San Diego rings in Chinese New Year with lion dancing in City Heights

The year of the pig was welcomed in at Indo-Chinese Association.


The San Diego Indo-Chinese association welcomed guests (and ancestors) with hot tea, aromatic incense, and stunning visual decor. By Brian Mohler/City Times

Brian Mohler, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Incense filled the air to honor ancestors, tea warmed the living, decorative dance delighted all eyes and most party goers left carrying bamboo.

Despite the rain, a broken drumstick and misplaced keys, the Chinese New Year’s Eve celebration at the Indo-Chinese Association on University Avenue in City Heights was a success.

Brandon Tran received slack from members of his San Diego Legendary Lion Dance Association crew about not knowing where his keys went, but it was in good fun and Tran was pleased with their performance alongside the Van Kiep Lion Dance crew.

Van Kiep formed in San Diego in 1983, it’s an older troupe than Legendary, which was founded  in 2001 according to Tran, but Legendary was holding down their home ground at the Indo-Chinese Association.

“Lion dancing bonds the community,” Tran said. “But we are competitive. Our dance movements are based on martial arts. My grandfather who helped found our association is a master in martial arts.

“We call them ‘lions’ but they are actually a mix of animals combined to scare away bad spirits. Traditionally they were thought to help enrich the soil and ensure a good year.”

Lion dances take place at cultural events but performances also provide businesses in the community with good luck.


Lion and Tiger dancers
Tiger dancers sought shelter from the rain but continued entertaining during the Chinese New Year celebration. By Brian Mohler/City Times

“We have a lot of younger members in area high schools,” Tran said. “We affiliate with Chinese dancing but we’re open to everyone who wants to learn and participate.

“We have a diverse team. Some members are Mexican or Cambodian. I’m Vietnamese.”

Tran said he’s participated in the lion dance for 11 years now and is one of the captains.

“The lion is the best part but instruments play an important role and control the movements,” Tran said. “Drums can be made out of deer or bison skin. They have different colors and produce different sounds. Some are more bassey or crisp sounding like ours.”

Legendary leader, Tony Nguyen, played the main drum during the performance.

Nguyen was jamming so hard that a drumstick snapped in half, but he managed to switch sticks without losing a beat thanks to teamwork.

“I’d been using that drum stick for three years,” Nguyen joked after.

More lion and dragon dancing, kung fu demonstrations, Chinese acrobatics, and other classic Chinese dances will be on display during on Feb. 16-17, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., during 37th Annual San Diego Chinese New Year Fair in the old Chinatown of San Diego, now known as the Asian Thematic District at 3rd Avenue and J Street in front of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

The free event is put on by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Diego. Their website states last year there were over 25,000 attendees, over 50 food and commercial booths, with arts and crafts for children included.