HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For nearly 15 years, the Soaring Phoenix Dragon & Lion Dance Association has provided a place for vulnerable Asian American youth in the Greater Houston area to call home and find community. This weekend, the group will celebrate its milestone anniversary.
The team can often be seen performing year-round at weddings, grand openings, and community events throughout Houston's Asiatown and beyond. None of the dancers get paid for what they do, but they told ABC13 the reason why it's all worth it is because it gives them a sense of purpose.
In the Vietnamese culture, loud drums and cymbals typically set the stage for the vibrant and energetic lion dance. Mainly performed during Lunar New Year, the dance symbolizes the act of warding away evil spirits and bringing good fortune.
WATCH: Asian dance team rings in Lunar New Year with ABC13
"The most exciting thing when we come to perform, whether it's to an Asian audience or not, is everyone is always so happy. They're gasping when we do tricks on the high poles. It's amazing to have everyone appreciate our culture, no matter where they're coming from," Alex Tran, the team's founder and director, said.
But to Co Huynh, lion dancing has a deeper meaning. It represents hope, friendship, and a place of belonging. He moved to the U.S. three years ago and struggled with acclimating to a new environment until he found Soaring Phoenix.
"Participating in Soaring Phoenix Dragon, for me, I'm able to learn more English, understand more English. Everyone teaches me more about the United States," Huynh told ABC13 in Vietnamese.
That's one of the reasons why Tran said he created the group back in 2008, when he was 13 years old. Growing up in Houston as the child of immigrant parents, he knows how much harder it can be to set up young Asian Americans for success and to keep them connected to their parents' culture.
"(It's about) keeping them out of poverty, keeping them out of trouble by having a place for them to come practice every weekend, and just hanging out. Their parents know that they're safe," Tran said. "I want everyone that's coming to the team to experience what I experienced by having good friends, good family, and a good support system."
Soaring Phoenix is now known as one of the best lion dancing troupes in the Greater Houston area. Its members have traveled as far as Malaysia to receive training.
Their routines include 8-foot high poles, dragon dances, and auspicious mascots. They currently have about 40 members ranging between the ages of 7 to 32, coming from areas as far north as Spring and as south as Pearland.
Member Nathan Tran commutes from Katy to attend practice and performances at least once a week. He said it's all worth it because it's given him a sense of purpose.
"My family worked really hard to provide for us, but we didn't have a lot growing up. There were times when I just didn't know what I was doing. My parents wanted us to be in safer conditions, so that's why we moved to Katy," he said. "SP is literally one of the (most) amazing things that has happened to me and (helped me) find a passion and something to do, because I never really had a passion for anything."
Aside from the physical training, Tran says the group also spends time raising money for charity. As a nonprofit that's not affiliated with a religious organization, they use a portion of their proceeds to support philanthropic projects in Vietnam.
Some of their efforts have included providing supplies for impoverished communities and sponsoring surgeries for children with congenital heart defects.
The team has no plans on stopping anytime soon, and its founder hopes Soaring Phoenix will continue on for several more decades. They will be celebrating their 15th anniversary with a banquet on Saturday.
For more information or to book the team for your event, visit the Soaring Phoenix Dragon & Lion Dance Association's website.
SEE RELATED STORY: Houston's Asiatown: One of the largest in the country
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