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LSU Golden Girls and Tiger Girls Travel to Hong Kong to Take Part in Chinese New Year Festivities

Ringing in a new year is not normally something people have the opportunity to do twice within two month's time.

Members of the LSU Golden Girls and Tiger Girls dance troupes, along with LSU's own Mike the Tiger mascot and university faculty and staff, had the opportunity to do just that.

A month removed from calendars across the world changing to the year 2011, the combined groups traveled to Hong Kong in early February to take part in one of the largest and most popular Chinese New Year celebrations in the world.

The groups were invited to perform in the Cathay Pacific International New Year Night Parade, an event held by the Hong Kong Tourism Board which took place on the observed Chinese New Year day of Feb. 3. The parade served as a celebration to ring in the Year of the Rabbit, after the Year of the Tiger recently ended.

The most important of the Chinese holidays, recognitions of the country's new lunar calendar year span the globe, with celebrations in countries and areas with significant Chinese populations.

"We had a great time," said LSU Director of Bands Roy King, who oversees the Golden Girls. "The girls were rock stars in Hong Kong. They represented the university and the great state of Louisiana very well."

Organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade is one of the most recognized events of the entire Chinese New Year celebration. Operating under a "World City, World Party" theme in this year's installment, the annual parade features illuminated floats accompanied by spectacular international and local performing groups.

The LSU contingent was one of only two performance groups from the U.S. to be invited to take part in the parade. The other was John Burroughs High School's Powerhouse Choir, based in Burbank, Calif.

Members of the Golden Girls and Tiger Girls dance teams take a photo with LSU alumni Tim and Cindy LaTour and their daughters, who live in Hong Kong.
Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics

The parade featured 13 magnificently decorated and brightly lit floats set against the backdrop of Victoria Harbor. Along with the U.S. groups, the range of international participants included themed floats and performers from Thailand; an-all female Mikoshi group from Japan; a variety of dancers and performers from China, Japan, Korea, Peru, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, and a majorette group from the Czech Republic. The parade also featured traditional dragon and lion dancers, Chinese and ballet dance troupes, costumed characters and marching bands from Hong Kong that present energetic shows.

As a warm-up to the parade, a huge street party took place along the route. Roving entertainment featured musicians, ballerinas, games and more.

Performances also took place at spectator stands located at Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza and along the parade route.

This year's event marked the 16th year that the Hong Kong Tourism Board has staged the world-renowned parade, first held in 1966.

For more information on Hong Kong and the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade, visit http://www.discoverhongkong.com/chinesenewyear/eng/index.jsp.

A series of firsts

The occasion marked many firsts for those involved. For many, it was their first trip to Hong Kong. For the university, it marked the first time that an LSU group was invited to perform in the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade.

The event also marks the first time the Tiger Girls and Golden Girls groups would officially perform together in a public capacity.

Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics

Prior to departing for Hong Kong, the groups held a public dress rehearsal in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to practice their routines and give local fans a chance to see what parade spectators in Hong Kong would see.

The Tiger Girls and Golden Girls are LSU's premiere dance lines. These two talented groups are chosen by auditions, which take place on the LSU campus each spring. The Tiger Girls and Golden Girls have distinguished themselves through nationally and internationally televised performances for millions of spectators. Their performances have received critical acclaim from many. Whether it's an electric athletic event in Tiger Stadium or the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, pride in a rich past and dedication to a legacy of excellence are hallmarks of these prestigious dance lines.

LSU Spirit Coordinator Pauline Zernott, who directs the Tiger Girls, said the selection process began in late October, when she was contacted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board after applying to participate in the parade.

"We went through several conversations of what type of group the board was looking for to perform in the Chinese New Year's celebration," Zernott said. "I knew they were interested in a group of about 30 dancers. Without a doubt, I felt joining the two most prestigious dance groups on campus would help us to secure a spot."

Zernott said she learned of the teams' selection as she and the Tiger Girls were leaving for a men's basketball game in Shreveport.

"Needless to say, I was very excited," she said.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board funded the week-long trip for the LSU group, covering costs for airfare and lodging.

Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics

In addition to performing in the parade, the Golden Girls, Tiger Girls and Mike the Tiger also held 20-minute performances at various locations in and around Hong Kong, allowing them to take in the scenery and culture of the area.

"This was an incredible trip for the Tiger Girls and Golden Girls," Zernott said. "Being able to experience the culture of Hong Kong and the diversity of the performing groups participating in the parade will be a lifelong memory for the girls."

Sights and sounds

Craig Pintens, assistant athletic director for marketing promotions at LSU, traveled to Hong Kong with the university group. During the trip, he kept a blog - featured on the LSU Athletics website - where he documented the experience from departure to return.

"We had to gather our luggage in New York, as we were flying Cathay Pacific Airlines, the sponsor of the parade we are participating in, to Hong Kong," Pintens wrote in his first entry, dated Feb. 1. "We had to switch terminals, so we were quite the purple and gold force going through the airport. A lot of people wanted to know who we were and where we were going."

In his Feb. 3 blog entry, written following the parade, Pintens described the celebration as "an amazing experience."

"Imagine the march down Victory Hill prior to Saturday Night in Death Valley and now extend that along a parade route that spans about a mile to mile and a half, and you have the craziness that is the Cathay Pacific Chinese New Year Parade," he wrote. "At some points, there seemed to be 20-30 people deep and the flashbulbs were blinding."

Pintens also documented the various 20-minute performances held in the days following the parade. In an entry dated Feb. 4, he discussed a performance in the village of Tai Po Lam Tsuen.

Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics

"Tai Po Lam Tsuen is a village in a mountainous region about 45 minutes north of our hotel," he wrote. We arrived early for our performance and were housed in an abandoned school house. The Dansaq Y Galas Del Peru, an indigenous dance group from the Andes in Peru, was also waiting during the same time, and we took a lot of pictures with them.

"Our performance was outstanding, and received a lot of positive feedback. The stage was not really prepared for a lot of the moves we had, and might have needed some reinforcement. Mike the Tiger continued to steal the show as he performed his "Thriller" routine, which brought down the house, and followed it with 'Quick Change'."

In his final blog entry, dated Feb. 5, Pintens wraps up what he called an "incredible trip."

"The Hong Kong Tourism Board does everything first-class and has treated us very well," he wrote. "We owe Diana Budiman and Quinn Doan a debt of gratitude for all their hard work.

"The Golden Girls, Tiger Girls and even Mike represented LSU, the state of Louisiana and the United States extremely well. We were the first university dancers they have invited here, and the bar was set so high, it will be impossible for anyone to match it."

To read Pintens' full blog, and to see additional photos and videos from the teams' trip, visit www.lsu.sports.net.

A taste of home

While the crowds in Hong Kong delighted in seeing the LSU performers, one family especially excited for the Tiger Girls and Golden Girls to make the trip was that of Tim and Cindy LaTour, both Baton Rouge natives and LSU alumni, who now live in Hong Kong with their two children.

Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics

Tim said he was thrilled to find out that an LSU group would be performing during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

"We were very excited at having a piece of home come all the way to Hong Kong," Tim said via e-mail. "My wife and I were born and raised in Baton Rouge and are LSU grads. We've been living in Hong Kong for 6 ½ years, and our two daughters were born here, so we had to go see the performances so our girls could get a little taste of LSU tradition."

For Tim, who works an associate pastor at Island Evangelical Community Church in Hong Kong, this year's celebration held another special meaning.

"This was the best Chinese New Year we've had since being here," he said. "In addition to the Golden Girls and Tiger Girls coming, my mom just happened to be visiting from Baton Rouge, and she got a real taste of Hong Kong culture as well. We don't get back home too often, so it was a real treat having family and LSU come to us."

For more information on the Golden Girls, including audition dates and times, visit http://www.bands.lsu.edu/golden_girls.

To learn more about the Tiger Girls, including audition information, visit www.lsu.sports.net and click on "Tiger Girls Dance Team," located under the "Fan Zone" tab.