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Jen-Jen Lin, What’s Your Story?

Jan. 1, 2012, 8:00 AM

Jen-Jen Lin (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Jen-Jen Lin keeps six lions in her basement and a dragon in the closet.

The awesome lion costumes live at her home until brought to life by dancers who perform the traditional Chinese Lion Dance under her direction. The spectacular 60-foot dragon, used in the traditional Dragon Dance, is a wonder of craftsmanship kept in a storeroom at Eakin Elementary School, where Lin has taught Chinese language courses for several years.

Over the past months, Lin and her colleagues at the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville, an organization that Lin founded in 2002, have carefully restored the dragon with 1,500 fluorescent scales.

“I had to charm a lot of people to get 1,500 dragon scales on the body,” said Lin, who is a dancer, drummer and artist as well as an unofficial ambassador for Chinese culture in Nashville. “I’m very proud of it. I never thought it would be so beautiful.”

With the glorious dragon restored, Lin is ready to launch a celebration of the Year of the Dragon for the Nashville community. In Chinese tradition, each year is dedicated to one of 12 animals: dragon, horse, monkey, rat, boar, rabbit, dog, rooster, ox, tiger, snake or ram. On Jan. 23, a Year of the Dragon begins.

“The Chinese dragon symbolizes nobility, strength and power,” Lin explained. It is the most significant and auspicious of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Lin has joined with volunteers and artists to plan an appropriately magnificent celebration with Dragon Dance performances as well as a dance theater production called Dragon Tales choreographed and directed by Lin to be performed in early March at Blair’s Ingram Hall.

“I enjoy the process,” said Lin, “because I have the chance to connect with people.” The dragon dancers, coached by Lin, are mostly volunteers from the community plus a few Vanderbilt students, including some from the Vanderbilt Dance Program where Lin recently began teaching modern dance, her first love.

Lin was trained in modern dance, but as a young graduate in Taiwan, the only dance job she could find was teaching Chinese dance so she learned the traditional art form on the job. “I appreciate that opportunity,” Lin said. “Not every Chinese person knows Chinese dance.”

Now, she combines the modern and the traditional in her art. “Everything is inspired by Chinese stories or Chinese music, but with modern dance,” Lin said. “The more I dig into Chinese art and culture for inspiration, the more there is to discover.”

Helping others learn about and experience Chinese language, art and culture is part of Lin’s mission, and creating is her passion. Through her productions, her teaching and her work with CAAN, she combines her dedication to Chinese culture and her love of art while building bridges and dispelling stereotypes.

“I believe if people know each other better, they can be better together,” she said. “I do performing arts and visual arts for people to take a peek, in a friendly way, at Chinese culture. Just come watch and enjoy.”

For a schedule of Chinese New Year events, visit the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville on Facebook or the organization’s website.

written by Donna B. Smith