Chinese traditions kept alive in CPS’ annual Lunar New Year performance

The Lunar New Year performances at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport — held annually for at least 30 years — are so popular that parents come back even after their children leave for high school.

Kaylee Huang (center), who is in the seventh grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs with Janet Mei (right), a sixth grader, during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport.
Kaylee Huang (center), who is in the seventh grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs with Janet Mei (right), a sixth grader, during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
Kaylee Huang (center), who is in the seventh grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs with Janet Mei (right), a sixth grader, during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport.
Kaylee Huang (center), who is in the seventh grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs with Janet Mei (right), a sixth grader, during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Chinese traditions kept alive in CPS’ annual Lunar New Year performance

The Lunar New Year performances at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport — held annually for at least 30 years — are so popular that parents come back even after their children leave for high school.

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Ahead of Lunar New Year this weekend, students at one South Side school carried on a tradition of showcasing Chinese folk dances in a school assembly.

The performance at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport —held annually for at least 30 years — is so popular that some parents return after their children leave for high school, Principal Erin Kamradt said.

“They’re still coming to the performances because we’re keeping their cultural traditions alive and teaching it to their kids,” she said.

The yearly program at the school — with a student body that’s 75% Asian American — was once attended by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel a decade ago.

Healy Folk Dancers perform “Swaying Willow” during a Lunar New Year celebration at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport on Thursday.
Healy Folk Dancers perform “Swaying Willow” during a Lunar New Year celebration at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport on Thursday. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
Lunar New Year, on Saturday, is one of the most important holidays in traditional Chinese culture. The Year of the Dragon will be celebrated with a parade in Uptown on Feb. 17 and in Chinatown on Feb. 18.

Celebrations begin Saturday on the new moon and culminate Feb. 20 during the full moon.

Thursday’s performances, held in the school’s theater, at 3010 S. Parnell Ave., ranged from traditional to modern.

Eighth grader Mia Li performed a traditional Chi Ling dance in an elaborate red gown. Mia has been practicing traditional Chinese dances since she was 4 years old and was happy to bring that knowledge to the peers she danced with.

“Not many people know about the traditions of China,” she said. “It’s a good time to share” those.

Angela Mei, who is in second grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, sings “Happy New Year” during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport.
Angela Mei, who is in second grade at Robert Healy Elementary School, sings “Happy New Year” during a Lunar New Year celebration Thursday at Robert Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
Other performances included a modern, upbeat children’s song and dance led by Ms. Yuen’s second-grade class.

Ms. Chan’s third-grade class performed the myth of “Why the rooster crows in the morning.”

According to the performance, the emperor enlists his best warrior to shoot down six superfluous suns that have been scorching his people. The last remaining sun then takes shelter behind a large mountain, leaving the emperor’s people freezing.

Despite the roaring of the tiger and mooing of a cow, the sun refuses to come out. But after the rooster crows, and the emperor’s people compliment the sun, it returns.

After telling that tale, the children danced off the stage to applause and a comical music video of a “techno chicken.”

The Lion Dance Troupe, which consists of Robert Healy Elementary School students, performs a dragon dance at a Lunar New Year celebration in Bridgeport.
The Lion Dance Troupe, which consists of Robert Healy Elementary School students, performs a dragon dance at a Lunar New Year celebration in Bridgeport. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

The show opened with a traditional lion dance, in which students lifted elaborate costumes over their heads.

Sixth grader Ella Liu played the part of one of those heads. Students had been practicing for the show in after-school sessions since late September, she said.

Healy is a neighborhood school that, despite having boundaries that don’t quite reach Chinatown, still heavily represents a Chinese American population that has spilled into neighboring Bridgeport, Kamradt said.

The student body has been between 70% and 80% Asian American for Kamradt’s 14-year tenure there.

“We try to celebrate all the cultures we have,” she said. “I think it’s important for kids to see that their culture is celebrated, and that all of these traditions are important.”

Nathan Zheng, a third grader at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs during a Lunar New Year celebration. The school’s student population is between 70% and 80% Asian American.
Nathan Zheng, a third grader at Robert Healy Elementary School, performs during a Lunar New Year celebration. The school’s student population is between 70% and 80% Asian American. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times