Roaring With the Lion Dancers of New York’s Chinatown

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Kelly Wong is one of the lion dance instructors at the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club. Originally founded as a fraternal society, the Freemasons were among the first troupes in Chinatown to train women to lion dance.The New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club (more on that name in a second) hosts what’s believed to be the longest-running lion dance troupe in New York City.

image credit: Great Big Story

The dancers make it look easy, but that head can weigh up to 30 pounds, and swiveling it around on your forearms when you can see almost nothing but your feet requires a lot of flexibility, strength and balance.

image credit: Great Big Story

Considering martial arts is almost equally popular with men as with women in the US, this shouldn’t be surprising. But lion dancing was traditionally reserved for men. And the same goes for membership in the Chinese Freemasons.

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This club remains steeped in tradition, with a Buddhist shrine taking up a large corner of the room. Back when Karlin Chan joined it was still all male, and all Chinese.

But in the ’70s, they started letting non-Chinese kids who wanted to lion dance become members. And in the ’80s, the Chinese Freemasons became one of the first New York Chinatown troupes to welcome women lion dancers.

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