PORTLAND – Just before three girls danced barefoot onto the stage wearing conical Asian hats made of straw, the announcer introduced them.

“The Lotus Troupe are the founding pioneer students here at the CAFAM Chinese School,” she said. “They have been with the school since they were just 18 months old,” in 1996.

The audience gathered to celebrate the Chinese New Year greeted dancers Quinn Lavigne, Nicole McCallum and Phoebe Suva with a round of applause.

Their dance, “Dark Clouds,” set to traditional Chinese music, was choreographed to symbolize Chinese rice farmers caught in a thunderstorm while working in the field.

It was one of many performances given Saturday morning as part of the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine’s 21st annual Chinese New Year Celebration at Catherine McAuley High School.

The Chinese New Year, which started Thursday, marks the Year of the Rabbit. Craig Dietrich, a founding member of the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, said the new year is the biggest holiday in Chinese culture and is often celebrated for up to two weeks.

Saturday’s celebration hosted by the nonprofit association included a day full of crafts, exhibits, performances, Chinese cuisine and workshops.

Jing Fang and her husband, Yan Jun Cui, of Boston, were visiting friends in the Portland area when they decided to attend the celebration.

They stopped at a craft table with their 3-year-old daughter, Linda Cui.

“Our kids are born here. They know nothing about China, know nothing about Chinese culture and tradition. This is a nice way for them to be involved,” Fang said.

Fang watched as her husband helped Linda staple rabbit ears onto a band of paper to make a headdress.

While her daughter is young, Fang said, the crafts help her learn about the culture and the significance of the animal associated with the Chinese New Year.

At a nearby table, Andrea Freed of Farmingdale was learning about Chinese calligraphy. She chatted with Rei Li, 18, as Li painted Chinese symbols with black ink on red paper.

“This means ‘protector of the world,’” Li said as she handed Freed a paper for her 10-year-old daughter.

Freed adopted Emma Leah Weihe Freed from China when the girl was just a year old. They were attending the celebration to stay connected with Emma Leah’s heritage.

“This foundation exists for spreading information and knowledge about Chinese culture,” Dietrich said, especially with a growing population of people of Chinese descent in Maine. “This is a big aspect of (China’s) calendar year. This celebration helps make more people aware of China and its culture.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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