J.B. Martin highlights different cultures with performances

The Rising Dragon Lion Dance team drew some loud reactions at J.B. Martin at the school’s Multicultural Day Celebration.

Celebration featured dance performers, poetry, music and joy

The crowd screamed in unison, as one might expect — after all, a dragon had just charged into their space.

No, this wasn’t Game of Thrones. That scene came to life at J.B. Martin Middle School Friday, courtesy of the colorful and charismatic Rising Dragon Lion Dance Team that performed as part of the school’s Multicultural Day Celebration. This was the third year the school has held the event, which began as an event to celebrate Black History Month and has expanded since.

“It’s gotten better and better each year,” said J.B. Martin teacher Staci Bolden, who led the project coordination effort. ”We were able to feature some new performers for the first time this year. It’s important because we serve several cultures that aren’t always represented accurately. So this exposes them to different things, they get to see different people and experience different cultures.”

The Rising Dragon Lion group was a hit with the assembled students. The Marrero-based group was formed in 1994 by a group of Vietnamese talents. The team practices the art of Lion Dance, an Asian tradition meant to eliminate negative energy and replace it with positive energy. The dance is performed every year at the Tet Festival in New Orleans that celebrates the Vietnamese New Year.

“This exposes them to different things, they get to see different people and experience different cultures.”- Staci Bolden

Set to a drum beat, their show seemed to do exactly what it intended to do: the J.B. Martin gym sprung to life as the dancers actively engaged students, band members, teachers and faculty alike.

“A lot of these students haven’t seen anything like it before,” Bolden said. “Even a lot of our teachers were really excited to see them in action, and the same for me. They really put on a big ‘ol performance.”

They were far from the only highlight. There were memorable performances by student April Scott, who sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and by the Cajun Dancers of Allemands Elementary School to help kick-start the show.

Another came by way of the Step Teams of Destrehan High School and J.B. Martin showcasing step dance, a call-and-response style of dance that originated in Africa and was used by enslaved Africans to communicate with one another, protect themselves from danger and express emotions.

A special guest performer was the Black Mohawk Mardi Gras Indians, African American carnival revelers who dress up for Mardi Gras inspired by Native American ceremonial apparel. Each member designs and makes their own attire, and all are unique —“you will never find two exactly alike,” it was noted to the attendees.

Student Amaya Gillis gave a reading of the popular Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise,” which speaks on the struggle of overcoming prejudice, while another, Raven Darensburg, recited the narrative poem “Each Child is Different” to celebrate individuality. Other students sang: Messiyah Bradley and Olivia Downs performed the Andra Day’s “Rise Up” together, inspiring much of the student body to sing along. And the J.B. Martin Jazz Band performed Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Santana’s “Oye Como Va.”

“We really wanted to make sure everything looked good and that we represented as many cultures as possible,” said sixth grader Tracy Engel, part of the J.B. Martin Student Advocacy Team that helped plan and decorate the school for the event.

She said the day showcased the result of two months of planning.

Bolden said the plan is to keep this day part of the school’s tradition for a long time.

“We’re hoping to have even more people here to perform and more cultures represented,” she said. “It’s just a whole lot of people representing us and who we are in St. Charles Parish and in the New Orleans community as a whole.”

Rising Dragon Lion Dance Team

  • Established in 1994 and based in Marrero.
  • Vietnamese group practices the art of Lion Dance, an Asian traditional dance that takes away negative energy and brings positive energy.
  • The lion’s presence is meant to symbolize good luck, health and prosperity.
  • Group name translates to Thang Long in Vietnamese.

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