“Let’s try that again from the ice cream scoop,” instructed Siyue Chen. Following her lead, most of the children swept their fans downward, starting above their heads, in an arc towards the floor. The minority not scooping found it challenging enough to keep their balance with this new toy in hand.
After half an hour of stretching, sweeping, and waving, the class performed a version of the silk fan dance, a Chinese folk dance celebrating the approach of spring. Heralding spring could not have come sooner, since the Chinese Arts Festival, originally planned for Feb. 9, had to reschedule for this Saturday and Sunday due to blizzard Nemo.
Different flavors of the silk fan dance can be found throughout Eastern Asia. Yale students have choreographed this particular version. With each verse, the fans open and close and flutter around the children’s faces, “symbolizing the blooming of flowers,” said Chen.
Chen and her co-instructor, Shubo Yin, both belong to the Yale undergraduate dance troupe Phoenix. Chen and Yin offered free lessons on Saturday at the New Haven Museum.
That sentiment pervaded much of the activities offered in the New Haven Museum Saturday, aligning perfectly with the purpose behind this celebration of the lunar new year—“to give back to the community,” explained Annie Lin, an Arts Program Fellow with the Yale-China Association.
Besides engaging the people of New Haven, the inaugural Chinese Arts Festival (and the second lion dance) called for the collaboration of the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale and the New Haven Museum as well as the Yale-China Association. For Lin, coordinating cultural events like the festival means “moving towards that two-way goal”: demystifying Chinese cultural for the non-Chinese, and Chinese immersion in American culture.
Harold Ellis found himself looking both ways down this street. His children, Ray and Charles, are half-Chinese and enjoyed connecting with, and learning about, their heritage at the downstairs calligraphy table. “New Haven is Connecticut’s cultural capital,” said Ellis. “It’s why I moved here.”
The two-day celebration includes a Tai Chi workshop, dance workshops, and several more demonstrations, all booked full in advance. The countless hours and emails leading up to Saturday and Sunday seem paltry compared to the large turnout, “showing us there is a need in the community,” explained Lin.