United States junior lion dance team

From left, United States junior lion dance team members Renee Erdmann, Josie Feldhausen and Solomon Beebe Collum pose with their bronze medals and hold bronze trophy with Sifu Nelson Ferraira (mid-left). Ferraira leads lion dance training at the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association in Madison.

Two Oregon Middle School seventh-graders recently traveled to Macau, China last month to tell a tale — the tale of a lion who crossed a bridge in a simple act of bravery.

Josie Feldhausen and Renee Erdmann did this while operating a colorful, puppet-like lion costume in a Chinese martial arts tradition known as a lion dance. The dance won the seventh-graders and the rest of their junior United States team a bronze medal in the first junior lion dance competition at the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer International Lion Dance Invitational, held Nov. 10-11.

“They were thrilled,” said Colleen Feldhausen, Josie’s mother. “They practiced for months.”

The junior team also included Emerson Elementary fourth-grader Solomon Beebe Collum of Madison, who played drums during the girls’ performance. They traveled with their families, and the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association women’s team with whom they train in Madison.

While at the competition, the seventh-graders met teams from all across southeast Asia — including China, Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Feldhausen said in their free time, the girls were able to explore Macau with their respective families.

“We did quite a bit of sightseeing,” she said. “We saw a lot of ancient Buddhist temples.”

The lion’s bridge

In traditional Chinese lore, the lion is a symbol of good fortune. The lion dance, said to bring about this good fortune, is seen in events like the Chinese New Year and other Asian holidays.

Generally, two dancers operate a lion costume much like a puppet — one controls the head and the other the tail, with mechanisms like strings inside to help maneuver the costume. The lions are usually decorated with vibrant colors and abstract designs and fabrics.

Fundamental lion dance movements are based in Chinese martial arts and all performances are meant to tell a story.

“(The junior team’s story) is very mystical, powerful and transformational,” Feldhausen said.

Josie and Renee performed the story of a lion who overcomes an obstacle, while their drummer, Collum, set the rhythm for the performance.

The story starts with a curious lion coming across a river. The river has a bridge. The lion, cautious at first, perceives a path over the river.

It need only cross the bridge to get to the other side, though it’s never seen anything quite like a bridge before, Feldhausen said. With a bout of “bravery,” the lion crosses and is immediately happy it did so.

On the other side, the lion finds some green vegetables. Upon ingesting the vegetables, it spits them back out, thus turning it into good fortune, she said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.