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Tonight is parade night in downtown Schenectady

Saturday, November 17, 2012
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Men in costume show off a parade dragon that will be part of Saturday's 45th annual Gazette Holiday Parade.
Men in costume show off a parade dragon that will be part of Saturday's 45th annual Gazette Holiday Parade.

— Two sensations in gold and scarlet will show up on State Street Saturday night as the 45th annual Gazette Holiday Parade kicks off the autumn and winter party seasons.

The glittering dragons, purchased by the Price Chopper supermarket chain, will remind spectators that “Magic & Myths” is the theme of the 2012 gathering. The horned, bearded and fanged visitors from Chinese tradition will have company in the fantasy brigade.

“We’re going to see fairies and wizards and some Christmas magic like Frosty the Snowman,” said Gail Hopper, who is coordinating the parade for the Chamber of Schenectady County.

Kathe Sheehan, owner of The Costumer stores in Schenectady and Colonie, will multiply the make-believe factor by casting 50 costumed characters on The Costumer’s float. As grand marshal of the parade, she will be among the first to offer waves and smiles to the expected thousands of children and adults standing and sitting near downtown streets.

The parade will start at 5 p.m., stepping off from Schenectady County Community College and proceeding east on State Street to the corner of Lafayette Street, at the foot of Veterans’ Park.

The 50-foot-long dragons will not breath fire or roar — unlike their brethren who last month appeared in Albany with the “How to Train Your Dragon” live show — but they will travel with entourages. Lucas Geller, director of the Chinese Martial Arts Academy in Latham, will lead one dragon team; Xinhua Lee, director of the Asian Culture Chinese Dance Troupe in Saratoga Springs, will lead the other.

People can expect the usual dancers, musicians and Santa Claus at this year’s show. Bands from Schenectady, Mohonasen, Scotia-Glenville and Amsterdam high schools are on the schedule. Newcomers this year will be the Marching Cobras of New York. The group’s drumline and dance team, all of them teenagers from Westchester County and New York City, will join other scholastic performers.

Pam Cerrone, manager of community relations for the 130-store Price Chopper chain, said the dragons were purchased from a dealer in Beijing, China. “We always try to do something that’s never been done before,” she said. “We always want to be unique and bring something new and different to the parade.”

Price Chopper and parade organizers have received an assist from popular culture. Dragons, magic and fantasy remain big attractions for young people.

“They’re beautiful, they’re colorful, they’re mystical-looking,” Cerrone said. “They’re something you don’t normally see. … It’s fun to imagine what one would look like. They’re make-believe, and I’m sure that’s why people like them.”

The dragons will be donated to the Asian Culture Inc. organization after their parade appearances.

Geller’s dragon team will include kids who study martial arts. Lee will supervise young people playing Chinese waist drums as her monster twists and turns.

On both dragons, a team of people will stand under body sections and hold the dragon aloft with poles during the night. A leader will carry each dragon head on a stick. Another dragon participant will use a large “taunting ball” in front of the dragon to secure the beast’s attention.

Geller, who has studied martial arts in China, competed in national and international martial arts tournaments and has a master’s degree in advanced Chinese language and culture, said his kids will get the chance to show off martial arts moves during their time on the streets.

“I think that’s one of the things about dragon dancing, martial arts, drumming — they’re all exciting and colorful, they’re active, they’re fun,” Geller said. “It kind of captures the observers’ imaginations. This is something spectacular, this is vivid, the dragons, all these guys punching and kicking. It’s exciting. It’s powerful.”

A bunch of Geller’s 8-year-old students have volunteered for dragon duty. Some younger students, he said, were not permitted to join the team because of expected chilly temperatures Saturday night.

“The 8-year-olds, they don’t care how cold it’s going to be. They’re going to do it no matter what,” Geller said. “That should tell you how excited they are about it. For them, it’s the first chance to showcase what they’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.”

Xinhua (pronounced “Sing Wa”) Lee and her group will be dressed in ceremonial Chinese outfits. The drummers will set the cadence for the dragons’ movements, and Lee is looking forward to exposing parade fans to Chinese culture.

“The dragon is one of the Chinese symbols, like the eagle is the symbol for the U.S.,” she said. “And this year is the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese lunar calendar.”

Lee believes people are fascinated with the dragon and its mythical ties to China. “Especially young people,” she said. “They want to see the dragon. It’s a very marvelous, significant thing, a symbol of being strong, loyalty, the emperor.”

Dragons make appearances during Chinese New Year and spring festival celebrations. Some people will be seeing their first roving dragons Saturday night.

“It’s very important to represent the Chinese community here,” Lee said. “The Chinese population is rapidly growing in the Capital Region. People will be very happy and very excited to see the presentation of Chinese culture.”

 
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