According to Chinese zodiac lore, those born in the year of the dog possess a straightforward and loyal personality, are occasionally prone to bouts of anxiety, and are most comfortable taking on a supportive role in the workplace. And despite their best efforts, once every 12 years the dog personality must step into the global spotlight, a reluctant celebrity on the receiving end of one of the world’s most prominent festivals: the Lunar New Year, which began February 16. The centuries-old ritual of ushering in the arrival of spring kicked off in customary fashion across Asian communities the world over, with a bevy of fireworks signaling a 15-day celebration that might also include feasting on delicately stuffed dumplings and exchanging monetary blessings tucked neatly inside red envelopes. This year’s astrological guest of honor is the lovable dog, its conventional characteristics believed to set the tone for the coming year, figuring prominently in sermons, and decorating the sides of ornate teacups. “It’s a time of renewal,” said Vicki Wang, codirector of Santa Barbara’s annual Chinese New Year festival, “where we sweep out the old spirits and make room for the new things to come.”
Over the past six years, Wang and her husband, Dragon Sun, have curated a weekend celebration that includes folk and traditional Chinese dancing, Shaolin Kung Fu, weaponry demonstrations, and live Chinese instrumental music. This year’s festivities will take place at Dos Pueblos High School’s Elings Performing Arts Center, complete with dazzling costumes and a glimpse of some of the mystical traditions that make this ancient culture so alluring. “We love that Santa Barbara is open to so many diverse forms of dance and cultural festivals,” Wang stressed.
As Bay Area dancers, Wang and Sun discovered fertile opportunities to explore their reverence for the art of Chinese dance, touring with the Chinese Performing Artists of America in balletic and acrobatic forms that highlighted the country’s varying regional styles. When their desire for teaching lead them on a search for a city to house their bricks-and-mortar endeavor, Wang said she couldn’t stop thinking about her years as a student at UCSB. “The natural beauty and picturesque landscape is something that stays with you,” she said.
In 2011, the pair debuted Sino West Performing Arts’ dance studio in Old Town Goleta, offering classes in both Chinese traditional and folk styles, as well as Western forms of dance, including ballet and jazz. “When we started our dance school, it was all Chinese students wanting to connect with their roots,” Wang remembered. “Now we have Caucasians and Latinos and so many others who are curious about this beautiful dance form.” With area allies such as the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and the Santa Barbara Chinese School, hosting a Chinese New Year festival seemed like a natural extension to their seasonal programming. “Our students are given a stage to showcase their work, and Sun and I have an opportunity to expand the knowledge of Chinese culture here in Santa Barbara,” Wang added.
February 24 will mark the ninth day of the New Year, traditionally celebrated as the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven, where households pay their respects by placing offerings on an altar table that symbolize honor and homage for the revered deity. In Santa Barbara, Sino West has curated a day of dancing and storytelling that promises to enrich our understanding of a culture steeped in legendary allegory and affecting ritual; don your best red outfit and join in the revelry.
Sino West presents its Chinese New Year show Saturday, February 24, 6 p.m., at Elings Performing Arts Center, Dos Pueblos High School (7266 Alameda Ave., Goleta). Call 680-5616 or visit sinowestsb.com.