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Better with age

Local Chinese club honors culture by making memories

Created date

October 13th, 2016
King Zee and Glenna Lee (under wraps) play with a lion’s head during a Chinese New Year party at Riderwood in Silver Spring, Md., where they live.

King Zee and Glenna Lee (under wraps) play with a lion’s head during a Chinese New Year party at Riderwood in Silver Spring, Md., where they live.

Riderwood’s Chinese club began ten years ago as a handful of Chinese community members meeting periodically for dinner. Over the years, the club has grown into a group of 35 who still enjoy meals together but who also gather for other activities that celebrate Chinese culture, art, history, and music. 

Resident Peggy Zee, who currently serves as club leader, says members get together one Sunday a month for a cultural activity, perhaps to watch a Chinese film or documentary about China’s growth or listen to Chinese opera. 

They’ve also brought in guest presenters such as an acupuncturist and a calligrapher. The group hosts special celebrations for holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year. 

“It’s a fun group,” Peggy says.

Dance of the lion

One of the Chinese club’s most memorable activities was a six-act variety show. Club members embraced the idea and rehearsed their acts with gusto. Performances included a group of “Chinese cowgirls” doing a line dance, “Chinese señoritas” dancing the samba and merengue, and a group singing Mandarin folk songs. 

“People who had never done anything like that were so excited,” Peggy says. “They were practicing and doing dress rehearsals,” Peggy says. 

Club members had so much fun putting on their light-hearted variety show that they agreed to perform the Chinese lion dance for an event organized by Riderwood’s diversity and inclusion committee. 

In the traditional Chinese dance, performers don costumers and mimic the movements of lions. It is often performed as part of Chinese New Year parties and other important events and celebrations. Peggy purchased a Wuhan brass gong for the performance, and another club member supplied a lion’s head costume.

“The lion dance is usually done by martial arts experts, but I was able to adapt it so that octogenarians were able to perform very effectively,” Peggy says. “We wore costumes, made and decorated all the drums, and used brass bowls as well for instruments. Everyone followed the cadence of my gong. We were the last act to perform, and it was the hit of the event.”

The lion dance performance was so popular that the Chinese club gave a repeat performance the next year. For their encore act, they put together even more elaborate costumes and added a court jester to the performance.

“I think our club is unique, and we are now used to doing things together and having fun in spite of our advancing years,” Peggy says. “Every year sees an increase in our membership as our reputation as a club that has fun grows.”

Honoring similarities and differences

Peggy, whose family hails from China’s Canton Province, was born in the United States. She says Riderwood’s Chinese club includes people who were born in China as well as many second-generation Chinese-Americans. 

Likewise, some members speak Chinese and some do not. Members’ ancestors hail from a variety of different regions in China. But all club members share an interest in Chinese culture and bonding with other people of Chinese descent. 

Over the years, one of the best things to come out of the club has been strong friendship among members.

“We’re all active, and we all know each other,” Peggy says. “We have great discussions and celebrate people’s birthdays.”

More recently, an offshoot singing group has emerged from the Chinese club. Some club members became interested in learning to sing Chinese songs, including folk music from their youth. Peggy was able to get CDs of Chinese songs, and the club members who are fluent in Mandarin have created phonetic translations. 

“They translate it so we American-born Chinese can sing along,” Peggy says. “We have a repertoire of 45 songs now. It’s really cool because I can sing in Chinese, and I know the stories behind the songs.”