Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn
milwaukeesfs

Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, 2016

On Saturday, July 30th, we attended the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, held at the Veteran’s Park Lagoon on the lakefront. This annual event is organized by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center. When we got there, we were immediately impressed by how many people had turned out. We found that there were more than forty teams taking part. Since a standard Dragon Boat requires a crew of twenty rowers, plus coxswain and drummer, that meant that there were more than 800 racers, plus supporters and festival volunteers taking part, not to mention unaffiliated spectators like ourselves.

I was rather surprised to see that there IS such a thing as a standard Dragon Boat, but there is. They resemble modern canoes in construction, wide enough to seat two paddlers abreast. The paddlers use a specialized paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, which evokes the boat’s probable ancestry as something like the Polynesian “war canoe,” but without outriggers. The boat comes to a point at either end. The steersman stands at the stern, steering with an oar, and the drummer perches on an elevated stool in the bow facing the paddlers. The boats come with small detachable decorative dragon heads and tails that are attached for racing.

The festivities officially began with Opening Ceremonies at 10:30AM, with introductions of dignitaries, including the Chinese Consul up from Chicago. There was a traditional Dragon Dance, preceded by the ritual “Wakening of the Dragon,” in which case the pupils of the eyes of the dragon puppet were drawn in. For this dragon dance, the performers held the puppet aloft on poles, and wove it intricately around and about with motions that reminded me of a drill team.

This was followed by music and dance performances of a number of different traditions and styles, martial arts demonstrations, and a fashion show of the famous Chinese dress style, the qipao (also known as cheongsam, or sometimes “Mandarin dress.”)

Many of Milwaukee’s large companies have gone all in sponsoring boats. Harley-Davidsan had four boats, Miller Coors two, Northwestern Mutual three, and Rockwell Automation a croggling eleven boats!

Heats had been going on since 8:00 that morning, since Dragon Boat racing is a bit like horse racing, in that an individual race doesn’t last long, and there’s a bit of reshuffling time between heats. In the interims, there was a small number of vendors to browse, and a number of alternative food sellers. We got teriyaki chicken on skewers for lunch, which Georgie found too salty, but I thought was OK.

We didn’t stay until the championship races, which happened at 4:00PM—a long day of racing for some participants! It’s hard to tell from the web site if there was an overall winner, but the fastest time of the day was one minute, 19.78 seconds, by Arashi-Pilot Freight Services, in the Diamond Championship Final Race.
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Tags: festivals
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