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Family of lion dancers ready to roar at Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver

Angus Ing, 17, leaps through the air while practising a lion dance routine for the Chinese New Year Parade, in Vancouver, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After Jun Ing performed as a lion dancer for the first time in Vancouver's Chinese New Year parade in the 1980s, he remembers wishing it had lasted longer.

Ing was dazzled by the crowds that came out to watch the traditional art form, in which costumed performers mimic the movements of lions, as well as the "lucky money" in red envelopes he collected from merchants.

Now decades later, his 17-year-old son, Angus Ing, gets the same thrill from dancing through the streets of the city's vibrant Chinatown every year.

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"Initially he was kind of reluctant," said Jun Ing with a chuckle. "But when he saw that a lot of people were interested in lion dancing and the crowds and whatnot, he got inspired by it."

The father is the chief co-ordinator of the annual parade, officially titled the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, as well as the vice-president of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver.

This year's parade, kicking off the Year of the Rooster, is set to take place Jan. 29. Featuring multicultural dance troupes, marching bands and martial arts performances, it has become a significant annual event in the city, drawing more than 100,000 spectators last year.

The event also boasts the largest assembly of traditional lion dance teams in Canada. The colourful performers are meant to ward off evil spirits, and they stop at stores along the parade route to retrieve envelopes of cash and bring the businesses good fortune.

Jun Ing said the Hoy Ping Benevolent Association of Canada lion dancer team has performed in the parade for about 10 years. It has become a family affair, with not only Angus Ing taking the reins as the head of one of the lions, but also his 19-year-old sister Alex Ing mastering the drums.

On a recent frigid weekday night, members of the team gathered in the Hoy Ping headquarters to practise. Angus Ing pulled a large ornate silver lion head over his own, while teammate Ricardo Ho crouched behind him, operating the tail.

Using a lever inside the head to blink the eyes, Angus Ing began to embody the intimidating physicality of the animal. To the rhythm of an energetic drum beat, he and Ho confronted and play-fought with a pair of fellow dancers dressed as a glittering gold lion.

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Angus Ing said it takes a lot of practice, athleticism and endurance to master lion dancing, but it's also a "lot of fun."

"You also get to spread the culture to the people that don't really understand it," he said. "It also woos them. They've never seen something like that, all the colours and the bright lights, and also the loud noises and the big kicks."

The performance involves impressive acrobatics too, with Ho, a larger-built man in his 30s, often hoisting his younger teammate high into the air.

In fact, Alex Ing, a University of British Columbia student with a keen sense of rhythm, said she decided to pick up the drumsticks in part because she was too afraid of heights to be a lion dancer.

"I'm not a big fan of being in the air," she said, laughing. "I was scared of coming down."

If you go

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A map of the parade route and list of attractions are available on the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver's website.

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