Foothill Chinese School's 2013 Chinese New Year Party

Students perform a Chinese Fan Dance during the Foothill Chinese School's 2013 Chinese New Year Party at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge. (Photo courtesy of Mike Mullen / February 16, 2013)

Blues, reds and golds infused the Community Center with festive vibrance as Foothill Chinese School students and their families celebrated the Chinese New Year on Saturday evening.

Nearly 200 guests were treated to a variety of performances — followed by a Chinese dinner buffet — that ushered in the Year of the Snake and showcased students’ understanding of Chinese language and culture.

“Chinese is a very difficult language,” event emcee Belinda Dong said. “It has four tones. If you ever make a mistake, you could end up calling your mom a horse.”

Student performers Kevin Tang, Yiwei Meng, Yilun Luo and Ling Rao began the performances with a traditional Lion dance. Members of Christine Mui Pang’s class were next as they presented a Chinese-language version of “If You Are Happy, Clap Your Hands.”

Students from the classes of Huiyi “Holly” Li, who also serves as school principal, and Pang performed a Chinese fan dance, “Joyful,” under the direction of Alice Zhai, a 10th-grade student at La Cañada High School.

Zhai’s dance solo of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” which was choreographed by Shin-Yue Wang, received intense applause from the audience.

The Chinese New Year event also showcased the achievements of the school, which began in 2005 with just 10 students. Today, there are more than 80 students who learn the language and culture in one of four class levels, according to school board President Hui Su, who helped found the school.

“It’s just amazing,” Su said before the performances. “I didn’t know it would grow this much.”

Students attend school on any one of four weekday afternoon sessions. Beginning students learn how to greet people and order food in Chinese. As students advance, they begin conversing and writing in Chinese.

Despite Audrey Fong’s Chinese heritage, the Foothill Chinese School parent didn’t grow up speaking the language.

“I don’t know an ounce of Chinese,” Fong said. “I’m totally Americanized. Chinese is very difficult, but they make it much more user-friendly for English-speaking families.”

Like many of the younger students, having a fun time is the greatest learning tool for Fong’s daughter, Julianna.

“She likes the games.”

But the experience is much more than child’s play. Learning Chinese will give her daughter a greater chance of future success. As China’s economy expands, so do future job opportunities for those who understand the language and culture.

“China obviously is very strong right now, and I think that it’s going to be the wave of the future in terms of jobs,” Fong said.

For more information on Foothill Chinese School, visit www.foothillchineseschool.org.