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Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team is ready for Lunar New Year in Austin

A large blue and white dragon head is seen on a wooden gym floor as legs in black sweatpants and white sneakers peak out from underneath.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
The Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team performs all year, but Lunar New Year is the group's busiest season.

Sounds erupt from the Taiko drums with each arm stroke as the beats form the base of a thunderous symphony. The clash of cymbals slices through the air like bolts of lightning. Accompanied by the clang of gongs, colorful lions and dragons weave their way around the eager crowd to ward off evil spirits and welcome the Lunar New Year.

Beneath the lions and the dragons are members of the Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team based out of Summitt Elementary School. Comprised of dancers ranging from elementary school kids to adults, the group has been a staple in the community since 2001.

With more than 10 performances on the book for Saturday and Sunday alone, it's safe to say Lunar New Year is their busiest season.

Lunar New Year celebrations vary across cultures in East Asia and Southeast Asia and follow the lunar calendar. This year's event starts on Friday, ushering in the Year of the Dragon. With its characteristics of strength, fearlessness and compassion, the Year of the Dragon promises prosperity and auspicious beginnings.

“In Vietnamese culture, we see the lion and dragon as this mystic creature that is very powerful,” said Thầy Thuận, a Vietnamese dual language interventionist at Summitt Elementary School.

Thuân, known as Mr. T to his students, helps coordinate the dance team and said that when a lion and a dragon visit a place, it is seen as honorable and a blessing with great fortune for the year.

A hand with a small red envelope in it reaches out to a traditional lion costume to place the envelope in the lion's mouth.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Small red envelopes, known as Angpao or Bao lì xì, are often filled with money as a ticket of good wishes in life, luck and happiness and handed out during Lunar New Year.

In a gesture of reciprocity, event attendees honor the lion and dragon with small red envelopes, known as Angpao or Bao lì xì, filled with money as a ticket of good wishes in life, luck and happiness.

“I enjoy [Lunar New Year] the most because we’re performing,” team leader Derek Galban said.

A person in a red robe lays on a black stage with their arms outstretched as confetti falls through the air around them. Their face is obscured by a big-headed Buddha mask. Behind them is a traditional lion costume full of yellow and red colorful feathers.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Derek Galban, the Ông Địa or big-headed Buddha, lays down on stage while performing on Feb. 3, at the Austin American Resource Center during the annual Lunar New Year event.

Galban has been performing with the Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team since 2006 as a student. He continued to be the Ông Địa, also known as the big-headed Buddha who leads the lions and dragons and has played the role for 13 years. Galban, 29, has been the team lead for two years and hopes to pass down the mentorship that he received as he instructs the next generation.

“A lot of people don’t see the dedication and the hard work that goes into it, especially for the younger kids,” Galban said. “They go to school all day long, they finish their homework, and they work, work, work throughout practice.”

Students practice two to three hours, three times a week for a 20-minute performance.

“It’s really a big honor being able to do all of this,” said Chloe, a lion dancer and freshman at Anderson High School. “A lot of people aren’t as lucky as me to be able to do this, and I really feel connected to my culture.”

Check out the Lunar New Year events below, including a couple where you can see the Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team in action.

Austin area Lunar New Year events

Feb. 10 

  • Lunar New Year Story Time
    • Location: Austin Public Library — University Hills Branch, 4721 Loyola Ln.
    • Time: 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
    • Ages: Up to 5 years old

Feb. 11

  • FGS Xiang Yun Temple
    • Address: 6720 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX, 78731
    • Time: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    • Includes a Summitt Lion and Dragon Dance Team performance

Feb. 18

  • 2024 Lunar New Year Festival
    • Location: The Paper + Craft Pantry, 1023 Springdale Road 6A, Austin, TX 78721
    • Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Price: Donation-based for come-and-go entry

A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Derek Galban's name.

Patricia Lim is a photo and video journalist at KUT and KUTX. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @limpatricia97.
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