Junior Adam Katz roars into the spotlight

Patricia Wei


Diana Xu, Managing Editor

Beneath the striking patterns and bright colors of the magnificent lion, junior Adam Katz’s heartbeat falls in sync with the thundering of drums, gongs and cymbals as he prepares for his next stunt. Katz holds his breath, bends his knees and lifts his partner over his head. The lion stands on its hind legs. As a result, the crowd shouts with delight. Katz’s ten years of training as a traditional Chinese lion dancer has paid off.

Usually performed during Chinese New Year, traditional Chinese lion dance consists of two performers inside a lion costume, with one controlling the front legs and the other controlling the hind legs. With their shaggy fur and large, blinking eyes, the lions are said to bring good luck and fortune, chasing away evil spirits.

The head of the lion is made of paper maché; it consists of a horn, eyes, a mirror, ears, a nose and a beard. Most horns are shaped like bamboo shoots to attract good luck. The mirrors that are positioned on the horn and forehead serve a similar purpose. The lion head is controlled by two handles on the interior while the mouth itself simply hangs freely, connected by string that allows it to open and close with a performer’s pull. There may also be strings and handles inside the lion that make the eyes blink and the ears move. The tail is a long piece of shiny, colorful ribbon that is usually attached to the dancer by a belt buckle. Some lions have handles on the inside of the tail in order to help the dancer control its movements.

Initially a kung fu performer, Katz later became a part of Meyerholz Elementary School’s Asian School Enrichment Program lion dance team through the Chinese Language Immersion Program.  When Katz was in sixth grade, he was brought into a professional lion dance team known as Shaolin Kung Fu Lion Dance.

“Lion dancing is kind of an isolated part of my life,” said Katz. “I never really showed off about it because I wasn’t super proud of it until more recently, since as of recently, our team has really exploded and expanded.”

The team now performs for well-known organizations such as the Standard Charter Bank. Even now, lion dancing is still kept separate from Katz’s life as he does not think it applies to his daily life.

Katz practices with his team once a week. He is a team leader, responsible for organizing and putting together performances at events.

Adam is one of the senior active team members. I look to him [and the other] senior members to train the junior members and take charge of performances,” said coach Stephen Chew. “Adam is very good at both.  I have seen him patient with newer members and share skills he has.”

Every year, Katz’s team recruits new people to join in order to expand the team. Training the young kids can be troublesome, as they tend to run around and play instead of obeying instructions.

“He has a good presence and is able to get most people to listen to him,” said Katz’s partner Jordan Chew. “This is especially important because we have a lot of younger kids on the team. He also is a very likable person.”

Not only does Katz contribute to his team by organizing performances and teaching younger members, but he also performs alongside Chew, who attends Cupertino High School.

“We’ve been friends since kindergarten, so we often talk about things that aren’t just concerning lion dance,” said Jordan. “We’ve worked with each other for so long, that we have a pretty good grasp of the other person’s [tendencies]. We have a lot of trust in each other. Sometimes, when we don’t land our stacks perfectly, Adam is able to help power through it.”

Most recently, the pair has been practicing a stunt called head stacking. Stacking is a technique in which one dancer jumps up and lands on the thighs or shoulders of the other dancer. During a recent performance, the two decided to perform this stunt — the crowd shouted in astonishment.

With the bulk of the team’s performances taking place during Chinese New Year, the rest of the year is dedicated to practicing stunts and tricks. At times, Katz misses days of school and spends his weekends performing at events.

“Lion dancing has made me a better leader, it has made me a good partner, and it has made me someone who understands other people’s bodies and allowed me to teach other people better because of it,” said Katz.

Despite Katz’s struggles, the assets he gains as a lion dancer outweigh any of the negatives involved. Through countless numbers of performances, Katz has become professional in performing, learned how to work around any obstacle and, gained confidence in himself.