Alana Shoob, second from left, and her teammates of Space Racers are preparing for their Dragon boat race. The 18th Annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival takes place at Sloan’s Lake Park July 28, 2018. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
A dragon was loose at Sloan’s Lake Park on Saturday morning, captivating crowds with its wild green eyes and dashing through vendors and soon-to-be-racers at the annual Dragon Boat Festival.
It was easy to get lost in the dragon’s red pupils, scalloped layers of fabric and scales, champing mouth and spikes rising from the beast’s back, but the real sight was watching the fancy footwork of the nine people animating the animal from below.
Shifu Solow brought the dragon dance to Colorado in 1997, but he’s been doing the culturally rich performance since the late 1970s in New York.
The dragon is the highest-regarded animal in Chinese culture, Solow explained, symbolizing favorable weather conditions and good fortune to all.
“That’s why we snake past the boats and the vendors when we do the dragon,” Solow said. “We’re wishing all of them good fortune and good luck to all the dragon boat racers.”
The ceremony consists of the long, colorful creature winding in and out of itself with the help of strong humans propelling it into motion, and it features the “eye dotting” down by the lake’s edge, where the dragon boats rest.
“The dragon dots the eyes and the nose of the dragon boats, and what it’s doing is awakening the senses of the dragons on the dragon boat,” Solow said. “It’s awakening all the dragons’ spirits for the races.”
Beneath the red-, green- and yellow-scaled dragon, nine sweat-saturated members of the Boulder-based Shaolin Hung Mei Kung Fu martial arts group hoisted sections of the creature on a wooden pole. Members also ferried around a massive drum with accompanying cymbals that kept a steady rhythm for the dancing dragon.
After the performance, Jason Fritz wiped his brow. The head of the dragon can weigh 30 to 40 pounds, and the other sections can weigh slightly less. But Solow said maneuvering them in sync with each other while running through grass takes endurance, agility and strength.
This marked Fritz’s first year operating the dragon, and he admitted it was a workout.
“But so is class,” he added, referencing the traditional martial arts school all the performers attend.
Fritz and his group members have been training for the dragon performance weekly since May.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s fun,” Fritz said. “I like being a part of the dragon and putting on the whole performance for everyone.”
Along with performances, the Dragon Boat Festival features food, shopping, family activities, the dragon boat racing and other celebrations of Asian and Asian-American heritage.
The festival will continue Sunday with bands, cultural dancing, martial arts, boat racing and more. Performances begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. Boat races run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and the Auraria campus’ Fifth Street garage is offering $5 parking and a free shuttle to and from Sloan’s Lake.
Veteran dragon tamer Solow keeps the dragon alive because he loves the tradition of it all.
“The dragon is a vehicle from which we can bring Chinese culture forward,” Solow said. “We just exposed thousands of people to something they maybe have only seen on TV or not at all — to Chinese traditions.”