Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 | 6:42 p.m.
The lions charged through the doors of Kung Fu Thai & Chinese restaurant behind a cacophony of pounding drums and clashing cymbals.
Each step following an 1,800 year-old ritual, the sequined red, yellow and green lions with paper mache heads danced around the tables filled with patrons on the third day of Chinese New Year. Shouts of “Ha” punctuated the pauses in drumming and cymbal crashes. Little children clung to their parents out of fear and amusement.
Then the green lion approached a hanging head of lettuce, an offering from the restaurant. After a beat, the lion shot shreds of lettuce into the crowd three times and marched out. With that, the evil spirits were gone and Kung Fu Thai & Chinese received another year of good luck.
“We believe that there are spirits around us, and there are good ones and bad ones,” said Allen Wong, the restaurant's general manager. “The lion dance, the reason we perform it is because the ceremony and noise tell the evil spirits to get out of here.”
Martial artists at the Lohan School of Shaolin have performed the authentic lion dance at casinos and businesses throughout Las Vegas since Chinese New Year began Friday. The routine is part of a Chinese tradition typically performed around the Chinese New Year to grant a business, home or couple good luck in the new lunar cycle, said Dashi Steven Baugh, who directs the dance.
The Kung Fu students practice the dance year-round to perfect its steps. They use martial arts students because the moves are meant to be powerful but in control.
“One of my teachers said make sure your students look like lions and not happy puppies,” Baugh said. “It makes a difference because the lions are supposed to be chasing out bad energy and spirit of a building, so the idea is you have to look powerful.”
It starts with the lions dancing in the pattern of the Big Dipper to draw celestial strength while also approaching the door to search for evil spirits. The pounding drums also help the lion build strength.
Once inside, the cymbals and lion scare away the evil spirits. Those spirits, many restaurant owners believe, could cause food to taste bad or create bad business.
“They believe that ghosts come in trying to eat the food — that’s what’s taking the taste out,” Baugh said. “They ask us to come in and every year we start anew.”
Wong has seen the difference between years the family-owned restaurant has held the dance and years they haven’t. Five years ago, they had troubles with patrons dining and dashing without pay, but in the four years since they re-instated the dance, the problem has disappeared.
He hopes this year’s dance will bring more good luck for his family’s business.
The public can watch the Lohan School of Shaolin perform the dance Feb. 7-9 at the Fremont Street Experience.