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Penn Museum ushers in the Year of the Sheep in its annual cultural celebration

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STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON 
For 21st Century Media

Happy new year! Yes, 2015 began almost a month ago, but the Year of the Sheep is just getting started. The Penn Museum is hosting a party, too — its annual Chinese New Year Celebration. This is the 34th year for the event and all ages are invited to have a good time while learning about Chinese culture.
The celebration, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, features: workshops on Tai Chi and calligraphy; fruit and vegetable carving (sculpting watermelon rind into Elvis Presley’s likeness, creating a lemon pig, and more) with Chef Joseph Poon; dance performances; music demonstrations; martial arts exhibitions; and the grand finale, the traditional Lion Dance.
Jennifer Reifsteck, public programs manager at Penn Museum, and her staff designed the “Animal Signs of the Chinese Zodiac” tour that enables visitors to examine how Chinese and world cultures personify animals.
“We’ll be talking about how cultures through time have given animals humanlike traits, along with how other cultures have perceived animals and our own cultural perceptions,” she said.
The tour will focus on the goat — although this is the year of the sheep, the Chinese character for sheep can be used interchangeably with goat, Reifsteck said.
The museum features an international collection, so while the day focuses on Chinese culture, Reifsteck hopes people will engage with the items on display about others as well.
“Animals are a great way to do that. Every culture has a known mythology about them” she said. “Often times, you’ll see animals being used to tell the stories of the culture.”
Reifsteck is most looking forward to people’s reactions.
“It’s always so delightful to see visitors participating in what we’re offering,” she said. “I love seeing the children involved.”
Some of the children featured in the daylong celebration are from the Great Wall Chinese School Little Mulan Dance Troupe from Rosemont. Jian Hua Liu, a parent representative for the group, said that the children love participating and performing (Liu’s 10-year-old daughter has been dancing since she was 5 and enjoys it). The troupe travels to competitions around the country and the world, but especially enjoys performing in their own backyard of Philadelphia.
The children in the troupe range in age from 8 to 18. Their teacher for 10 years, Lanwei Ji, is a professional dancer from China. The troupe has danced at the Penn Museum event several times and is happy to be invited again to perform three traditional and folk dances. The dances represent some of the 56 different ethic groups in China, Liu said. The kids wear colorful costumes that come from China as well.
Liu, who came to America from China about 16 years ago, believes that learning about other cultures is important.
“Our country here is diversified. There are people from all over the world,” she said. “It’s better to have people share their tradition so everyone can access different cultures and enjoy more. It enriches people’s lives.”

IF YOU GO

What: Chinese New Year Celebration
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31.
Where: University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum, 3260 South St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: Free with Museum admission: $15; senior citizens 65 and older $13; children 6 to 17 and students with ID $10; children age 5 and younger and active military personnel admitted free.
Info.: Call (215) 898-4000 or visit www.penn.museum

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