In Western literary tradition, dragons are scary, dangerous beasts, and awakening one is generally held to be an unwise move. But Chinese culture reveres dragons as wise, powerful protective spirits. And before a dragon boat race gets underway, the dragon heads that adorn their prows need to be “awakened” in order to purify the race site from evil influences and bring strength and blessings to the rowers. This is accomplished by literally painting irises onto the blank eyes of the dragon heads – ideally mixing a tiny sample of the local river water and shoreline earth into the pigment.
The Awakening the Dragon opening ceremony begins at 9 a.m. this Saturday at the Hudson River Rowing Association Community Boathouse, officially launching the third annual Dutchess Dragon Boat Race and Festival. Participating teams will then compete in the first of three 200-meter paddling sprints to determine which shall take home this year’s honors. The 40-foot-long craft are brightly decorated fore and aft to simulate river dragons, the oars representing their claws as they fly along the surface of the Hudson.
But this is a cultural festival as well as an athletic event, and there’s plenty to do onshore besides cheering for your rowing team of choice. Master Kwan returns for the third year to perform the Lion Dance for the opening and closing ceremonies. Local artists will demonstrate and exhibit traditional Chinese arts, including “experiential stations” where you can try your hand at origami, kitemaking and calligraphy. Chefs will demonstrate how to make dumplings, spring rolls and other Chinese delicacies. For kids there will be puppetry and storytelling, and they can get their faces (or arms) painted with dragon designs.
Live entertainment will include the popular Hudson Valley reggae the Big Takeover, Asian-style drumming and dance, plus a Western twist with the Roadhouse Roosters. Food vendors will include Twisted Soul, the YumYum Noodle truck, Lemon Love, Nino’s Big Bite, Tea Talk, Reggae Boy and Carole’s Hot Dogs.
Free and open to the public, the Dutchess Dragon Boat Race and Festival is sponsored by Dutchess Tourism, with proceeds benefiting Arts Mid-Hudson and the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, culminating with the presentation of the Dragon Boat racing awards by Dutchess County executive Marcus Molinaro. The Hudson River Rowing Association Community Boathouse is located at 270-272 North Water Street in Poughkeepsie, just south of the Marist Boathouse. For more information, visit www.dutchessdragonboat.org.