Chinese square dancing is a very natural type of dance, with many different formats and styles. Suitable for all ages, easy to learn, no fundament required, no partner required, no venue limitations, easy to popularize; all of these features allow people to exercise and promote health in a relaxed and fun environment.
Those appearing are not consumers with shopping bags in hand,instead they arrive in their dancing clothes, some with folding fans in hand, others with speakers, preparing for the night’s square dancing,which has already become a part of the locals’ lifestyle in Beijing’s Fengtai District.
Differing from what impressions one may have previously had, Chinese square dancing nowadays is much more interesting, and uniquely Chinese.
Square dancing : not just for old housewives
Upon mention of square dancing, most people will think of a bunch of plump housewives in their fifties or older. But today, more and more young people are getting involved in it, and it becomes more of an all-ages activity.
Recently a video of a young boy leading a square dancing group went viral, and was praised by many viewers. But this was not a one-time event; Chen Wucheng, a student at Beijing Dance Academy, goes to the east plaza of the Yintai Department Store two or three times a week to lead dances. “At first I wasn’t really used to it,there aren’t many guys who do square dancing to begin with, and I led Chinese ethnic dancing,so I was kind of shy about it.” After going enough times he began to grow in popularity, and amassed his own fan base. Now every time he goes to lead, the entire area will be full. “I hope that by doing this, more and more young people will get into square dancing, while making some new friends, since it’s really a great opportunity for both.”
Square dancing is a very natural type of dance, with many different formats and styles. There are no fixed steps, the organizer creating all the moves, so elements from yang-ko and Chinese ethnic dance can be integrated, along with ballroom dancing steps.
Suitable for all ages, easy to learn, no fundament required, no partner required, no venue limitations, easy to popularize; all of these features allow people to exercise and promote health in a relaxed and fun environment. Square dancing is a very natural type of dance, with many different formats and styles. There are no fixed steps, the organizer creating all the moves, so elements from yang-ko and Chinese ethnic dance can be integrated, along with ballroom dancing steps.
As the leader of the Deshengmen Arts Yangko Troupe, Ms Guo has led her yang-ko group for over 20 years. The team’s members come from all over Beijing, including Changping, Haidian and Chaoyang Districts, and some transfer several times on the subway to make it there. Ms Guo says, “Yang-ko is different from most types of square dancing, as it’s accompanied by instruments, like the suona, drums and gongs. Each member of our group has a specific role,like playing the flute, the gong, or the drum, thus teamwork is very important. All of us truly love this form of exercise, on one hand, it’s a great workout, while at the same time yang-ko is a part of traditional Chinese culture. Through these activities I hope we can pass traditional Chinese cultural activities on to later generations.”
Ms Zan, who’s 78 this year, has loved dance since she was a child, and has done yang-ko plaza for 15 years, each time travelling all the way from Zhonghuamen, transferring twice by bus, rain or shine. Known by the other members as the “old kid” of the yang-ko troupe, she brings them much joy. “I’m really happy when I’m here,” she says,“every day I come and dance and have fun, so I feel really young, and I love this activity from deep down in my heart.”
Square dancing : saying goodbye to “being a nuisance”
Square dancing is usually at around 6 or 7 in the morning, and between 7 and 9 at night. These two periods of time are when the people of the working class are usually resting,so “disturbing the peace and quiet of others”has always been a cause for complaints.
To resolve this problem, many cities have established organizations to encourage manage ment by their participants. In 2015, Xiangfang District of Harbin established the first square dancing federation for self monitoring,to create a peaceful atmosphere,and do away with the stigma of “being a nuisance”. The Shanghai Guangcheng Dance Troupe signed a civil agreement, and Hefei has adopted a square dancing real name registration system, with many others following, so that more and more cities are combining administrative regulation with self-monitoring to ensure the order of square dancing enthusiasts.
“Different social groups have different pastimes. Square dancing is a great form of exercise, though in some places it may disturb the peace and quiet of others. As long as we provide appropriate guidance, this problem can be resolved.”
The development of technology has also made it more convenient to resolve the problem of disturbing others. Suzhou Industrial Technology Research Institute of East China University of Science and Technology, has invented a directional speaker, which transmits sound in the same way as light. Square dancers in the Zhongdong neighborhood of Guizhou’s Yunyan District use wireless earphones and wireless audio transmission equipment, so as to avoid disturbing others. It is now common to see square dancers wearing special earphones dance.
Of course, the positive environment of square dancing depends on the improvement of self-awareness among all members. Ms Wang from Beijing’s Haidian District says,“We try to stay away from residential areas,going to large, empty parks and plazas. By making less noise, being more self-aware, and staying far from residential areas, we try not to disturb people as much as possible.” As Director of the State General Administration of Sport, Mr Liu Peng said in an interview,“Different social groups have different pastimes. Square dancing is a great form of exercise, though in some places it may disturb the peace and quiet of others. As long as we provide appropriate guidance, this problem can be resolved.”
Square dancing: China’s new “famous brand name”
In May 2016, the six cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an and Shenyang, after creating a set of standardized dance steps set to the same upbeat music, held a 30,000 strong simultaneous dance session,successfully setting a new Guinness record for “largest-scale line dance (multiple locations)”.
With the concept of national fitness in vogue, square dancing as a cultural activity is now pursued by more and more people, with many celebrities participating in square dancing. In 2014 when Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) visited China for the first time, he performed a square dance to the song So Cheerful in Shanghai, and his funny moves and exaggerated expressions won waves of applause from onlookers.
Square dancing has already become an important part of many people’s lives. Be it done in parks, fitness centers, plazas, or rural markets,every day the familiar tunes of square dancing can be heard in countless locales.
Chinese square dancing has also gone overseas to other counties, as a “new famous brand name” of China, even appearing at landmarks like Brooklyn’s Sunset Park,Moscow’s Red Square, and Paris’s Louvre Museum. In 2015, as a part of the Chinese Bridge-Summer Camp for U.S. High School Students organized by Hanban, U.S. students went to Jiangsu Hongyang Square to learn square dancing. China’s “prince of fitness dance”Wang Guangcheng also created a surge of popularity for Chinese square dancing in the U.S.,with familiar songs like Little Apple and The Coolest Ethnic Trend, which in turn led to these songs becoming favorites among locals. Chinese square dancing troupes have also been invited to participate in Independence Day and Canada Day festivities.
Square dancing has already become an important part of many people’s lives. Be it done in parks, fitness centers, plazas, or rural markets,every day the familiar tunes of square dancing can be heard in countless locales. Regardless of why these people get into square dancing to begin with, be it for exercise or just for fun, they embody the unique lifestyle of the Chinese people, and serve as an example of the positive attitude of the Chinese towards life.