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Photos: High school students compete in Chinatown dragon dance contest

A vibrant dragon dance in a street parade with onlookers and red lanterns.
Galileo High School students perform the dragon dance at the LionDanceMe competition in Chinatown on Saturday. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

Hundreds of spectators crowded sidewalks Saturday to enjoy the traditional Chinese dragon dance performed by high school troupes in San Francisco’s Chinatown. 

People perform a dragon dance under red lanterns in a sunny street parade.
Galileo High School students perform the dragon dance at the LionDanceMe competition in Chinatown on Saturday. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

This marks the third year the competition has been held for the students and community. It is one of many local celebrations to recognize May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. 

“I want to give students the opportunity to come into our community and experience a cultural art and really find a way to build this tradition and bring it to another level,” said Norman Lau, founder and owner of entertainment company LionDanceMe, which hosts the competition.

A dynamic street parade with performers in yellow dancing with long, flowing dragon costumes under red lanterns.
The Lincoln High School team performs the dragon dance at the competition, which took place Saturday on Grant Avenue. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

Since 2024 is the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac, the event featured a dragon dance instead of the usual lion dance.

In all, six teams from seven San Francisco high schools took part in the competition. Namely, Balboa, Galileo, Lincoln, Lowell and Washington high schools, which returned this year alongside a new team from Wallenberg and Burton. 

Performers in purple outfits with cymbals dance in a vibrant street celebration, backed by smiling sun decor.
Galileo High School students perform for the third annual LionDanceMe inter-league competition. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

Though LionDanceMe provided equipment for the dragons, the individual teams put their own spin on the regalia.

“Throughout the year, we train them on the basic principles and techniques of the dragon,” Lau explained. “The students then went and watched different videos and made up different moves for the routine so they actually created their own piece.”

The troupes showed off all they learned, some with a fun modern twist using music from iconic Hollywood blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean, Rocky, Titanic and Frozen

People hold up a dragon costume in a festive setting; one person lies underneath, part of a performance.
Balboa High School students reenact a scene from the movie Titanic during a rehearsal before their performance. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

Ryan Lau, 15, a freshman at Lowell High School, started learning lion and dragon dancing from the school’s dance group in October as a way to be part of a community on campus. 

“It’s not as easy as you think it is,” said Lau, whose role on Saturday was to handle his team’s dragon tail. You have to put in a lot of time and hard work into it. You can’t just come into the dance and expect to be good.”

People in yellow shirts and masks are practicing a dance, with colorful lion dance masks decorating the wall behind them.
Lincoln High School students rehearse before their performance Saturday. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

In his opinion, the months of preparation for the competition were well worth the effort to spend more time with his friends and take pride in helping plan a routine.

First, second and third place medals and trophies will be announced and awarded to the top teams during a ceremony on May 18. 

A bright dragon dance in a vibrant street with red lanterns above, performers in red partly visible.
A dragon belonging to Lowell High School students is lifted into the air. | Source: Manuel Orbegozo for The Standard

Jackson Stephens can be reached at jstephens@sfstandard.com