Chinese New Year Makes Belated but Dazzling Appearance in Milwaukee

Feb 21, 2014

Chinese New Year is coming to Milwaukee a little late this year. We step in to a rehearsal at the Brookfield Community Senior Center.

That’s not the venue for this weekend’s potpourri of food, arts & crafts – even a Dragon parade; it’s happening at Discovery World on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

Yang Jin, who says ‘call me Jane,’ says dancers are just squeezing in a bit more preparation in Brookfield

Jane struck out from her native China at 24 to attend grad school at Marquette University. That’s where she met her husband.

She shows me young girls practicing a “modern” traditional dance from a southwest region of China. The girls are a sea of moving pinks, stripes and flowers, but during performances, they’ll shimmer in blue costumes. Jane says their gestures incorporate traditional moves.

“And it’s kind of mimicking the peacock, the hand, the movement and the music is very typical. The music is not “traditional” traditional with the Chinese instrument; it’s more modern, but it’s traditional to the region,” Jame says.

In the next room, the adult group runs through its number. Jane is a part of the ensemble. She says they didn’t start off intending to “perform” publicly.

“When we first started it was mainly just getting together a group of people we’re all friends, to exercise and talk, but then it sort of evolved because we started doing the celebration party a few years ago and we put together a program, everybody liked it so we continued the tradition, so every year this is part of the job we have to finish," Jane says.

The eight women glide and leap across the worn linoleum floor. Every gesture - punctuated by red handkerchiefs they hold in each hand - is synchronized.

“The red color is a lucky color and the costumes we have a red as well; a pant suit with short sleeves,” Jane says.

They imported the garments from China.

Each year, the group learns a new dance for the occasion. Dancer “Wei Guo – who also goes by Vera - doubles as the troop’s “choreographer”.  But she stresses she’s not a professional dance coach.

”We just like to dance and I learn from the internet, from on-line, from the YouTube,” Wei says.

She digs around on YouTube to find Chinese dance. She watches them over and over until she can teach the steps to her friends from memory.

Yang Jin – Jane – says the fusion of east and west sums up the interpretation of Chinese New Year they share with the wider community.

“ I don’t think the holiday itself is that critical anymore. It more the community is a big family getting together.....everybody is happy and celebrating I think that’s more what it is for. A lot of people, they have been here a for a while,” Jane says.

But she admits a wee bit of nostalgia remains.

“Traditional Chinese food and the music and the dance, kind of brings the old memories back,” Jane says.

The very youngest dancers performed at the Milwaukee Chinese Community Centers "private" Chinese New Year celebration on February 8.
Credit Weidong Lin

Correction: The Chinese New Year Celebration takes place Saturday, February 22 and Sunday, February 23 from 1o am to 5 pm at Discovery World.