the Lee-Ming Chinese School, based in the Montgomery County Community College’s Blue Bell campus.
They gathered at the Lower Providence Community Library (LPCL), on Wednesday night, to demonstrate traditional Chinese Folk dances. The occasion was organized by the library’s Children and Teen Department, in celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year (taking place Feb. 10).
“It’s our highest holiday for the year for the Chinese people,” Teh Lin, Lee-Ming Chinese School dance instructor, told the library audience.
Lin hosted the dance performance, which included four folk dances and featured the use of bamboo parasols, silk handkerchiefs, feathered fans and belled costumes. Throughout the performances, Lin provided the audience a snipit of history and purpose behind each of the dances and involved props, as she does with her dance students at the Lee-Ming Chinese School.
“I explain the story behind every dance, and encourage them to look it up,” Lin said after the performance. “The moves show the flavor of Chinese folk dance.”
According to Philip Chiang, Lee-Ming Chinese School president, the school was formed in 1976, and claimed that it is the oldest Chinese cultural education school in the Montgomery County and Philadelphia area. He said the purpose of the school was a way to preserve and promote the Chinese heritage.
The educational programs, as listed on the Lee-Ming Chinese School website, are designed with youth interests in mind:
- Chinese Culture
- Chinese Yo-Yo
- Kung Fu
- Lee-Ming Student Orchestra
- Tai Chi
The school also specializes in offering Chinese Adult Conversation classes and Chinese Bilingual classes, the latter of which focuses on youth that predominately speak English in their homes but would like to learn Mandarin Chinese.
The website makes it a point to state that the class is perfect for adopted children of Chinese decent, whose parents would like for them to maintain their heritage.
Chiang said that there are approximately 70 youth and several adult students currently enrolled in the various programs. He said that the school has a large population of second- or third-generation Asian, specifically Chinese, immigrants. However, he added that anyone with the desire to know more about the Chinese culture would be welcomed to the school.
“We just want to encourage cultural diversity, and expose Chinese culture; not just educate Chinese offspring, but everyone,” Chiang said.
In order to help promote such cultural diversity, Chiang said youth from the school perform and demonstrate their cultural lessons four-to-five-times a year throughout Montgomery County. One particular event is the school’s participation in the International Spring Festival, held in North Penn High School, of which Chiang said he is helping to organize this year.
According to Chiang, the dance program is one of the school’s newest offerings, started by Teh Lin, approximately two years ago.
“We like her because she works well with the kids,” Irene Chang, former principal of the school said.
According to Lin, she herself studied Chinese Folk dances as a youth in Taiwan. She recalled practicing eight hours at a time; four hours learning basic ballet and four more learning the traditional dances. She said that her parents had a big influence on her studying Chinese Folk dance, as both were professors of Chinese history in Taiwan.
Demonstrating such knowledge, during the LPCL performance, Lin explained some of the dances are over 2,000 years old.
However, by age 14, Lin abandoned serious studies in dance, and said she focused on her academics. Her educational pursuit eventually led her to a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. Approximately two years ago, she found a job in the Philadelphia area, where she met people connected with the Lee-Ming Chinese school.
“They said, ‘If you like to dance, why don’t you show our kids?’” Lin recalled.
Although Lin modifies the dances to accommodate the young ages of the participants, she said it is not difficult in helping the youth understand the importance of practicing the tradition, in light that some of the youth may now be second-or third-generation Asian immigrants.
“All are Asian kids. It’s in their blood,” Lin said. “I just need to inspire them.”
A Growing Demographic
Sandy Moles, LPCL Children and Teen librarian, said the Chinese New Year celebration performance is part of the library’s effort to further engage a growing number of patrons of multicultural backgrounds.
“We have a fairly high Chinese patronage and Indian patronage here,” Moles said.
In the most recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those claiming Asian decent make up an estimated 6.3-percent of the total Montgomery County population of 794,921. It is further reported those of Asian Indian and Chinese decent, respectively, are the most populous in the county with an estimated population of 49,796 Asian Indians and 15,917 Chinese.
According to Moles, this is the first time in recent memory that the library has held a program in celebration of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Moles recalled first seeing the Lee-Ming Chinese School dancers while attending last year’s International Spring Festival.
“When I saw them dance, I thought, ‘They are perfect,’” Moles said, adding, “I wanted to reach out to them, because I wanted to see more multicultural events in the library.”
After the performance, youth library patrons were invited to the festively decorated community room to participate with “Year of the Snake” and Chinese culture-themed crafts.
“It’s nice to see that they had a performance here to share the culture in the community,” Benjamin Wu, a Lower Providence resident of Chinese decent said. Wu had brought his 5-year-old daughter with him to see the dance performances.
“It’s good for the library to expose us to different cultures,” Wu said.
In addition to increasing multicultural programming, LPCL has also recently increased the availability of bilingual children’s literature.
The next expected LPCL multicultural event will occur in early November with the celebration of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.
Lee-Ming Chinese School New Year Celebration
The Lee-Ming School will host its annual Chinese New Year celebration at the Lai-Lai Garden Restaurant in Blue Bell, Feb 10, from 1:30 – 5 p.m. The event will include student performances and a dinner buffet. For more information, see the school's flyer.