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Chinese dragon dance is a longstanding fixture

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Indianapolis Chinese Community Center will share their culture, including the Chinese Dragon Dance, at the 2019 IPL 500 Festival Parade.
Kelly Wilkinson, kelly.wilkinson@indystar.com

Power and tradition. The “month of May” is symbolic of both, with the Indy 500 race. 

But also symbolizing the power and tradition motifs is the Indianapolis Chinese Community Center (ICCCI) Chinese Dragon Dance that has been seen at the 2019 IPL 500 Festival Parade for years.

The Chinese dragon is a symbol for China, and for China’s culture, says Quanbo Xiong, the president of the ICCCI. No one has seen a real dragon, says Xiong. It’s just in people’s imaginations. People imagine this dragon with dignity, power and respect in the world, he said.

“So that’s why in China, in ancient times, in different dynasties, (the) dragon was used as a symbol of the emperor, the king,” says Xiong. “People believe those people are descendants of the dragon. So they have the power. They can rule the country as a nation, rule the world. So that’s people’s belief.”

And that’s why this figure is used in many big events, as a symbol of good luck to the world.

The dragon may look scary and fearsome, Xiong said, but it is something nice and benevolent. 

The dragon dance consists of a long and colorful dragon that flows rhythmically with the help of at least 10 people holding it up by poles. The longer the dragon, the more powerful it is considered to be.

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The head and tail are the most important parts, said Xiong, with the other dancers following the movements. Now, people even use modern technology to add to the majestic nature of the dragon, including in some instances having fire come from the mouth. No fire will come from the local dragon though, said Xiong laughingly.

Power is found in both the dragon and an IndyCar, says Xiong.  “Together, I think it’s a perfect combination.”  He adds that the two traditions bring together Eastern and Western culturesin this international race.

And it is the goal of the ICCCI to share the Chinese culture in this parade, to promote cultural diversity in the community. “People from all over the world come here for this event, the Indy 500,” he said. “We think as a group, we are one part of this world, one part of the community. We want to support that event, make it brilliant,” he notes, “so we bring in this lion and dragon dance, ribbon dance, and this Chinese traditional dress, a qipao, to this parade to share our culture, to promote the cultural diversity in the community, and people like this, I guess, and we enjoy them too.”

“I am the dragon head,” says Eugene Zhen, who has danced in the dragon for about 12 years.

It’s very heavy, he insists, assessing the head as weighing maybe 10 to 15 pounds. The parade travels a long route, so sometimes substitutions are needed if dancers get tired, especially if it’s a really hot parade. He remembers lots of funny times in the dance, even having to adjust when his pole broke during one performance.

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His favorite memory, though, was during a winter parade in Chicago. It was snowing that day, and it was really beautiful, he remembers. 

The dragon dancers will be accompanied by Lion Dance groups, which each have two dancers, ribbon dancers and women dressed in qipao, the traditional Chinese dresses. About 80 people will make up this year’s ICCCI and Indianapolis Chinese Performing Arts Inc. entry in the parade.

The popular entertainers perform year-round. ICCCI activities director Sijiu Liu spends lots of time arranging their schedule, which includes events every month. They perform in Indiana, with such events as the International Festival at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Eli Lilly and Co. Culture Diversity Celebration, the Columbus International Festival, and the Kokomo Ethnic Festival, but they also go to Chicago for the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade and to Chicago’s China Town. The 500 Festival parade is an important event, so they want to be part of it, says Liu. Their goal in all their appearances is to “introduce Chinese culture to America.”

“Our culture is also called dragon culture,” he says. Dragon dance is very popular in the Indy 500 parade, he said. “I think almost 100% people like dragon dance very much.”

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