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Dragons, lions and martial arts aside, when Pauline Bao talks about celebrating Chinese New Year it’s easy to draw parallels to a North American Christmas.
“For Chinese what’s special is you’re working the whole year and that’s the time to take a rest, and have family get together,” says Bao.
In a country that rivals the U.S. and Canada for land mass, the latter is especially important, she adds.
“All the family from different cities or far away come back to the whole group.”
This year, however, Bao is a little farther away than before. Just under a year ago she, her husband Daniel Cotton and their son George moved to Nelson from Harbin — a city in China’s northeastern Heilongjian Province. And to mark their first New Year in Nelson, they’re throwing an all out celebration at the Capitol Theatre.
“When I was in China the first time it was during a Chinese New Year celebration,” says Cotton. “All the dragons and the performances and the music, it’s just so different than the west. And we thought, what a great idea it would be if we could bring this celebration to Nelson and share this with the community.”
The evening will include plenty of New Year traditions, from dragon and lion dances and drumming to small gifts for each child in attendance. But the main events of the evening come from another Bao family tradition: the practice of Shaolin kung fu and Tai Chi. Pauline — better known to her students as Master Bao — is part of a martial arts legacy stretching back seven generations.
“When I was four years old I started to learn kung fu from my father,” she explains. “Every year we’d go to Chinese national competitions, and eight years later I began to learn Tai Chi from my father too.”
When she moved to Nelson, she opened the Bao Academy of Kung Fu and Tai Chi, offering classes to children and adults. Those students will join her on stage at the Capitol for performances that range from a demonstration of tiger form kung fu to work with swords, spears and staffs.
The eighth generation of the Bao family will also step into the spotlight. Six-year-old George will hit the stage several times over the course of the evening, and perform what Cotton describes as a “surprising and dangerous” kung fu routine with his mother.
Though he’s only been learning kung fu for six months, Cotton says his son is already a budding master.
“I really believe he has my family’s kung fu blood,” adds Bao. “That’s why he learned so fast.”
The Chinese New Year celebration runs from 7 to 9 p.m., February 4 at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for children, and available online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca or by calling 250-352-6363.